in Brazil

What is a successful REDD project? How many are there? Some questions for Steve Zwick, Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace

Earlier this month, the Heinrich Böll Foundation published a report written by Jutta Kill that looks at two early forest carbon offset projects in Brazil. The report is critical and documents the ongoing consequences of the projects for communities living in the area of the projects.

The two case studies in the report are the Guaraqueçaba Climate Action Project in Paraná, and the Monte Pascoal-Pau Brasil Ecological Corridor project in Bahia.

Steve Zwick, the Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, left a comment on Heinrich Böll Foundation’s website about the report. His comment, which he points out represents his views and not necessarily those of Forest Trends or Ecosystem Marketplace, is a scathing attack of the report and of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for publishing the report. Here’s how it starts:

Really? Are these what pass for “case studies” in today’s Heinrich Böll Foundation? How can an organization named for a man who so eloquently exposed the evils of tabloid journalism publish a piece more worthy of his fictional villain Werner Tötges than of Böll himself?

In a response to Zwick, Dr Dawid Bartelt, the Director of Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Brazil Office, defends the report, describing it as “Jutta Kill’s excellent case study report”.

In his comment, Zwick writes that there are “more than 400 successful REDD projects”, that are “protecting forested areas larger than the entire land mass of Malaysia”.

Larry Lohmann of the Cornerhouse picks up on these claims by Zwick in a comment following Bartelt’s response. Lohmann starts with a challenge to Zwick’s use of the word “successful”:

By definition, all REDD projects, by lumping together emissions from fossil fuels with biotic emissions, discourage the project of keeping fossil fuels in the ground – the sine qua non of effective climate action. From the technical perspective of climate change mitigation, therefore, none of Zwick’s 400 REDD projects, without exception, could ever be made to be “successful”.

I thought it might be worth asking Zwick a few questions about his claim that there are “more than 400 successful REDD projects”. My email is below, followed by Zwick’s two responses (posted in full and unedited).

Zwick acknowledges that he should have written “400 forest carbon projects, most of which are REDD.” We still don’t know how Zwick defines a “successful” REDD project, except that “hundreds of REDD projects exist around the world” and “combined, they dwarf all other efforts to conserve forests in the developing world”.

In his second email, Zwick provides a link to the Forest Carbon Portal, which includes a map of forest carbon projects and some details about each project. I counted about 160 projects in the Global South (not all of which are REDD projects). Incidentally, the Ulu Masen project in Indonesia is included in that number. It’s described as “operational” on the Forest Carbon Portal. Zwick, meanwhile, describes this project as a “failed” REDD project “that started but never issued credits”.

 


From: Chris Lang
Date: 27 January 2015 at 12:22
Subject: REDD projects
To: Steve Zwick

Hi Steve,

I recently read your comment on the Heinrich Böll Foundation website about the HBF report “REDD in Brazil – Two case studies on early forest carbon offset projects”.

In your comment, you write that there are “more than 400 successful REDD projects” that are “protecting forested areas larger than the entire land mass of Malaysia”.

I would be grateful if you could answer the following questions about these statements:

1. What is your source for the statement that there are “more than 400 successful REDD projects”?

2. Please provide a list of these “more than 400 successful REDD projects”. Please include details of the project developers, the country, and the area of each project.

3. How do you define “successful” in this context?

4. How do you define REDD in this context? Does your definition include forest carbon and land-use projects that are not necessarily “REDD” projects?

5. In your comment you give the most recent State of Forest Carbon Markets Report as the source for your statement that these REDD projects are “protecting forested areas larger than the entire land mass of Malaysia”.

A similar statement appears in a recent article on Ecosystem Marketplace (although the author does not claim that the “more than 400 REDD projects” are “successful”):

    “More than 400 REDD projects around the world are currently protecting a forested area larger than the entire land mass of Malaysia, according to the latest Ecosystem Marketplace State of Forest Carbon Markets Report.”

But the State of the Forest Carbon Markets Report states that “Avoided deforestation projects now cover almost 20 million hectares, about the size of the forest area of Malaysia.”

