Why REDD+ is Dangerous (in its current form)

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUpon

Last week, Financial Times journalist Fiona Harvey lamented that “Without a sturdy fundraising mechanism, REDD is worthless.” Her solution is to revive carbon trading, “with a mighty effort of political will.” Her timing could hardly have been worse, coinciding as it does with the closure of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to spot trading in carbon credits after yet another fraud.

Harvey’s article starts with an overview of why preserving forests is important and some of the causes of deforestation. But she has misunderstood some key aspects of REDD. She writes that “finally most of the details have been sorted out,” which is plainly not the case – many of the details are yet to be worked out.

Harvey then completely loses the plot:

We now know, the correct definition of a tree, how much carbon can be locked up in different areas of land, and how the rights of indigenous people can be safeguarded.

The definition of a tree is not part of the REDD negotiations. The definitions of “forest”, “deforestation”, “plantations” and “degradation” are crucial to REDD, but these have not yet been agreed on.

We do not yet know “how much carbon can be locked up in different areas of land”. In August 2010, Greg Asner of Stanford University, California, carried out research on 43,000 square kilometres of forest in Peru. According to his calculations, there was one-third less carbon stored in the forest than the figure given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Harvey’s comment implies that indigenous peoples’ rights are adequately respected in the REDD deal that came out of Cancun. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Safeguards are to be “promoted and supported” rather than being obligatory and there is no system in place for monitoring compliance with the safeguards.

“Only one problem remains,” according to Harvey. “Where is the money?” Her answer is the magic of the markets. Harvey waltzes through carbon trading, noting that it does have its opponents. These opponents point out inconvenient truths such as carbon trading does not reduce emissions. To which she replies, “in fact the system clearly does result in reductions if the targets are correctly set.” But the “system” that she’s talking about is the “cap” part of cap and trade. The cap reduces emissions. The trade does not. Currently we have no global cap on emissions and the emissions targets under the Copenhagen Accord are far from adequate to keep emissions below 2°C.

By the end of the article, Harvey’s grip on reality eludes her completely. REDD, she writes, “is a beautiful vehicle, lovingly crafted down to the last elegant detail, but without an engine; so it is doomed to failure.”

Kjell Kühne’s short paper “Why REDD+ is Dangerous (in its current form)” provides a good antidote to Harvey’s carbon trading puff piece.

Kühne is a German climate activist and university professor, currently living in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. He was in Cancun for the UN climate negotiations (where he dressed up as an oil palm – see the photo above. He did so as part of a demonstration by the Youth Climate Movement pointing out that the UN needs to sort out its definition of forests to ensure that industrial plantations and GE trees are excluded from REDD).

Why REDD+ is Dangerous (in its current form)

By Kjell Kühne
This essay shall help you understand the role REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in “Developing” Countries plus Conservation, Sustainable Forest Management and Enhancement of Carbon Stocks) can play in solving the climate crisis, and the role it can and will not play. There is a relatively small group of experts who have a deeper understanding of the technical details of REDD+ who sometimes lack a critical distance. On the other hand, many people who are against REDD+ do not understand too much of the technical details. With this essay, I hope to help both to get valuable additional information.
I will first outline the general goal for solving the climate crisis (zero fossil emissions), then talk about offsets in general. An outline of the challenges which REDD+ programmes face in fulfilling their promise is the main part. I conclude with a best case and a worst case scenario. Obviously it is our common responsibility to work towards the best case and avoid the worst. At the moment, we seem to be steering more towards the worst case scenario. Hence the title.

1. Zero fossil emissions are the principal climate goal, and REDD+ doesn’t bring us closer to that.

The “most important number on Earth” is 350. 350 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere is the mark below which we need to get if we want to continue having ice on the Earth’s polar caps in the long term and a coastline that we would recognize on the map (25-35 meter sea-level rise would be due if we stayed over 350 ppm for too long). For getting there, obviously zero fossil emissions are a must. And the sooner we reach that goal, the greater the likelihood that we will be able to bring atmospheric CO2 levels down fast enough to avoid triggering one of the several tipping elements that might result in “runaway climate change”. According to current knowledge (see e.g. the Copenhagen Diagnosis [1] and current political climate goals (maximum global mean temperature rise of 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels), we need to hit the zero point globally around 2050, give or take a few years. That is a great transformation in little time and REDD+ could only buy a little time, while possibly – if set up as an offset mechanism – pushing the date of vigorous action back, which comes down to wasting that same time again (see next section).

