Are Norway’s REDD deals reducing deforestation?

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I recently wrote an opinion piece for the magazine Development Today about Norway’s REDD deals in Brazil and Indonesia. The piece is posted in full (with permission) below.

In an Editorial, Development Today argues that the problem with Norway’s approach to REDD is that it is “hands off”, or results-based. This might work in Brazil, which has by itself dramatically reduced deforestation in recent years. It might eventually work in Indonesia, although deforestation is currently increasing there. The danger is that a hands off approach means sitting back and watching Indonesia’s forests going up in smoke.

And, as Development Today notes, a hands off approach is very unlikely ever to work in countries like Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“A re-thinking is in order,” Development Today write. I look forward to a constructive discussion in the comments below and in future Opinion pieces for Development Today.

Saving tropical forests turns out to be neither cheap nor quick

Published in Development Today, 2/2014 6 March 2014

Having monitored global REDD initiatives since 2008, writer and environmental activist Chris Lang questions whether Norway’s aid-financed climate forest initiative – the largest in the world – has contributed to reducing rates of deforestation.

When I started the REDD-Monitor website in 2008, REDD – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation – was promoted as the “low-hanging fruit” that would save the rainforests and address climate change. In 2006, for example, the economist Nicholas Stern had described REDD as “highly cost-effective” and explained that it could reduce emissions “fairly quickly”. More than seven years on, REDD is neither cheap nor quick. (In 2012, I asked Stern whether he has reconsidered his views on REDD in the interim. He didn’t reply.)

The Norwegian government is the biggest funder of REDD, including US$1 billion REDD deals in Indonesia and Brazil, two countries with large areas of forest and high rates of deforestation. The money is payable when deforestation is reduced. But have Norway’s rainforest billions had any influence on rates of deforestation in either country?

Forest Politics

Forest politics in the two countries are different. Brazil is opposed to REDD offsets but Indonesia is in favour. Deforestation in Brazil has fallen since 2004, but in Indonesia it is increasing. Brazil has reliable deforestation data, produced annually by the National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais). Indonesia’s deforestation data is produced by the Ministry of Forestry – and the data is not supported by satellite data.

A recent study published in Science magazine found that in the years 2011 and 2012, the rate of deforestation in Indonesia doubled to about 2 million hectares per year. The study, led by Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland with help from Google and NASA, included synthesising satellite data from 2000 to 2012 to produce a Global Forest Change map.

In a presentation about the study, Hansen points out that Indonesia, “has the highest annual increase in forest cover loss over the study period, of around 1,000 square kilometres per year.” Hansen speculates whether the proposals to reduce deforestation in Indonesia have created a perverse incentive that could actually accelerate deforestation.

Yet in a recent interview with Development Today, Per Fredrik Pharo, head of the Norwegian Climate Forest Initiative, seems complacent:

“I think [the Indonesia case] illustrates that the design is actually quite suitable to the situation we have which depends on a lot of internal domestic processes which are not going to move at a certain pace because Norway would like them to. Some things have been slower than we hoped, some things have been far faster.”

The “design” that Pharo is talking about is “results-based aid”. Norway takes a hands-off approach, promising payments only when results are achieved. So far, the only money reaching Indonesia under the US$1 billion REDD deal between the two countries is for UNDP to carry out a capacity building project.

“Results-based aid” may end up as little more than sitting back and waiting for what’s left of Indonesia’s forests to go up in smoke. In June 2013, smoke from fires in Sumatra set new pollution records in Singapore. Almost half of the fires were inside concessions for oil palm plantations and industrial tree plantations.

Part of the Indonesia-Norway REDD deal is a moratorium on new forest concessions. It initially ran from 2011-2013 and has been extended for a further two years. According to data recently released by Indonesia’s REDD+ Agency in the Ministry of Forestry, permits for concessions covering a total area of 1.3 million hectares have been delayed under the moratorium. But the moratorium only applies to new concessions. As such, it is impotent to address the fires in Sumatra, as long as the fires are burning inside existing concessions.

In any case, the moratorium is not a legally binding instrument. There are no legal consequences of breaching the moratorium.

The moratorium applies to “primary natural forests”, but not to secondary forests. That leaves a vast area of Indonesia’s forests at risk. Indonesian government officials have repeatedly said that plantation expansion can take place on “degraded forests”. The fact that there is no official government definition of “degraded forests” only adds to the risk that biodiversity-rich secondary forests will be cleared.

Positive steps in Indonesia

It’s not all doom and gloom in Indonesia. In recent years, four companies that are historically responsible for clearing large areas of Indonesia’s forests have proclaimed no deforestation policies. Oil palm giant Golden Agri Resources was first, announcing its no deforestation policy in 2011. Asia Pulp and Paper, also part of the Sinar Mas Group, followed in February 2013. Wilmar, another oil palm company, committed to stop deforestation in December 2013, and the following month pulp and paper company APRIL joined in.