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you. Please consider your response to be on the record.

Regards, Chris


 
 


From: Steve Zwick
Date: 28 January 2015 at 06:46
Subject: RE: REDD projects
To: Chris Lang

Hey, Chris;

You’re right – I should have said “400 forest carbon projects, most of which are REDD.” If I were writing a formal response instead of just commenting on a blog while rushing off to lunch, I’d have chosen the words more carefully.

My point is that hundreds of REDD projects exist around the world, and they have a pattern of success – meaning that, combined, they dwarf all other efforts to conserve forests in the developing world. I’m sure some are “better” than others, and I strongly believe that there’s tremendous value in analyzing them to learn what works, what doesn’t, and why. But instead of trying to harvest these projects for their valuable lessons, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung launched another Benghazi-like witch hunt that cherry-picks a few pilots, ignores the many things they got right, trumps up the things they got wrong, and then tries to paint an entire sector with those issues – issues which have generally been seen as learning opportunities for those who came later.

You know as well as I do that this isn’t a serious quest for understanding. It’s part of an effort to undermine REDD, for reasons that have more to do with ideology than rationality.

How do we know this? Because their methods are the same ones used by climate-science deniers, anti-vaccine campaigners, and ideologues of all stripes: they cherry-pick, they toss off red herrings, and they just make stuff up.

As a result, instead of a rational analysis of projects listed in, say, the Verified Carbon Standard’s data base, they either attack phantom projects that never even got close to coming into existence, or failed projects that started but never issued credits or pilot projects like the ones the Böll Stiftung pilloried.

When they have dug into verified projects, they’ve resorted to out-and-out lie-based smear campaigns instead of trying to really figure out what worked and what didn’t.

At least Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) comes clean about its motives when it openly states that it believes that Indigenous People should have no contact with the market economy. Perhaps the Böll Stiftung has a similar motive. I don’t know – but I’d wish they’d come clean as well.

I agree REDD is not a panacea – but it’s succeeding where old-school conservation efforts have failed, and it’s bringing both funding and transparency to the forests. Even the internal debates among the Paiter-Surui have been brought into the public eye by REDD (and, of course, CIMI has then gone and tried to blame REDD for those debates, which is simply wrong).

Steve Zwick
Managing Editor
Ecosystem Marketplace
 


From: Steve Zwick
Date: 28 January 2015 at 18:57
Subject: You’d asked about a list
To: Chris Lang

Hey, Chris;

You’d asked about a list in last night’s mail, and I don’t think I answered that. I don’t know offhand if such a list exists, and I actually doubt it, because the report is based on a survey designed to uncover trends rather than an inventory. I can check into it if you want, but in the meantime I can point you towards the Forest Carbon Portal, which does have an inventory.

I’m a firm believer in standards that provide verification and validation, but I also know that the latest survey identified more projects being developed according to “self-generated” standards. I don’t know enough about the quality of these projects to call them all “successful”, so I’ll post a comment to roll that back a bit. What I do know is that those projects I’ve done a deep dive into have, in fact, stood up under scrutiny, and the “critiques” have proven to be hatchet jobs.

I know that I get prickly when I find people distorting the results of legitimate projects instead of engaging in legitimate examination – because we all need to know what works and what doesn’t.

There are legitimate critiques of project-based REDD – chief among them the fact that projects alone can’t save the planet. But then, nothing alone is going to save the planet.

I’m leery of talking to you too much, because I don’t really know what you’re up to – and I think this witch-hunt mentality among “critics” has created a bunker mentality among “proponents”. I don’t want to be in the position of always defending REDD, because it’s far from perfect – but then, so is the world, and I will do what I can to keep the record straight.

Steve Zwick
Managing Editor
Ecosystem Marketplace
 

Leave a Reply

14 Comments

  1. Hey, Chris — after getting your mail, I revisited my post and saw the response from Larry Lohman, which I now see that you saw as well. I wrote a very LONG response, and it’s one I may boil down into something more presentable one of these days.

    I know I got the numbers wrong, but even if it’s 160 — or even just 50 — my point stands.