2. Offsets postpone structural change and may even damage the climate goals.

REDD+ is not (yet) an offset mechanism. While technically speaking, this statement is true, because the Cancun text postpones the UNFCCC decision on this thanks to Bolivia’s opposition, the huge interest in REDD+ is closely linked to the expectation that it would “generate” emissions reductions at much lower cost than other mitigation options. This projection in itself is questionable [2], but economists seem to be considered representatives of the highest form of wisdom in our times, so if they say REDD+ will be cheap, it must be so. Their verdict, together with the urgency of climate change and the favourable image that rainforest protection has in the public sphere, this is quite an attractive package for the big players who are unwilling to change anything major in the way that our fossil economy works. California is working full speed on bringing tropical forest carbon into its compliance market and the US government seems to have put its REDD fast-start finance under the heading “get them into the market.” Take the offsets part out of REDD+ and the whole thing will deflate like an empty balloon. This is an argument sometimes used: if we can’t involve markets, we won’t get enough money to save the rainforests.
The basic task of our generation is to transform a fossil world economy into a renewable one. That task is not facilitated by the availability of cheap offsets on the carbon markets. And on the markets one ton of carbon from avoided deforestation shall equal one ton of fossil carbon extracted and burnt [3]. But (“green”) forest carbon is not equal to (“black”) fossil carbon. While one is part of the natural carbon cycle the other is an addition to that cycle. And setting aside a few percent as a buffer doesn’t help much if a big part of the Amazon rainforest turns into a savannah or the food crisis at some point in the future obliges people to farm whatever land they can get hold of, including remaining forests.
While from a justice point of view offsets are very problematic, from a strictly carbon point of view, offsets could work fine – they could, if there was a global cap on emissions.
But at the current state of the climate negotiations, we are far away from that global cap. Annex-I countries have reduction targets which may include offsets. The major non-Annex-I countries have voluntary targets, which also include reductions from offset projects (as explicitly stated by Brasil in their letter of association with the Copenhagen Accord). This means that in fact any reduction achieved in an offset mechanism is counted twice! Once in the country buying the offset, and once in the country producing it. And this unfortunate situation will not change in the near future, because non-Annex-I goals are voluntary in nature. If Annex-I countries were to insist on excluding the offsets from non-Annex-I national accounting, there is nothing easier than to “correct” the voluntary goal by the amount of offsets sold. This situation will not change until we have binding goals for all countries, i.e. An effective global cap. And when will that be? For the time being, all UN offset mechanisms are not reducing emissions, they are increasing them. This applies to the CDM and would apply to REDD+ as well.
The pro-offsets argument that they make it possible for naughty emitters to commit to ambitious targets would need to be proven with real-life examples if we were to take it seriously. (I have my doubts about this and am looking for an institution to fund a little study on this topic.)