While it’s too soon to announce any of these policies as a success, they could be a promising step towards reducing deforestation. But these commitments have no direct link with either REDD or Norway.

Other signs of progress in Indonesia include: the “one map” initiative (previously several ministries produced conflicting land use maps); an agreement to fight forest crime; a constitutional ruling that recognises indigenous peoples’ land rights; and a REDD+ Agency has now been established.

These are all important, but only the REDD+ Agency is actually part of the Indonesia-Norway REDD deal. And whether it will really become an agent for change remains to be seen in the turf war between Indonesia’s ministries over its forests. Reacting to the establishment of the REDD+ Agency, Hadi Daryanto, the Forestry Ministry’s general secretary, said,

“the REDD+ council will not be able to take any actions. The council only has the power to report on emissions reduction projects and any program irregularities to the related ministries. It is then up to the appropriate ministry take action.”

The reality is that REDD is taking place in parallel with business as usual in Indonesia. In 2011, Indonesia overtook Australia as the world’s largest thermal coal exporter and further expansion is on the cards. The country’s Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI) is a massively ambitious development programme to create six “economic development corridors” including new roads, new railways, the expansion of the mining industry, and huge new areas of oil palm and industrial tree plantations.

Reductions in Brazil

The University of Maryland forest mapping study mentioned earlier used satellite data to establish forest cover over the period 2000 to 2012. During this period, the researchers found that the rate of deforestation in Indonesia had doubled, while in Brazil it had halved.

One of the reasons for the reduction of deforestation in Brazil is that since 2005, the Brazilian government had been enforcing the 1965 Forest Code. Then, in 2008, the government brought in two further measures to reduce deforestation. First, farmers could only access credit if they were in compliance with the Forest Code. Second, farmers were required to geo-reference forest areas on their land in a national registry.

Another policy that helped to reduce the rate of deforestation in Brazil is a moratorium on trading soybeans from newly deforested areas in the Amazon. The “soya moratorium” was put in place in 2006, by ABIOVE, (Brazil’s Vegetable Oil Industry Association) after a Greenpeace campaign. The soya moratorium happened independently of any discussions about REDD or any offers of Norwegian money for reducing deforestation.

Norway’s payments to Brazil under its REDD agreement are for reductions in deforestation. Thanks to Brazil’s reliable satellite monitoring of forest cover and the reductions in deforestation, Norway has allocated a total of US$600 million for Brazil. Though by September 2013, only US$135 million had been disbursed to Brazil’s Amazon Fund because under the terms of the agreement the money could only be transferred when the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) identified rainforest conservation projects on which the funds could be spent.

Brazil’s rate of deforestation was coming down well before 2008 when REDD negotiations with Norway started. Proving that the reduced deforestation in Brazil is related to REDD is practically impossible.

As in Indonesia, REDD in Brazil takes place in parallel to business as usual. Brazil has an Accelerated Growth Programme, which aims to attract a total of US$872 billion in investments. Projects under the two phases of this programme include highways, airports, hydropower dams, and oil and gas developments. These projects will both affect forests and exacerbate climate change.

For decades Brazil has been planning to dam the Xingu River. The proposals are vehemently opposed by the Kayapó Indians living along the river. The most recent plan, the Belo Monte dam, would be the world’s third largest hydropower dam. Building the dam would affect 152,200 hectares of forest and result in the eviction of somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 people. Estimates of the cost of the project range from US$8 billion to over US$16 billion – dwarfing the US$1 billion promised by Norway for REDD.

Norway, Brazil and the companies profiting from building the dam, could argue that it is possible to build the dam, even if it is destructive, and still achieve deforestation targets by reducing deforestation elsewhere in the country. But this argument is of little consolation for the Kayapó and the others affected by the dam.

The fact that the Brazilian national development bank (BNDES), the manager of the Amazon Fund, would finance most of the Belo Monte hydropower dam, illustrates perfectly how REDD exists in parallel with massive, destructive development projects.

The reality is that reducing deforestation is complex, and is neither cheap nor quick. Norway’s rainforest billions are not addressing the drivers of deforestation. Unless REDD addresses the drivers of deforestation, it will not reduce deforestation in the long term. Meanwhile, in terms of addressing climate change, REDD is a distraction from the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.

DT 2/2014 March 06, 2014
© Copyright Development Today AS

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8 Comments

  1. Chris;

    You know, I do value your blog a lot, because it contains a lot of useful information. However, I often disagree as strongly with your conclusions. The argument of of “distraction” is a relict from early Kyoto days, and I didn’t expect to hear it again from you.

    REDD is not quick, but given the slow disbursement of funds, it is actually cheap – unfortunately. The logical conclusion is: Which instrument, if not REDD, will be better suited to drive deforestation down? Is concentrating on tropical forest only the correct approach? Shouldn’t climate-smart land use be a global focus of climate policies, and how does it correlate to fossil fuel emissions? Stop separating between sectors, and you get better results.

