“REDD is a risky and false solution to climate change, both in theory and in practice,” argues a new report by Friends of the Earth International. “Now it is time to ditch risky REDD for known community approaches that are effective, ethical and equitable.”
The report looks at three case studies of “REDD going wrong”: the N’hambita Pilot Project in Mozambique, the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership (KFCP) in Indonesia, and the implementation of REDD+ in Peru.
The alternative to REDD, Friends of the Earth International argues, is “community forest management, based on customary traditional knowledge and led by communities”. An important first step is resolving outstanding land tenure issues.
The drivers of deforestation also need to be addressed: “real efforts to reduce excessive levels of consumption of food, timber and metals by wealthy countries and elites”.
Friends of the Earth International also notes the need for a “focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions domestically in industrialised countries”.
The report outlines Friends of the Earth International’s nine key concerns about REDD:
1. REDD linked to carbon offsets cannot deliver permanent emissions reductions
To mitigate climate change, it is absolutely critical that a distinction is made between the long-term geological carbon cycle, in which undisturbed fossil fuels are locked away underground for millennia, and the temporary above-ground carbon cycle, which involves carbon being stored in trees, other plants and soils, for relatively short periods of time. If REDD project credits are used as carbon offsets, allowing continued emissions based on fossil fuels elsewhere, this distinction is lost. As the European Commission has itself observed: “[land use change and forestry] projects cannot physically deliver permanent emissions reductions.”
2. Ongoing methodological problems mean that REDD/carbon offset projects that are not successfully reducing emissions could still be used to condone continued emissions elsewhere
Despite some gains in satellite technology, numerous methodological problems involved in quantifying the emissions saved through REDD projects continue. This includes identifying and agreeing baseline or reference levels against which measurements will be made. This is a notable feature of the N’hambita case study in Mozambique.
Allowing REDD credits to be purchased as carbon offsets can also impact marginalised communities living in polluted areas in industrialised countries. For example, by increasing the quantity of offsets available to industrial emitters in California, the ongoing development of links between California’s cap-and-trade programme and REDD projects in Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil, is likely to make it easier for California’s industry to continue polluting. A clear example of this is Chevron’s polluting refinery in Richmond, California, which Chevron is expanding so that it can process heavy crude oil from fracking and tar sands. Chevron, already California’s largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases, claims there will be no ‘net increase’ in polluting emissions, because extra emissions will be offset through California’s carbon cap-and-trade system.
3. Because REDD is designed to be ‘market-friendly’, it not does not address the need to reduce demand for and over-consumption of food, timber and mining products grown in place of or extracted from forests
REDD ignores underlying causes of deforestation including over-consumption by wealthy elites, and governments’ overwhelming focus on ensuring that their economies can compete on global markets. This neoliberal approach continues to drive the production of goods at maximum volume and minimum cost. REDD is favoured by governments precisely because it does not challenge demand for exports of food, timber and other products that involve deforestation. The case study of Peru shows how a country’s economic aspirations still take precedence. Peru’s REDD projects are primarily designed to promote forestry and ‘carbon positive’ agriculture (see case study for more detail).
Without reducing consumption and demand for these products the problem of ‘leakage’ (deforesting activities happening elsewhere) remains, whether REDD is undertaken at the project-level or nationally.
Furthermore, if widely implemented, REDD could reduce the availability of forest, arable lands and mining deposits. While reducing production and over-consumption by wealthy elites is a desirable objective, simply reducing supply without reducing demand could have some undesirable consequences. For example, it could push up the price of raw materials on global markets, which would in turn increase the ‘opportunity costs’ that REDD finance has to compensate for. This could also lead some countries to increase their agricultural or mining production to the detriment of forests. It would also make land and resources more valuable, which could increase land grabbing. And it would increase the cost of food and products for everyone including impoverished communities.