3. REDD+ works in theory. Making it work on a big scale in reality is a huge challenge.

The list of pitfalls and roadblocks for a successful REDD+ programme is long. You get a first idea by looking at the negotiation text [4]. Especially the section on safeguards reads like a list of “what could go wrong with REDD+.”
Safeguards in the Text:
Permanence: See above.
Leakage: If protecting one piece of forest you always run the risk of loosing another one instead, in another corner of the community territory, in another region, another province or even another country. This has to do with the drivers of deforestation, many of which are rather flexible and while they persist, they will “go elsewhere” if one piece of forest becomes inaccessible to them.
Governance: The forest sector is quite corrupt. Bad governance is not the exception, but rather the rule. REDD+ could be an opportunity to change that. But who will make sure?
Indigenous and Local Rights: Forest peoples are among the least influential and powerful groups in many countries. If money is to be made with their forests (which they may not even “legally” possess), who will be there to defend their rights “to destroy the forest” (i.e. to live in it and with it) against the national government, corporate elites or foreign “conservationists”?
International Conventions: If you have signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) or the different Human Rights Conventions, does that mean that they are implemented on the ground? No.
Participation: Most REDD+ countries (and most others as well) have a rather poor track record on participation. Take this together with the little influence that forest peoples have (those “poor, backwards, dirty, uneducated and clearly underdeveloped” folks), and you will know what a policy making process will look like: tokenist participation of some colorful individuals at the most. Pro-market NGOs may of course participate much more, or in case the national ministry doesn’t have too much resources or know-how, they can even run the show.
Biodiversity and Natural Forests: What does the plus in REDD+ stand for? One third stands for conservationists and countries who have protected their forests and would like to see some money even in the absence of an imminent threat to their forests. And two thirds stand for the logging and plantations industry who see their chance in declaring logging operations to be “sustainable forest management” and monoculture plantations (even with GE trees) to be “enhancement of carbon stocks”. That biodiversity won’t benefit from that kind of REDD+ is obvious.
Co-benefits: Why do we have to mention benefits of the forests other than carbon, for example sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples? Because they could be “forgotten” by REDD+ policy makers otherwise. It seems that they would become easier to take into account if the mechanism was designed in a participatory manner with forest peoples, for example. But we are not talking about interlinkages yet. In my mind, the so-called co-benefits are the main benefits of forests, carbon “storage” is a co-benefit. But who am I to decide what the main purpose of a forest is anyway?
Unfortunately the simple fact of naming these evil spirits in the text doesn’t make them go away. The text leaves no doubt that addressing the safeguards is contingent on finance to be made available by Annex-I countries. Unless there are some major efforts on implementing these safeguards on the ground, they will remain on paper and we will probably be seeing “where REDD+ went wrong” stories popping up in different places, confirming the importance of each of the safeguards. This is an area where I personally see a lot of meaningful work to be done: getting the ball rolling on safeguards implementation.
Outside the “safeguards package”, and as if these challenges alone were not enough, we find a few other things to keep in mind:
Drivers of Deforestation: If there is a market for soy beans or palm oil or beef, does it matter if you set aside a big piece of forest land where none of those can be produced any longer? It does. Prices will rise and make these products more interesting wherever you can chop down forest to grow them. Unless the driver of deforestation, for example beef demand is tackled, emissions will leak. And unless you stop building roads through the forest that bring in land hungry people and industries, you will not stop deforestation. Unfortunately most of the drivers are related to business opportunities where you can make money. When politicians in REDD+ countries (and arguably anywhere) have to decide between the greater common good and money, they tend to choose the latter. That’s why we find reminders in the text saying “please, please, don’t forget the drivers of deforestation when planning REDD+” (not literally).
Land rights: While in the UNDRIP, indigenous peoples may enjoy rights to their land, in real life, things tend to get complicated. What if you are not indigenous? Or have lost your language? Or had to migrate recently? What if the government expropriated you, so you legally don’t own anything? Emiliano Zapata used to have a motto saying “the land belongs to who works it” … well, I guess I am a bit too old-fashioned.
Gender: It seems that in a male-dominated society new rules tend to go against the needs and priorities of women.
And then, there are a few considerations which didn’t make it into the Cancun text, but which I find important to mention anyway:
Perverse Incentives: If you pay for “avoided deforestation” you will never get away from paying the bad guy more than the good guy who protects his forests anyway. This could possibly be turned around, but it would not look much like the current REDD+ mechanism any more. It would be more a forest-cover facilitation mechanism which builds on the willingness of people to contribute to reforestation and forest protection efforts with their own means, if given the opportunity. The opportunity could be secure land rights for locals, a strong reduction of the drivers and some funding for things like seedlings and capacity building. People love trees and their planet. Why not leverage that almost untapped potential instead of throwing around money that will corrupt it?
Capitalism: Our current global economic system has one principal motor: money. It is the only thing you can know for sure: more money is always better than less money. But you can’t eat money and the system is getting quite shaky lately. Commodifying forests and opening another frontier to the speculation of the global money economy (forest carbon) does not sound like the right recipe for protecting forests and peoples who live in them. The train is too big, if money is to be made, it will roll over those minor concerns.
Elites: Elite capture of benefits is the rule in most REDD+ countries, in government programmes or development cooperation. When negotiating REDD+ rules, and later when designing its implementation, the representatives sitting at the table are the very elites we are talking about here. Negotiating the rules of distribution of a pie (money) with somebody who shall get a much smaller piece than he always used to get from any past pie, doesn’t sound like an easy job either.
Now after going through all the things that can go wrong, let me confess: I sincerely and wholeheartedly hope that the efforts so far put into REDD+ by many well-meaning people turn out to be meaningful in the end. I hope that they will not serve to create a mechanism that increases emissions and drives poor people off their land. So, what could REDD+ ideally look like, if it were to succeed in becoming part of the solution to the climate crisis?