    I really don’t like these debates, because I find myself defending REDD, when what I’m really trying to do is just keep the record straight. In hindsight, I should have used the word “operational”. As much as it pains me to admit you’re right, I have to concede the point this time.

    The Boell Stiftung hasn’t yet authorized my response to Lohman, so I’m posting it here. I also want to make it clear again that, when I post these things, I’m speaking as an individual. I didn’t run this by my team, because then it would have become a formal statement. If I’d have shown them my first comment, they’d have set the numbers right and probably told me to change the word.

    Of course, if they had done that, I wouldn’t have written the masterpiece that follows:

    In response to Larry Lohman

    You raise some good points, and you articulate what I suspect to be the Böll Stiftung’s real motives more honestly than they do in your second paragraph, where you tell us that we can’t deem any REDD project “successful” because fossil-fuel emissions are different from biotic emissions.

    In that paragraph, you touched on what I see as an ILLUSORY philosophical divide, as I’ll explain shortly.

    You also point out that I got the number of projects wrong, which I did. You say that my statement shouldn’t go unchallenged, and you’re right. You challenged it, and if I’d shown it to my team before posting, they’d have challenged it, too. It was an error, and I stand corrected.

    My point, however, wasn’t that 400 (or 200) REDD projects exist around the world. It was that plenty of projects exist, yet “critics” of REDD repeatedly attack either phantom projects that never even got close to coming into existence (see http://www.redd-monitor.org/2012/07/10/the-carbon-cowboy-david-nilsson-on-60-minutes-australia/), failed projects that started but never issued credits (see http://www.redd-monitor.org/tag/ulu-masen/) or pilot projects like the ones the Böll Stiftung pilloried here.

    There have been a few attempts to torpedo verified projects, but these efforts have simply discredited any critiques of REDD, which is also counterproductive – because we need legitimate inquiry. (In fact, I’d rather be engaged in legitimate inquiry than spend my time posting rebuttals to distortive take-downs like this one: http://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/pages/dynamic/article.page.php?page_id=9678&section=news_articles&eod=1.

    I don’t think REDD is perfect, and I don’t think the verification and validation bodies are perfect, either. But they have provided a wealth of information in the form of project design documents and validation reports that can be harvested to bring transparency and clarity to this process – yet time and again I’ve seen REDD opponents cherry-pick these documents to reinforce their own preconceptions rather than foster an understanding of how this mechanism works.

    Why do they do this?

    Perhaps the answer lies in your comment, where you tell us that no REDD project can ever be successful because REDD doesn’t directly reduce the use of fossil fuels.

    I understand that argument, and the authors of this report have made that argument as well. But THAT’S NOT THE ARGUMENT THEY ARE TRYING TO MAKE HERE. Instead of honestly stating their philosophical problem with REDD, as you quite honestly do (and as they have done elsewhere), they’re trying to say the mechanism doesn’t even slow deforestation, or that it harms indigenous people. And they’re bolstering that argument with cherry-picked findings from two pilot projects – pilots that, by definition, were testing new methods to find out what works and what doesn’t.

    This is no different from the climate-science deniers who fixate on the unusually warm 1998 to say the planet isn’t warming. It’s confirmation bias. It’s cherry-picking. It’s wrong!

    We all do it, and I may have been a bit guilty when I said talked about all these “successful” projects out there. I obviously haven’t looked at every REDD project on the planet to see if they fit this criteria. I can’t really say they’re all “successful”, but I can say that every REDD project I’ve looked at that has been verified and validated under recognized standards has stood up incredibly well.

    I do, however, have a definition of what constitutes success: I’d say a successful REDD project is one that delivers the benefits it was paid to deliver – or, at least, took actions that will generate benefits if replicated often enough (some will generate more and some will generate less, for random reasons, and witch-hunters will use those that deliver less to vilify those that deliver more – which is silly).

    I can also say that, even taking my error into account, forest-carbon efforts – REDD or otherwise – have conserved massive amounts of forest. They have, in other words, achieved a pattern of success that no other conservation efforts can match. You seem to concede this success, but then you dismiss it because you believe the money is somehow being spent to hurt rural people, and you use this report to bolster that claim – which really just comes from your basic premise that no REDD project can ever be successful.

