in Brazil

Skoll World Forum debate: “How do we feed the world and still address the drivers of deforestation?”

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This week the 10th Skoll World Forum takes place at the Saïd Business School in Oxford. One of the topics for debate is “How do we feed the world and still address the drivers of deforestation?”

The Skoll Foundation, was founded in 1999 by billionaire Jeff Skoll, who made his money as the first president of eBay. The Skoll World Forum attracts around 1,000 “social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners” who take part to “exchange ideas, solutions and information”.

In the lead-up to the Forum, the Skoll Foundation held a debate on its website, on the topic of agriculture and forests. Skoll Foundation invited nine short pieces, to “surface the latest insights and innovations at the intersection of deforestation and sustainability”. While the debate is interesting, it is limited by the choice of authors. Eight of them are men. Seven of them are from the global North. None of them are from Asia or Africa. None of them are Indigenous People or representatives of an Indigenous Peoples organisation, or a peasant farmers organisation. They are all white.

The posts are outlined briefly, below. So far, most of the discussion follows a piece by TFT’s Scott Poynton, who really doesn’t pull his punches in his response to a comment by Jason Clay, Senior Vice President, Markets, World Wildlife Fund US:

Got to disagree with you Jason… 

You say that every credible certification WWF supports has strong anti-deforestation criteria. Not so RSPO [Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil]. Deforestation of secondary yet still important forests is perfectly acceptable and is happily done by companies celebrated under the RSPO standard which only obliges protection of primary and HCVF areas. Likewise, the RSPO standard doesn’t preclude the clearance of peatlands. 

The FSC, by far the strongest forest management standard, is greenwashing the use of illegal timber through thousands of Chinese COC certified factories with the help of WWF’s GFTN program, FSC accredited certification bodies and the FSC itself; few know because no one goes out to look or understand exactly how the industry works. TFT does and we’re horrified. This is collusion at its worst.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Clay did not reply to this.


THE CORPORATE CONSERVATION REVOLUTION, Jeffrey Horowitz, Avoided Deforestation Partners

According to Horowitz, there is a new kind of environmental hero: corporate leaders. They are teaming up with a growing number of environmental groups. Sustainability is no longer a matter of choice, but a matter of economic survival.

He says that more than 400 companies in the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) have committed to be deforestation free by 2020. (Scott Poynton points out that only 17 companies have actually signed up to the commitment. Jason Clay puts the figure at 18.)


THE CHALLENGE OF PUTTING BRAZIL’S FORESTS IN GOOD HANDS, Andrea Margit, Roberto Marinho Foundation

Nearly 60% of Brazil is covered by forest. One-third of the world’s remaining tropical rainforest is in Brazil. Yet there is currently a shortage of qualified forest management professionals in Brazil. Margit estimates that the country needs 10,000 workers “to effectively manage timber production in the Amazon”. Margit describes an environmental education programme aimed at persuading young Brazilians to consider a career in forestry.

Margit makes no mention of the Indigenous Peoples living in Brazil’s forests in her piece.


CAN SAVING FORESTS HELP FEED THE WORLD?, Steve Schwartzman, Environmental Defense Fund

Schwartzman questions whether the world’s increasing population can be fed unless tropical forests survive. Agriculture is sensitive to climate change. Without the forests to store and absorb carbon, climate change may hit a tipping point, which will massively impact agricultural output.

Schwartzman jumps from that perfectly reasonable analysis, to his pre-conceived point – the need for a carbon market:

The principle is simple – big emitters cap their emissions, put a price on carbon, and meet part of their targets by buying emissions reductions from tropical states or countries that cap their deforestation emissions and that show that they’ve made their reductions targets with robust remote-sensing and field-based measurements.

The fact that trading emissions does not lead to a reduction of emissions doesn’t seem to concern him. Or that Brazil has massively reduced its deforestation since 2005 without using carbon trading. Having cited the case of Brazil, he concludes that we need a price on emissions from forests and agriculture to “provide the incentives to keep forests standing”.