4. The best-case scenario: Non-market REDD+ which empowers local people and creates sustainable livelihoods from the forest.

First, let us start thinking smaller-scale. Because a market-based (i.e. offsets) system would reduce ambitions, not emissions and we want this to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Then, let us think that it would be possible in some countries to start a participatory process where even the forest peoples get a say and in a consensual way, a national system is designed to protect remaining forests. In order to make that permanent, local people would need to create sustainable livelihoods from the forest which meet both their basic needs (water, food, shelter, health), and the need for a little money income to meet other needs (education, clothes, transport). Parks without people do not seem like a good way to work this, because while it may be possible to keep people out of an area today, in the future pressure will increase in the face of climate change, a shrinking natural resource base and an increasing population.
In the best case scenario for REDD+, the government works on their side of the job: addressing drivers, while local people are in charge of organizing the work locally, because they have secure rights to the land.

5. The worst case scenario: triple emissions and human rights abuses.

In the worst case, a coup would throw over the indigenous Bolivian government, the main opponent to a market-based REDD+. The European Union would cease to resist and a REDD+ offset-scheme would be pushed through in Durban at COP17. In Southern Mexico, where the state government is eager to sell REDD+ credits to California, paramilitary groups would start killing “intruders” (i.e. indigenous people) who do subsistance farming on land that was expropriated per presidential decree and is now under a REDD+ contract. While companies and governments are eager to greenwash REDD+ and buy up the credits and pump down more money, the mechanism would “clear” forests of people who obviously had been “destroying the forest” or at least “doing harm to carbon stocks”, though not quite as fast as the bigger industries who simply move elsewhere in the country (which is okay, since subnational REDD+ is now approved as an interim measure without an end date) or to another country. When kicking forest peoples out of the forest – in the best case they would receive money in return for not going back – the cultural knowledge on how to sustainably use the forest ecosystem for human survival and wellbeing gets lost.
While emissions get displaced (which means no overall reductions), offset credits get double counted (minus one) and in the not so far future, those forests still go up in smoke, through “natural” processes such as a drier climate, through forest fires, through invasion by hungry people which industrialized agriculture can’t feed any longer or simply through a political change in the country, where the new government does not recognize the legitimacy of contracts signed by the former government. In any case, they go up in smoke, and it is minus one, again. So now we have three times as many emissions as in the absence of the programme! While at the same time devouring climate funds that are thus no longer available for other urgent mitigation tasks. And devouring the energy and efforts of thousands of smart and well-meaning people who originally intended to protect forests and the climate at the same time.
If you have made it to this point, I can safely assume that you are quite interested in REDD+ and in the future of our planet. I am not arguing here that REDD+ is a bad idea. My point is that it will take a lot of work and caution to make it work in real life. I invite you to do your own thinking and analyzing on top of what I have been able to bring to the table. And I invite you to work towards a zero fossil emissions future where we protect our forests without having to pay each other money or threatening to cut them down. I am sure that we can solve the climate crisis, let’s pick the right path, even if it is uphill.
Comments are very welcome! kjell.kuehne@gmail.com Kjell Kühne, 27.1.2011

[1] ^ http://www.copenhagendiagnosis.org

[2] ^ See the Rainforest Foundation’s warnings here: http://rainforestfoundationuk.org/files/McREDD+%20English.pdf

[3] ^ This has been avoided in the only forestry projects that are allowed in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM): Afforestation and Reforestation (A/R) Projects. They produce only temporary credits, due to the fact that trees store carbon only temporarily. These temporary credits don’t fetch a good price on the market, therefore the intention with REDD+ is to make sure that the credits are “for good” instead of temporary. Obviously trees are still only able to store carbon temporarily.

[4] ^ http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/cop_16/application/pdf/cop16_lca.pdf The REDD+ part starts on page 10.


Bookmark the permalink.