  2. @Michael Dutschke (#1) – Thanks for this comment. I brought up the “distraction” argument because it’s even more relevant today than it was in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. As this graph illustrates (published in Nature Geoscience) emissions from fossil fuels are increasing:

    You ask three questions:

    1. Which instrument, if not REDD, will be better suited to drive deforestation down?

    Look again at the article above. Deforestation in Brazil has fallen dramatically since 2004. It’s difficult to point at any single cause for this – commodity prices, implementation of the Forest Code, and the Soya Moratorium played a role. Norway’s US$1 billion REDD deal with Brazil seems to have played little or no role.

    2. Is concentrating on tropical forest only the correct approach?

    Probably not, no. But it depends what your aim is. If your aim is stopping tropical deforestation, it’s probably not a bad approach. If your aim is addressing climate change, it makes little sense (see the graph above).

    3. Shouldn’t climate-smart land use be a global focus of climate policies, and how does it correlate to fossil fuel emissions?

    Climate-smart land use sounds like a good idea, obviously. Perhaps it should be a “global focus of climate policies”. I’m sure it will be discussed at great length in future UNFCCC meetings. And there are lots of initiatives from the FAO, the World Bank, CGIAR, PricewaterhouseCoopers, CIFOR and so on.

    What is not being being discussed by the UNFCCC, however, is how we can leave fossil fuels in the ground. And unless we find a way of doing that, we won’t address climate change.

    And as FERN pointed out in a recent report, “It is a mistake to think that emissions from fossil fuels can be negated by increasing or protecting the storage potential of forests and other land based carbon.”

  3. How do you expect finding ways to leave fossil fuels in the ground, unless you seriously address land use competition and start managing available land areas worldwide?

  4. @Michael Dutschke (#3) – Just to be clear. Are you arguing that in order to leave fossil fuels in the ground we need to find substitutes for fossil fuels, and these substitutes are likely to include biomass (whether its wood, palm oil, jatropha, or whatever)? And therefore we need to “seriously address land use competition and start managing available land areas worldwide”. And you honestly believe that this is the way to address climate change?

  5. Chris, you see how ideologically loaded is this debate: If I was to reply: “No, it’s about poverty alleviation, world nutrition and biodiversity conservation and efficiency of resource use”, I would be everybody’s darling. However, all of the above is true. We are losing arable soils by the hour, while world population is hourly growing, and they need much more than food only. An anti-industry discourse won’t make them happy either. Get out of your trenches, let’s move the world!

  6. On a related note, Arild Angelsen recently published an opinion piece on ForestsClimateChange.org that details the 5 challenges and 5 lessons learned from Norway’s model of performance based aid for REDD+: http://bit.ly/1hkn19G

    His main points are that:
    -Donors are too eager to spend
    -Establishing performance criteria and measuring them are difficult
    -It’s hard to set realistic benchmarks or reference levels
    -There’s no quick and easy way to handle uncertainty and share risks
    -There needs to be money behind the promise

    The five lessons:
    -We can learn from lessons in other sectors.
    -Don’t be naïve – performance based is hard.
    -Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
    -Make space for alternative uses of funds.
    -Don’t make all REDD+ aid performance-based

  7. Hi Chris,
    I strongly disagree that the only positive step in Indonesia that is attributable to the Indonesia-Norway agreement is the moratorium. How can you say, for instance, that the One Map process is not part of this? And what about the progress on the recognition of indigenous peoples’ land?
    Anyway, we will respond in the next edition of Development Today :)

  8. @Anja Lillegraven (#7) – Thanks for this. In 2012, I interviewed Heru Prasetyo, now head of the REDD+ Agency. On the One Map, he said,

    “It is true that the moratorium has given the momentum for us to do the one map. But the idea of the one map come up before the moratorium. A Presidential Instruction was already out. We did a presentation in the cabinet and we showed the President the map of Ministry of Environment and the map of the Ministry of Forestry. The basic assumption that they used to create the maps are different and because of that there is not a complete overlap of what is designated as forest by the two Ministries. At that moment the President instructed to create the one map. So the first impetus was because of the differences in the data in the map.”

    But maybe you’re right. Maybe without the negotiations with Norway about REDD there would never have been One Map. The point is that with Norway’s “hands off” approach it’s very difficult to say one way or the other.

    The Constitution Court ruling is much more clear cut. As you know, in March 2012, Indonesia’s national indigenous peoples’ organisation, AMAN, filed a petition to the Court. The Constitutional Court reviewed the 1999 Forest Law and revised the Law so that state forests no longer include customary forests. This was a decision of the Constitutional Court. Surely you’re not arguing that Norway’s US$1 billion REDD deal somehow influenced the Constitutional Court’s ruling?

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