STEMMING AGRICULTURAL SPRAWL, Jason Clay, World Wildlife Fund US

The expansion of agriculture is the main cause of deforestation, accounting for 90% of global deforestation each year, according to the FAO. Clay estimates that at the current rate of expansion, shortly after 2050, there will be very little natural habitat remaining to convert to food production.

Clay mentions the Forest Stewardship Council (which certifies 8.4% of all wood produced globally) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (which certifies 14% of all palm oil produced globally). These are success stories according to Clay. Poynton’s response (above) suggests not.


PUT A PRICE ON IT, Frank Merry, Aliança da Terra

Merry compares the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the nineteenth century in the USA, with the situation today in Brazil. In both cases, Merry argues, there are good guys and bad guys among the farmers clearing the land. “We must stop demonizing Brazilian farmers and ranchers,” he argues. He doesn’t mention the impact of the land grabe on Indigenous Peoples in either the USA or Brazil.

Merry concludes that to save the forest “we have to make it a valuable commodity” although he doesn’t provide any evidence to back up this claim, or any history of how that idea has played out so far in Brazil and elsewhere.


A PROMISING INITIATIVE TO ADDRESS DEFORESTATION IN BRAZIL AT THE LOCAL LEVEL, Beto Veríssimo, Imazon

In 2004, the Brazilian government launched a programme to reduce deforestation. This included the creation of protected areas and indigenous lands, which now cover 40% of the Brazilian Amazon. Law enforcement was strengthened to stop illegal forest clearing. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research and Imazon launched satellite monitoring systems. And Brazil suspended credit to landowners who did not stop illegal activities.

Veríssimo looks at ways of maintaining the progress made so far. One possibility is the Green Municipalities Program in the State of Pará, which aims at net zero deforestation by 2020. Payments for REDD “are welcome”, Veríssimo writes, but adds that “hydroelectric projects underway can catalyze massive migration and land use speculation — reigniting strong drivers of deforestation”.


THE NEED TO JUMP START REDD, Michael Jenkins, Forest Trends

While US$7.3 billion has been promised for REDD up to 2015, information about what has been done with this money, where the money has gone is “fragmented, incomplete, and often inaccessible”. In November 2010, Forest Trends launched the “Tracking REDD+ Expenditures initiative” in four pilot countries (Brazil, Ecuador, Ghana and Vietnam). This has now entered a second phase adding nine more countries and working with the REDD+ Partnership, Climate Funds Update (ODI), the REDD Desk (Global Canopy Programme), and the Tropical Forest Group.

It is safe to say, from our initial findings, that to date very little of the commitments to REDD+ has reached the ground and with minimal impact in terms of real reductions of carbon emissions from forestry and land use, or mobilizing longer-term private sector investment.

Jenkins suggests that either governments (such as the USA or Norway) or the World Bank should act as a “central buyer of forest and land-use carbon credits” in an attempt to bail out the failed carbon markets, although that isn’t quite how Jenkins puts it.


STRONG ‘NO DEFORESTATION’ COMMITMENTS SAVE FORESTS AND FEED PEOPLE, Scott Poynton, The Forest Trust

Poynton starts with a quotation from K.C. Kole: “How do you hold a hundred tons of water in the air with no visible means of support? You build a cloud”. So far, argues Poynton, we have not managed to “build a cloud” to stop deforestation.

Poynton is doubtful that REDD is a solution:

Similarly, REDD+ and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) are not off the ground enough to make anything but a restricted local impact. They’re not new initiatives, they’re just not happening, and it’s not for lack of money – there’s something inherent stopping their uptake.

Poynton’s cloud has three pillars (and no, I’ve never seen a cloud with pillars either):

1. Stop cutting trees.
2. Increase crop yields on lands you already have.
3. Engage with local communities and help smallholders upscale.