  1. It is important to remember that no sane person is suggesting that REDD is the sole solution to climate change. We must reduce emissions created by fossil fuel emissions. The regulations regarding California forest offsets provide that if REDD is incorporated into the scheme, parties can use forest offsets to meet only a small percentage of their required emission reductions — 2% for the first two years and then 4% the following year. Proposals at the international level also limit the percentage of emissions that can be met through forest offsets. As a result, parties that emit carbon will have to meet their carbon emission reductions in large part by reducing their emissions. They can’t buy their way out of the problem by buying cheap forest credits because they can meet only a small percentage of their reductions through forest carbon sequestration projects.

    However, forests are being destroyed. How are we going to save them? Are we going to ask developing countries to conserve their forests simply because it benefits other nations many of which are wealther countries? Isn’t it fairer to pay them money to this so that they are rewarded for being good environmental stewards?

    How are we going to save the forests? I would welcome innovative solutions.
    Less criticism, more constructive creative solutions would be very refreshing.

  2. Sorry one more comment — I thought many of Kuhne’s comments were very thoughtful. I appreciated his “best case” and “worst case” scenarios and expect that reality will lie somewhere between the two. If REDD is adopted, some countries will probably do a good job and others will not. Yes, REDD will take a lot of hard work and regulation to prevent corruption and exploitation. The same could be said of democracy, a good legal system. Do we give up on these things because they may be flawed and require hard work? No, we work hard to improve them and prevent abuse.

  3. She is a poor journalist period.

  4. Janet like thousands and increasing thousands is trying to retain a job…
    Her comments for some time have been hopeless and pointless.
    She has no idea or would not dare write to rock the boat or upset the apple cart , regarding saving rainforests
    Janet represents the ‘ Finacial Times…who is in the business of selling news papers and those sales beifiet ‘certain’ people.
    The who REDD prcess is to control ‘Land Tenure’ and steal countries land to create a carbon credit to be sold through a World Carbon Bank….Janet is just another pawn in this Global fraud.

  5. @ Janet……as far as I am concerned you need to ask ” Roberts” who PNG, has founded the answers you are asking , regarding saving rainforests an the biodiversity in harmony to the people within them.

  6. I am not trying to retain a job. I do not work for the Financial Times or an environmental organization. I have absolutely no financial motivation in the debate about REDD. I am self-employed — nothing to do with the corporate, publishing or environmental world.

    Your allegations are absolutely outrageous and so angry. I guess to disagree with you means to become the target of personal attacks. How sad and it certainly does not encourage thoughtful discussion on these issues. WOW — I won’t be commenting on this website again.

  7. I wonder who paid for Harvey’s trip to the Amazon?

    It sure sounds like she has been fed the usual load of BS by the ‘usual suspects’ of the big snouts-in-the-trough conservation NGOs, or perhaps some carbon trader, and she has not bothered to exercise her critical faculties particularly well. Disappointing for a journalist that has done some good work, but I’ll be looking at her writing much more carefully in the future, having seen how badly wrong she got some things here.

  8. Janet, I work in carbon credit development hands on in Latin America. Don’t give up hope, and remember that there are a lot more ignorant people out there that we must ignore. Keep up your good work. As I was reading this thread, I had the same thought as you, but you published first, that it would be much better to read of constructive solutions to create carbon credits. This is the most difficult part of this whole REDD thing and it is rarely discussed, even at the local level where the credits must be created. Everyone is busy creating regional and national baselines, but virtually no one is discussing specifically what kinds of incentives must be put in place to encourage alternative landuses that do not lead to leakage, what structural changes might be enacted in the near-term at various scales of economy to reduce/stabilize prices, and what educational programs must be put together to retrain the land clearing industry to do something else. Might we convince the fast food chains to get onboard to figure out how to survive without creating more incentive to clear land for beef.

  9. Kjell Kühne is entirely focussed on eliminating the use of fossil fuels and sees REDD+ as somehow incompatible with that goal. If one takes a broader perspective then the narrowmindedness of Kühne’s worldview becomes apparent. Lang’s comments are even less constructive and less substantive. I think if we all took Lang’s approach to life we would still be living in caves – something many acedemics might prefer for all but themselves.

    The overarching goal is actually to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels driving climate change (not zero fossil emissions as Kühne claims). Creating new alternative energy sources is one potential solution, becoming more energy efficient is another, and REDD+ is another still.