    Philosophical differences are fine, and biases are human nature. It’s not, however, fine to support those differences and biases with cherry-picked, outdated information. That’s like dismissing relativity because Einstein couldn’t read his birth certificate on the day he was born.

    The question, to me, is: Why do REDD critics insist on distorting REDD to criticize it, rather than looking at legitimate issues like leakage and additionality (not to mention their solutions)?

    I suspect it comes back to an assumption that REDD will let industrial emitters off the hook – because that’s what we’re really worried about when we differentiate between fossil-fuel and biotic emissions.

    After all, from a climate-change perspective, fossil-fuel emissions are NOT different from biotic emissions. They’re both killing us by warming the planet, right?

    The problem is that there are a lot more fossil fuels in the ground than there can ever be trees on the surface of the planet, because fossil fuels have been accumulating for millions of years. Even if we covered every inch of the planet in trees, we won’t absorb all the gunk we’re pumping into the atmosphere. Anyone who says differently is lying to you, and we can’t let industrial emitters off the hook just because they save a clump of trees.

    We agree on all of this, but here we are arguing.

    Why?

    It’s not because the mechanism itself doesn’t work, it’s because you’re worried it will be misused.

    Think about that for a second.

    It’s your opening premise re-stated: you are worried that REDD will be used to let industrial emitters off the hook, and as a result you can’t allow REDD to gain any semblance of credibility – because, in your mind, that’s a slippery slope to Armageddon.

    I understand your concerns, but I have a different view. I’d argue that, to fix this climate mess, we have to reduce emissions from ALL sources – be they industrial or terrestrial (fossil-fuel or biotic), and we have to do it fast. That means we need all available tools.

    This raises two questions: does the tool work, and is it being properly used.

    You’re arguing that the tool will never be properly used, so it can never work. And IF THAT’S YOUR OPERATING PREMISE, THEN SUCCESS AS I DEFINE IT WILL BE INVISIBLE TO YOU.

    And if that success is invisible to you, so is the current state of REDD – which is being used to revive indigenous land-use practices in the Brazilian state of Acre and will soon be deployed to support certification programs in support of sustainable agriculture.

    To you, this success is irrelevant if REDD is used as a substitute for reductions in industrial emissions, because in the long-term, it can’t substitute for reductions in industrial emissions. Anyone who says it can is lying to you.

    But in the short term – while the industrial ship is still turning – we can use REDD to save our forests, restructure our global rural economy, and help forest people adapt to the inevitable disruptions that climate-change will bring.

    Here we may disagree – I see REDD as a stop-gap measure that we can employ quickly to reduce emissions as fast as possible – not as a substitute for industrial reductions, but as an addition. You worry it will be misused.

    I want to know if it works as advertised, and you want to make sure it never does.

    I suspect that’s the thinking behind the Böll report and others of its ilk – and the resulting witch-hunt has created a bunker mentality in the REDD community. While organizations like Conservation International used to openly discuss their pilots so we could all learn from their mistakes, today they’re all in defensive mode, worried about making any utterance that the critics will pounce upon to discredit their honest but inevitably flawed efforts to confront the climate crisis. I’ve succumbed to a bit of that as well – and find myself wasting valuable time in posts like this, defending a mechanism that we should all be looking at with honest but critical eyes.

    It’s the same ugly atmosphere that climate-science deniers created in the scientific community, and it does none of us any good.

    Response to Dawid Bartelt;
    The problem with picking these two projects is that the lessons have been learned and incorporated into projects that have come since.

  2. It’s important to note that Larry Lohman’s comment about REDD projects discouraging the project of keeping fossil fuels in the ground is a criticism that COULD be applied to any carbon project, such as fuel switching, carbon capture and storage, etc. It is a criticism of the carbon market as a whole.