Poynton gives the examples of three companies that have “already made super strong No Deforestation commitments”, Nestle, Golden Agri Resources and Asia Pulp and Paper. “It’s so far nowhere near enough; we need to go to scale,” Poynton adds.


TAMING TROPICAL FOREST FRONTIERS, Daniel Nepstad, IPAM International Program

Nepstad lists six key lessons from the reduced deforestation in Brazil since 2005 (he acknowledges that the list is incomplete):

1. Learn what farmers need to make the transition
2. Develop effective mechanisms for financing farmers’ transition
3. Build effective systems for supporting farmers technically
4. Agree on a single, simple definition of success in lowering deforestation across districts, counties, municípios, states, provinces and nations
5. Commodity roundtables (RSPO, RTRS, Bonsucro), Consumer Goods Forum companies, and other firms must commit to buy preferentially from counties/states/nations that are lowing their deforestation and from farmers who are making the transition to sustainability
6. REDD programs must move beyond their current association with isolated projects to become an integral part of the rural development transition, fostering flows of benefits that reward jurisdictions that are slowing deforestation

Nepstad, given his long experience in working in Brazil, can easily argue that the first four points are lessons learned. But numbers 5 and 6 are a wish list, based on what Nepstad hopes might happen.
 

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  1. I just want to say that Scott Poynton deserves full credit for his response to Jason Clay. It’s a tough message but it needed saying: the likes of the RSPO and the FSC are not stopping deforestation, and they probably never will do.

    In the case of the FSC, it is not just problems with dodgy Chinese companies laundering illegal wood into the FSC certified supply chain: it is a number of deeper problems, including the FSC’s shambolic ‘Controlled (sic) Wood’ policy, and the total incapacity of the FSC Secretariat to control the fraudulent issuing of certificates by numerous of the bigger certification bodies.

    In the case of the RSPO, one only has to look to Africa to see how weak the RSPO is in protecting forests. Certified ‘sustainable’ palm oil is all well and good, but what about the outright destruction now occurring in several countries for plantations that won’t even produce any palm oil for the next 10 or more years? Even those companies that are trying to comply with RSPO plantation development standards at the concession level are likely to have significant impacts at the landscape level, which is beyond the scope of RSPO assessment.

  2. As I was reading everyone’s statements, it appears that they all struggle with the financial mechanism to monetize these credits with confidence so that people buying them will. Everyone agrees that to maintain them is important and with there being 7.5 billion sitting there ready to move. why isn’t it moving. The VCS has released their standard for REDD+ and were going to buy $500 million, but what is the right price. Disney paid $8.01 and most auctions are under $2.00. Unless we can agree upon a standardize methodology and price point in the market, this goes no where. If this panal can’t figure this out, who will lead????

  3. @kellie Mason (#2) – Thanks for your comment. In January 2013, I did a post about the price of carbon credits, based on an interview with Edward Hanrahan of ClimateCare, an Oxford-based carbon offsets company. Hanrahan told me that ““There is no such thing as a generic price,” for carbon credits. ClimateCare sells carbon credits for £7.50 a tonne. Hanrahan explains that this “is a blended portfolio price that represents an averaged cost of the credits in the portfolio”. He pointed out that other carbon credits were worth less than £1 per tonne.

    The price of carbon credits depends on the project generating the credit and the vintage (i.e. the year that the emissions reduction in the project took place). The older the vintage, the less the carbon credit is worth. Buying carbon credits is like buying bread (last week’s bread is worthless). Also, the price of bread varies depending on where you buy it. An 800g loaf of Allinson High Fibre White Bread will cost you £1.50 at a Tesco supermarket in the UK. If you went to Asda, you can get the same loaf of bread for £1.39 (or two for £2.30).

    Of course, if there was a massive oversupply of bread, the price would fall.

    The difference between bread and carbon credits is that everyone more or less understands what bread is and what it can be used for.