    Contrary to Kühne’s statements, forest based mechanisms will be important in reducing worldwide net emissions. We know forests are an important store of carbon. Protecting forests will reduce net CO2 emissions in the future and reinvigorating and expanding forests increases forest standing stocks by actively absorbing atmospheric carbon – in fact forest carbon sequestration is probably the only economic way of actively reducing atmospheric CO2 levels.

    Kühne and Lang seem to be propounding myths about REDD in an attempt to try and invalidate offsets as a mechanism for reducing emissions. The first myth is that substantial reductions in carbon emissions cannot be attained through REDD type activities – this is an obviously false claim. The second myth is that by off-setting carbon in forests somehow subverts other carbon emissions reductions activities.

    Unlike Lang, I have no real problem with the basic methodologies regarding definitions and methodologies in REDD+ and find them to be relatively technically sound and sufficiently robust to be implemented immediately. I believe the system has signficant flexibility and can be adapted and enhanced in the future. REDD+ is not perfect but it is sufficient and can be incrementally improved in the future.

    Finally, this obsession about the evils of industrial plantations and GE trees should be addressed. I am a supporter of industrial plantations as one of the eligiable activities for expanding forest resources. I have no real objections to GE forests either and find the alarmist comments about GE trees to be largely unsubstantiated. All the concerns about industrial plantations and GE trees can be managed by adopting common sense approach in implementation – for example, limiting industrial plantation development under REDD+ to areas that are non-forest lands or heavily degraded forest lands.

  10. @Janet (comment #6) I’m sorry about Don’s comment (#4). I agree, the comment is outrageous and angry. I also hope that you won’t take the comment seriously. (It seems to be a case of mistaken identity apart from anything else – perhaps Don meant to direct his comments at Fiona Harvey, the journalist at the Financial Times?) And I hope that you will comment on REDD-Monitor in the future.

    Until now, REDD-Monitor has managed without an open comments policy. I have deleted some comments that were abusive or potentially libellous and a spam filter deletes spam automatically (most of the time).

    I like comments on REDD-Monitor. I think discussion of the issues around REDD is very important. But abusive comments really don’t help to encourage discussion. So, I’m going to develop a comments policy – if anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to comment here.

    While looking up some other comments policies I came across this cartoon by Hugh Macleod on Robert Scoble’s blog – it made me smile too, so I thought I’d post it here:

    social pressure.jpg

    As a starting point, this looks like a pretty good comments policy:

    We do not pre-moderate any comments and welcome all kinds of thoughts- supportive, dissenting, critical or otherwise.

    We do not delete or censor comments unless they have content that:

    * is abusive
    * is off-topic
    * contains ad-hominem attacks
    * promotes hate of any kind
    * uses excessively foul language
    * is blatantly spam

  11. I found myself agreeing with most of what Kjell wrote (with the exception of one or two perceptive criticisms already expressed) until he got to suggesting alternatives. For me his reasoning then became distinctly woolly and I would respectfully suggest he really has no practical idea whatever what to do about carbon sequestration and conserving biodiversity.
    This is a massive subject that cannot be summarised in any one comment, or indeed article. Its roots lie very deep – in evolution, ecology, anthropology and economics. In my view any system designed to guide us to a more planet-friendly culture needs to take full account and cater for the underlying currents that dictate human behaviour – indeed all animal behaviour. It is such a huge and profound subject that I have for the past 15 years been writing a book on it (at last nearly finished).
    On the subject of REDD (to which a chapter is devoted) as I understand it to be presently planned it is deeply flawed. As the book explains, this is not just because of the potential for perverse incentives, elite capture, corruption and leakage, these are endemic in all human economic activities and have to be specifically safeguarded against, but because it rewards and thus involves entirely the wrong kind of economic ‘species’ with the wrong motives. It tries to turn economic predators into guardians when that is not their natural role.
    This leaves wildernesses ever vulnerable to ongoing protectionism. It creates a giant honey pot of money for the good, the bad and the ugly alike. Instead it needs to reward hands-on, niche-dedicated guardians, much as the Costa Rican model does.
    REDD’s heart may be in the right place, but in my view it therefore needs fundamental revision.
    There are also good alternative and complimentary market instruments available that permanently divorce large logging and plantation corporations from the control of valuable wilderness, such as bio-banking for example.
    I strongly believe we need a much more scientific, anthropological and economics-based approach to finding solutions to the world’s poverty, carbon and biodiversity crises. Until that time we will surely continue to lurch from pillar to post with one well-intentioned but cobbled together and intrinsically flawed policy after another.