    This is a very common leap that people make. However, the fact that carbon projects harness funds which compensate carbon emissions doesn’t mean they are pro fossil fuels. Quite the opposite. They are simply making the best of a bad situation (fossil-based industries) while addressing one of the world’s most urgent problems: forest loss.

    A measured criticism would balance, evaluate and prioritize one against the other: continued fossil use versus conservation of rainforest.

    The fact that he used the phrase “sine qua non” doesn’t add weight to a superficial argument, ergo maybe he should think harder.

  3. I have a serious issue with this statement by Steve: “My point is that hundreds of REDD projects exist around the world, and they have a pattern of success – meaning that, combined, they dwarf all other efforts to conserve forests in the developing world.”

    Here’s an alternative view from a recent report by RRI and Tebtebba: “Research emerging over the last decade demonstrates that even partial recognition of the customary land and forest rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities has delivered major, tangible benefits to the world. For example, the one-eighth of the world’s forests to which Indigenous Peoples and local communities currently have government-recognized rights contain over 37.7 billion tons of carbon”.
    http://www.rightsandresources.org/wp-content/uploads/Securing-Indigenous-and-Communtiy-Lands_Final_Formatted.pdf

    Here’s another alternative view from a 2011 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists on what worked in Brazil:
    “Brazil’s dramatic reduction in deforestation is the result of several different efforts. First, at both state and federal levels, the country greatly expanded its network of indigenous reserves and protected areas (including sustainable-use reserves), which now encompass more than half of Brazil’s Amazon forest. Just as important,
    these reserves have been effectively protected. Indigenous peoples now control 20 percent of the Brazilian Amazon, and their collective land tenure rights have been reinforced by official titles and the support of the state in stopping illegal encroachment by non-indigenous ranchers, farmers, and miners.”
    http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/global_warming/Brazil-s-Success-in-Reducing-Deforestation.pdf

    You can quibble over the number of REDD+ projects and their success. But whatever that is, it’s an absolute clanger to suggest that it’s been more effective than legal tenure for forest-dependent people as a fast track to reducing deforestation.

  4. @Steve Zwick, I just want to say congratulations and that my views entirely coincide with yours, especially about REDD being an essential stop-gap in this critical time. It is so true: REDD currently is nothing to do with the continued march of fossil-based industries. What may stop fossil fuel based industries would be politically empowered renewable energy alternatives, not the end of REDD projects at all.

    As an employee of a company whose main income is a REDD project in Northern Brazil, I also see most of these debates as a waste of time. They so often miss the point, a point which I attempted to summarize in my first paragraph above, and which you voiced excellently in your post.

    Nothing would please me more than seeing the end of fossil-based industries, even if it meant that the REDD project I have spent three years of my life developing died because of lack of demand, which, incidentally, it would not.
    The company I work for is not in bed with Shell, Esso, BP, etc. which are associated with an industries that I personally view with contempt.

    The income from our REDD project is right now being re-invested into sustainable forest-based industries which keep forest standing and provide income and social services for the traditional river-dwelling people of the region, who otherwise have next to none.

    While far from perfect, being that it carries with it the problems inherent to forest conservation and Amazon history, which are all too often attributed to REDD, I take pride in this project and consider it to be on the way to being a successful REDD project. I see no reason why the Heinrich Boll Foundation or indeed this website has not analyzed it, and by that I mean constructively critique and enter into the REAL questions around it, or other extremely successful project such as the Paiter Suruí REDD. As such, I also consider the arguments at issue to be cherry-picked, biased, fundamentally mis-directed, and a waste of precious time.

  5. @Tom, REDD and rights go hand-in-hand: it’s not an either-or situation. In fact, another study by RRI and WRI together found that carbon finance saves forests by promoting indigenous rights (see http://www.wri.org/securingrights). Basically, you can’t have REDD without rights, and the emergence of REDD has created a drive to promote clarity on land tenure.

    Interestingly, further research shows a stronger correlation between REDD and rights than between rights and reduced deforestation per se (see http://www.cgdev.org/publication/what-drives-deforestation-and-what-stops-it-meta-analysis-spatially-explicit-econometric).