4. REDD projects are inherently risky, for peoples and communities, and even investors
REDD is not a suitable source of finance for forest conservation, especially because it is risky and unsustainable. Bringing volatile carbon markets into the equation by linking them to REDD is even more of a gamble — if the price at which carbon is traded plummets, vital project financing can vanish without warning. REDD linked to carbon markets would hold the future of the world’s forests and forest peoples ransom to the price of carbon and the vicissitudes of the financial sector. Turning emissions reductions from forests into an abstract commodity exposes local communities to global commercial power structures and increasing competition for land and forest carbon resources.
In addition, REDD projects themselves are inherently risky for all involved, particularly because forests are vulnerable to future weather events, fire and illegal logging. REDD can also involve huge risks for communities or peoples. Making ‘performance based’ payments to local communities creates an uncertain and unpredictable income stream and their receipt of money is contingent on factors that may be beyond their control. These risks are clearly seen in the N’hambita case study in Mozambique.
In general, adopting ‘solutions’ that are so risky jeopardises efforts to mitigate climate change. Time is of the essence, and there is no time to ‘experiment’ with different solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned that countries need to agree to a global climate deal almost immediately, and participate fully, to keep climate change within safer levels.
5. REDD is expensive and can create adverse incentives for deforestation
REDD has been popular with governments because it is considered to be relatively cheap. However, the influential ‘McKinsey cost curve,’ which is supposed to demonstrate this, is deeply flawed. For example, it neglects the complexity and costs of dealing with the underlying drivers of deforestation, and overlooks important technical, legal, social and environmental costs.
In addition, REDD encourages governments to maintain or at least plan for high levels of deforestation, to increase likely compensation. The McKinsey consultancy has encouraged governments to do this.
6. REDD exacerbates weak law enforcement, corruption and land tenure disputes
Weak governance of the forest industry, weak law enforcement, and unclear land tenure in many developing nations are themselves drivers of deforestation. Forest carbon projects like REDD exacerbate these problems, whether privately or publicly funded, particularly because they can aggravate existing land and resource disputes, especially in cases where governments allocate carbon rights that conflict with the land rights of Indigenous and forest peoples. Examples include the implementation of REDD in Cameroon and the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership project in Indonesia. There are reported cases of small holders and local communities being threatened and criminalised as well, in countries such as Peru and Brazil.
The complexity of both REDD and carbon markets is already creating an ideal cover for corruption and fraud, both nationally and internationally, especially where law enforcement is weak. In Colombia, for instance, the government has been trying to stop ‘carbon cowboys’ persuading communities to sign over the management of their territories so that they can reap the rewards of carbon income. Interpol has also noted that, “Alarm bells are ringing. It is simply too big to monitor. The potential for criminality is vast and has not been taken into account by the people who set it up.”
7. REDD projects may ignore important cultural and social aspects of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ relationships with forests
REDD implementation may not take important cultural and social impacts into account, and local communities and Indigenous Peoples may find that their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent is ignored. In Costa Rica, for example, the BriBri Indigenous People’s sacred sites have been targeted for REDD. In Peru, communities local to the BioCorridor Martin Sagrado Project were only consulted after the project was approved, meaning that their consent was not sought (see case study below). The Kuna people in Panama have decided to pre-empt such problems by rejecting all REDD projects on their Indigenous Comarcas.
8. REDD fails to distinguish between biodiverse forests and monoculture plantations
So long as the UNFCCC fails to make a distinction between biodiverse forests and virtually lifeless monoculture plantations it is hard to see how safeguards that are supposed to protect natural forests from conversion as part of a REDD project could possibly be enforced in practice. There is also no agreed definition of ‘forest degradation’ in the UNFCCC.
9. REDD diverts attention away from industrialised countries’ climate debt
REDD is currently the centrepiece in UN climate change negotiations, which are now focused on a ‘universal agreement’ involving action by both developed and developing countries. This overall shift has helped to divert attention away from industrialised countries’ responsibility for climate change and their previous Kyoto Protocol commitments to reducing emissions and supporting mitigation and adaptation in other countries. The central question of climate debt is thus sidestepped and the burden has shifted so that there is an increasing requirement for action in developing countries.