  12. Here is a comment that puts pay to “all” the Bullshit ……….The Bretton Woods Project has previously asserted that, “Without adequate consultation(consultation to whom?) or prior strengthening of community land tenure rights and forest law enforcement capacity(monitoring), the FCPF could merely create(it already has in REDD) a new source of revenue for logging companies, governments, and investors without securing genuine long-term reductions in carbon emissions and protection of forest resources from degradation, or equitable benefits for the poor (especially forest-dependent communities).”[

  13. Nice discussion going on here, let me give my view from a southern citizen that live in Indonesia and looking at the problem at the field. Simple question that we need to be answer is, do we want to reduce emission, or do we want to reduce deforestation to pull down the emission..? believe me, it’s not a tricky question but it’s a basic question that we all (forest enthusiast) need to answer first.

    For me as an Indonesian, i will go with the second statement. I choose reducing deforestation to pull down the emission. For Indonesia, REDD is “something old with a new package”, but actually what lies in the concept of REDD is pretty old, except for the market mechanism. So many indigenous people in Indonesia already “protecting their forest” with their own local way (local wisdom conservation), and yes it’s working. So we don’t need REDD. What we need is an eye on the forest (transparency, participation to bring accountability) , so that the corruption wouldn’t had the chance, the bad governance and system also fixed, and the people wouldn’t get violated.

    The problem in Indonesia is basically land tenure, land conversion, bad governance, and illegal logging. Does REDD answer all of that challenge..? i don’t think so. if that is the condition, the question is how to answer those challenge, Because without answering those challenge, there are NO CHANCE REDD WILL SUCCEED. So first we need to answer those challenge, than REDD, BLUE, WHITE, YELLOW or other mechanism to reduce emission could succeed.

    And one specific question to Janet, sorry for my lack of knowledge. But could you show me the proposal at the international negotiation that saying that “limit the percentage of emissions that can be met through forest offsets” ? because honestly i just hear this from you.

    Thank you,

  14. @George Kuru: Thank you for the criticism. I am sure we can make it constructive, even if the tone you chose may be a bit harsh at times.
    You say: “Kjell Kühne is entirely focussed on eliminating the use of fossil fuels and sees REDD+ as somehow incompatible with that goal. If one takes a broader perspective then the narrowmindedness of Kühne’s worldview becomes apparent.” I am arguing that we will definitely have to phase out fossil fuels, if we want to solve the climate crisis. At about 390ppm this seems obvious to me, since having read James Hansen’s “arget Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”(http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TargetCO2_20080407.pdf) which provides the scientific basis for the global 350 campaign. Even if you do not accept 350ppm as a maximum safe upper limit and go back to 450ppm which tended to be used in previous analyses (after it became clear that 550ppm would probably be too much), that would give us less than 30 years with current emissions, then having to stop emitting completely. Since the Copenhagen Accord provides for an increase in global emissions, not a reduction, it becomes clear that we will probably need to steer into a new direction (beyond zero emissions) very soon.
    Would you mind explaining, what the “broader perspective” is that I am lacking?

    You say: “The overarching goal is actually to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels driving climate change (not zero fossil emissions as Kühne claims). Creating new alternative energy sources is one potential solution, becoming more energy efficient is another, and REDD+ is another still.” It is important to understand the difference between “reducing emissions” and “reducing atmospheric CO2 levels”. The first is rather simple. The second one implies capturing carbon from the atmosphere! This often gets confused. The three approaches you mention may all work for reducing emissions. Unfortunately none of them reduces atmospheric CO2 levels, they all only reduce emissions. (With the exception of minor elements of REDD+: 1) the possibility that standing mature forests may continue to grow and capture some carbon due to CO2 fertilization and 2) the “enhancement of carbon stocks”. These two actually have the potential to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by sequestering carbon, even though the scale will probably not be sufficient to contribute significantly to solving the climate crisis.) So I invite you and everybody else to double-check whether you are actually talking about “reducing emissions” or “reducing CO2 atmospheric levels”, when you use those terms!