    In other words, tenure alone has no impact on deforestation. REDD alone doesn’t exist. REDD + rights = reduced deforestation. It all fits together.

  6. @Tom Johnson: thank you for bringing up this point so that we can move closer to understanding what REDD is. Yes recognition of land rights is essential to conserving forest and the best way to do so, if possible, but, no, REDD and recognition of land rights are not at all mutually exclusive, therefore Steve Zwick’s perspective is in no way undermined.
    Why:
    – As it says in your second link, REDD and recognition of indigenous land rights are entirely complementary and represent by far the best examples of the project type:”It is generally agreed that clear and secure forest tenure for Indigenous Peoples and local communities is a prerequisite to the success of REDD+”.

    – Here is just one example of the two working hand in hand: http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0910-surui-natura-redd.html

    – If you look more closely at the indigenous areas containing 37.7 billion tons of carbon mentioned in your first reference, you will see that many are or are moving towards becoming REDD projects;

    – While Indigenous Lands help to slow deforestation, they by no means stop it, and need all the funding they can get (such as, REDD): (from Brazilian government sources) put into Portuguese-English google translate)”Apesar da demarcação, não estão livres das pressões relacionadas ao desmatamento e à degradação florestal. ”
    http://blog.planalto.gov.br/projeto-em-terras-indigenas-recebe-r-157-milhoes-para-controle-do-desmatamento/

    – Hopefully some of this can help you understand that good REDD projects do not consist of a land-grab or entail any ownership changes at all. REDD is a funding mechanism to help keep forest standing. The indigenous people can and must remain the owners of their own lands, benefitting from carbon funding (as exemplified by the Suruí REDD project).

  7. Thanks, David;

    I thought my post was kind of a rant and yours was more succinct — I’ve been very impressed with the project developers I’ve met, and I think one reason I reacted so aggressively to this report is that the author was one of the first people I interviewed when I first started covering REDD. I didn’t really understand REDD at the time, so I fell into the lazy journalistic habit of trying to offer “both sides”. The trouble is that, over time, one side proved to be consistently unreliable, while the other side proved to be more truthful.

    It angers me to see the “critics” regurgitating these same old arguments, and to be doing so in a pseudo-intellectual charade being carried out in the name of one of a truth fanatic like Heinrich Boell.

    I’d rather see more project developers correcting this stuff, but they trust the media and the public to figure out the difference between meaningful data and baseless propaganda… That’s not really fair to the media or the public, because project design documents are often hard to follow. I’m afraid the REDD community is making the same mistake the climate scientists made, and we’re all suffering the consequences as a result.

    Anyway, pardon the rant, but thanks for the comment.

  8. @Steve: I totally understand the frustration. There are far too many people shooting down what is a developing mechanism for saving forest at an almost indescribably crucial time, based on outdated, ill-researched and, as you say, cherry-picked arguments that they don’t understand. Keep up the good work!!

  9. Steve Zwick’s comments are on a report I wrote for the Heinrich Böll Foundation. What follows are my reflections on those parts of Steve Zwick’s comments that are related to the topic of REDD and the report I wrote. His accusation that “they just make stuff up” is a serious one and I will take this up in a letter to Steve Zwick personally.

    Steve labels the choice of projects documented in the report as “cherry-picking” old projects that REDD promoters have long moved on from. First, the communities affected, unfortunately, have not been able to move on and continue being negatively affected by the projects. I believe they have a right to their continued grievances being documented and published. Second, the title and introduction of the report state quite clearly the objectives for documenting these particular two projects: we were interested in documenting how communities perceive ‘old’ offset projects. We wanted to hear whether they feel any lessons had been learned in relation to their actual situation or whether ‘early mistakes’ in project implementation that negatively affected them, had been corrected. The people living in the project areas, affected by or even involved in the projects, were very unequivocal in their interviews: people did NOT feel that lessons had been learned in regard to the particular project that affected their way of life.

