A recent study in East Kalimantan revealed no difference in carbon emissions between Forest Stewardship Council certified logging operations and conventional logging concessions.
This has potentially huge implications for REDD. “Sustainable management of forest” is one of the “plus” parts of REDD as agreed in December 2010 in Cancun. “Sustainable management of forest” could mean subsidies to industrial-scale commercial logging operations in old-growth forests.
The findings of the recent study also have serious implications for the Forestry Stewardship Council which is expanding its certification system to include forest carbon.
The Forest Stewardship Council was formed in 1993, with the aim of promoting environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable forest management. It does so through a certification system. An FSC accredited “certifying body” assesses whether the company’s forestry concession complies with a series of FSC principles and criteria.
FSC has a controversial record, as a result of its certification of monoculture tree plantations and destructive logging operations, and its failure to hold its certifying bodies to account. Perhaps the biggest problem is that when a certifying body assesses a company, it is paid to do so by the company. There is a clear incentive for the certifying body to turn a blind eye to the company’s shortcomings.
Greenpeace, which is a member of FSC, describes the FSC system “at risk” and notes that “many of the FSC’s on-the-ground performance criteria are either weak, under threat of being weakened, or not properly implemented”.
In 2009, FSC formed a Forest Carbon Working Group, which produced a “Strategic Framework for an FSC® Climate Change Engagement” in November 2012. FSC sees certifying forest carbon as a potential growth area for the organisation. The report includes a series of “objectives” and “goals” for FSC. One of these goals is that,
FSC is recognized by credible forest carbon schemes in order to facilitate and lead participants towards FSC certification.
But what if FSC certified logging operations don’t actually reduce emissions? In a new study, Bronson Griscom and Peter Ellis of The Nature Conservancy and Jack Putz of the University of Florida, look at nine logging operations in East Kalimantan. Three of the concessions are FSC certified, six are not.
Instead of taking random plots in the concessions, Griscom and colleagues followed bulldozer tracks and studied the damage logging operations caused in the forest. They measured the width of logging trails and roads and measured how much biomass was cleared to make way for them. They estimated how many other trees were felled or damaged when a tree was logged.
In the abstract to the paper, Griscom, Ellis and Putz write that,
We found that concessions certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC, N = 3), when compared with noncertified concessions (N = 6), did not have lower overall CO2 emissions from logging activity (felling, skidding, and hauling).
Mongabay’s Rhett Butler sums up the importance of this research:
[T]he results cast doubt on whether reduced impact logging should receive payments under REDD+. Griscom and colleagues argue that simple fixes could result in real emissions reductions, but the question is whether these fixes will be actually implemented on the ground, especially in poorly-monitored concessions like those studied in Kalimantan.
“It’s insane to consider ‘lower-emission’ logging at all considering the forests, no matter the disturbance, are never able to retain as much carbon or biodiversity as primary forests.”
Bradshaw refers to a 2011 paper that he co-wrote, that was published in Nature. The paper, titled, “Primary forests are irreplaceable for sustaining tropical biodiversity”, uses a meta-analysis of 138 peer-reviewed studies. “Absolutely nothing can replace the value of primary forest,” Bradshaw told Mongabay.
Bill Laurence, a Professor at the School of Marine and Tropical Biology at James Cook University, was also a co-author of the 2011 Nature paper. On the ALERT website, Laurence writes that,
Indonesia alone has at least 35 million hectares of selectively logged forest – an area larger than Germany – and much of this logged forest is unprotected and being cleared for agriculture.
Laurence told Mongabay,
“Rather than trying to use REDD+ funds to lower carbon emissions from logging, I’d rather see such funds used to purchase previously logged forests or to protect them from conversion.”
This makes sense. But it means going back on what was agreed in Cancun – the plus part of REDD includes “Sustainable management of forests”.
Meanwhile, REDD-Monitor looks forward to FSC’s response to Briscom, Ellis and Putz’s study. It presents a serious problem for FSC’s Forest Carbon Working Group. On its website, FSC claims that,
FSC ensure [sic] forest stewardship that considers the impact of management regimes on forest carbon cycles and aims at maintaining, restoring or enhancing forest carbon resources.
Briscom, Ellis and Putz’s study shows that this statement is not necessarily true. The fact that a logging concession has been certified under the FSC system is not a guarantee that the logging operation has resulted in reduced forest carbon emissions compared to conventional logging.
PHOTO Credit: Logging track in Berau, November 2013.