    You say: “Contrary to Kühne’s statements, forest based mechanisms will be important in reducing worldwide net emissions.” Unfortunately this will only be the case if A) they are not used as offsets, which per definition create the same amount of additional (and permanent!) fossil emissions, i.e. no reductions OR B) they are used as offsets, but increase the overall level of ambition, looked at from a global perspective. I argue that this has not yet been shown to be the case AND C) really function, i.e. they take carbon out of the atmosphere for real and for as long as the fossil emissions it offsets stay up there.

    You say:”The first myth is that substantial reductions in carbon emissions cannot be attained through REDD type activities – this is an obviously false claim.” I would be happy to read about any experiences with “REDD type activities” that worked out well and have the potential to be sustainable in the long run, say seven generations, and avoid the problems mentioned in my text. Actually that is what I hope we will be able to create – “REDD type activities” which meet all those challenges. But I guess we need to be humble enough to admit if we have not yet met them. But maybe some people somewhere have and I am not aware of it. Please enlighten me with best practices!

    You say: “The second myth is that by off-setting carbon in forests somehow subverts other carbon emissions reductions activities.” It does. If I need X tons for my business and offsets are allowed, I can either reduce my own emissions or buy offsets. It is either or. The own reduction activities are the ones that are subverted by an offsets mechanism.

    Your other comments do provide your personal evaluation. Actually the only more concrete example you give (“limiting industrial plantation development under REDD+ to areas that are non-forest lands or heavily degraded forest lands”) relates to a point that is on the UNFCCC agenda this year (“forests in exhaustion”) and good rules for limiting the “land hunger” of plantation developers are definitely needed.

    @Simon: Thank you for your criticism as well. The topic of the article were not alternatives to REDD. Obviously that is a conversation very worth having.

  15. Thanks for this lively discussion! Given the nature of the topic, it’s only natural that it creates some disagreement.

    I was wondering – because I don’t see this anywhere in the lists of REDD objections- if there have been any thoughts on the incompatibility between institutions/ infrastructure required for REDD payments to be distributed effectively and conservation objectives. Isn’t it likely that the large indirect costs of setting up the infrastructure and institutions for REDD to be effective in areas like the DRC could backfire on conservation/mitigation objectives? For instance, infrastructure expansion through the forest has been shown to be the single most important proximate factor driving deforestation, because it tends to attract further ‘land hungry people and industries’ (your words :-)) . At the same time the idea that local communities would be financially compensated for forest conservation implies that they will need to have access to both financial and market institutions to access and spend that money. So..isn’t there a more fundamental incompatibility between what is needed to make REDD effective and its resulting consequences?

  16. Anna, thank you for the question. Infrastructure expansion is one of the powerful drivers of deforestation which is really hard to tackle, almost impossible with a locally focussed PES mechanism.

    And then, there is this assumption that REDD would come in the form of direct money for local landowners. This seems to make sense in a market-based REDD, where a sort of “service” is sold and locals obviously play an essential part in providing that “service”. But while in theory this sounds very simple, it is very difficult in practice to design a system that would actually work in the long term and not result in a sort of partial expropriation.

    If we move away from the market-based approach – which I hope we will – the other option that comes up is that there could simply be no “money for carbon” on the local level. In fact, handing out money to poor forest-dwellers does not create any structural change which would lead to less deforestation. So if we look at REDD as a performance-based mechanism, this “benefit sharing” in the form of money, almost by definition does not lead to the desired result.

    National level policy changes have a lot of potential for reducing deforestation. But they have little to do with handing out money to locals. I believe that we have to direct our attention much more towards the higher-level national policies and drivers for a successful REDD. This is not the key competence of conservation NGOs and is probably also politically much more sensitive, so donor countries may hesitate to put their focus there. But I believe that that is where the levers are with which deforestation can actually be strongly reduced.

  17. Kjell Kühne has nicely presented the ground realities of implementation of REDD. Most of the what I had read so far appear too theoretical after this article.

    There is more to forests than just carbon. Stopping deforestation and forest degradation is a wonderful idea, but it should be approached from the angle of tackling factors that encourage it in the first place. I personally don’t favor the idea of turning forests into commodity and leaving it to the mercy of money makers and speculators.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.