    Some 15 years of research, conversations with people directly involved in or affected by forest carbon projects and visits to a fair number of offset project locations have led me to conclude that the majority of REDD or forest carbon offset projects continue to cause the same kind of harm to communities than these two early pilot projects did – – and continue to do. The negative impacts described in particular by peasants affected by the Guaraqueçaba project (which I visited on several occasions over the years), are very similar to those I have encountered in visits to REDD projects that have started more recently. In 2013, I also visited three villages in Acre, Brazil affected by REDD offset projects there (http://reporterbrasil.org.br/2013/12/projetos-de-carbono-no-acre-ameacam-direito-a-terra/ ), and many grievances villagers expressed in conversations were very similar to those expressed by villagers in the Guaraqueçaba project areas. Based on this experience, I contest Steve Zwick’s claim that “the lessons have been learned and incorporated into projects that have come since.” If it indeed were the case that the lessons have been learned, I could go along with Steve Zwick’s accusation of “cherry-picking”.

    Reading through the subsequent posts, I am, however, convinced that no matter which projects I’d chosen, in Steve Zwick’s view they would always have been the wrong projects, or the wrong people I went with, the wrong people I met, the wrong questions I asked, the wrong moment I chose to visit, the wrong set of glasses I was wearing to observe what was going on, the wrong conclusions I was drawing, a lack of interest in ‘legitimate inquiry’ on my part, etc. I suspect that one reason for this goes back to a different approach Steve Zwick takes to such enquiry: There seems to be an a-priori assumption that REDD is good and overall successful, and that any shortcomings encountered in concrete project implementation merely point to some ‘implementation failure’ or ‘problem’ that can be ‘solved’. Whether looking out for possible patterns in the ‘problems’ that he might come across as part of his ‘legitimate inquiry’, I do not know. But it seems improbable that repeat occurrence of problems of the same type in any number of projects would be considered as indication of possible systemic failure of the mechanism. When others suggest as much based on their own examination, the accusation is of “cherry-picking” some ‘old’ REDD projects that the world has long moved on from. That is unfortunate.

    Judging from the tone and content of his posts, Steve Zwick and I will not agree on whether REDD offset projects run into the problems they do because of systemic failure of the mechanism (beyond their being offsets, which is a systemic flaw as well) or ‘solvable problems’ arising from poor implementation. The choice of different projects would not have made a difference. The moment the report challenged the underlying assumptions that ‘REDD offsets are good and successful, give or take a few minor problems that can be solved with the help of ‘constructive’ people’, it would in all likelihood be considered “cherry-picking” with the purpose of “distortive take-down”. I leave it to the readers of the reports to come to their own conclusions. More indication for systemic failure can also be found in this ‘REDD: A collection of conflicts, contradictions and lies’ (http://wrm.org.uy/books-and-briefings/redd-a-gallery-of-conflicts-contradictions-and-lies/ ). The World Rainforest Movement is currently expanding the collection for a revised edition. I am certain that the collection will include projects Steve Zwick has on his list of successes – and that even if we were to visit a project at the same time we would see very different realities and draw very different conclusions from what we’d be observing.

    As to Steve Zwick’s point about the report “not honestly stating their philosophical problem with REDD”: it was not the objective of that particular report to document that “no REDD project can ever be successful because REDD doesn’t directly reduce the use of fossil fuels”. I fully share that position, and elsewhere I have written extensively about that set of contradictions that REDD projects – like any offset project – face (http://www.fern.org/book/trading-carbon). So, yes, I do share that philosophical problem with REDD (and carbon offsets or other forms of offsets more broadly). AND I further believe that the problems with REDD do not end with that “philosophical problem”. Offsets also cause harm to communities – and that is what the report written for the hbs, in particular the documentation of the Guaraqueçaba project, shows.

    That said, the report in fact does state in several places (the box titled ‘The False and Perverse Logic of Carbon Offsets’ on page 9 ff for example) that REDD offset projects are controversial also because they sell a license to pollute. It is just that that particular aspect of the controversies over REDD was not the main focus of this particular report.

    One other problem with offsets that the report also did not explore and which you do not mention in any of your posts here, is that there usually also is a community that is harmed by the offset at the other end of the trade – where a polluting company uses its right to pollute over and above a legal or moral limit – and the communities affected by that corporate activity suffer more as a result of the company use of the offset credit than they otherwise would have. Offsets thus are also inherently unjust from that perspective. This consequence to a community at the other end of the offset deal is something that very few communities who are persuaded to become engaged in REDD are informed about by those who present the REDD offer. I find that very dishonest practise where it happens, and wonder how withholding that sort of information can be reconciled with the principle of FPIC – free, prior and informed consent – that many REDD projects claim – and are ‘independently certified’ to adhere to.

    And a reflection on Steve Zwick’s use of the word ‘ideological’. It seems as if he considers his own view on carbon markets and REDD offsets non-ideological and that it’s always only others who are ‘ideological’. Have the principles and values implicit in Steve’s perspective on the topic become so hegemonic that he does not recognize them as ideological?

  10. @Steve (#5) I think you’ve somewhat misrepresented the RRI/WRI report you’ve referenced. You say it found that “carbon finance saves forests by promoting indigenous rights”.

    The main thrust of that entire report supports my point – that secure land tenure for forest dependent peoples can help deliver reductions in deforestation. It says the following about carbon finance:

    “…payments under REDD+ could incentivize governments to reform their legal frameworks and strengthen community forest rights if they are an integral part of a REDD+ agreement and implementation plan.”

    That is – they could. Not that they do. Conversely it says that, as of July 2014, “progress to ensure community forest and carbon rights has been halting. New laws strengthening community forest rights are not forthcoming”.

    Implicitly, then, REDD is not galvanising improved legal tenure. This contradicts your claim that “you can’t have REDD without rights, and the emergence of REDD has created a drive to promote clarity on land tenure.”

    @David S. (#6) Bit of a straw man there. At no point did I suggest that REDD and recognition of land rights are mutually exclusive. Neither did I suggest that “good REDD projects…consist of a land grab”. What I said was that it is wrong to say REDD projects “dwarf all other efforts to conserve forests in the developing world.”

    I agree that REDD could complement efforts to establish tenure, but I’m less optimistic than you about the extent to which it already has.

  11. @Tom, Jutta, Steve: I just want to boil everything down to a few sentences if I can. REDD is a mechanism that delivers funds to keep forest standing, as long as it abides by a recognized standard such as VCS, that is pretty much undeniable. Now if you think that inserting money into the problem will not help with land tenure issues regarding indigenous peoples, traditional communities, or others who enhance rather than destroy forests with their presence, is to some extent neither here nor there in terms of REDD: It is very often factor of land-tenure issues endemic to, for example, the Brazilian Amazon.

    I am of the opinion that funding, if managed correctly, CAN improve forest conservation, land-tenure issues and wellbeing, as exemplified by see the Paiter Suruí REDD project. REDD is just the newest scapegoat for what is a very difficult problem – tropical deforestation – and it would help if critics would get off our backs.

    And regarding the all too often “pay-to-pollute” argument, to those of us who are striving to implement REDD correctly, saying that REDD supports fuel based industries is like saying the Robin Hood Tax in the UK supports the banking industry.

  12. Stumbled upon this interesting debate. Pretty much everything has been said. Only filling some gaps, with these ideas:
    — Offsetting is good or bad: Whether you support/promote REDD from public funds (e.g. Green Climate Fund) or from ‘offset’ money (a company paying under moral/ legal obligation), does not matter so much as long as there is ‘significant’ (real) money that is paid. Why? Because if a fossil fuel burning company has to pay $10 per tCO2 it emits in excess of its legal/moral limit, it is actually under a carbon ‘tax’ (the authority imposing the tax may be the public image, the good management, etc., instead of the government). The company will not like to suffer this tax for ever and will try to move over to cleaner fuels/methods over time. This, at least, is the logic of offsets. All offsets are an ‘urgent’ solution, not a regular way of life. And, of course, offsetting is expected to cost less than the permanent fix (e.g. pull down the plant and build a clean one). Second, offsetting is pooling/sharing of opportunities to reduce emissions. It should be a fair deal to both the parties. A REDD project with a payment of $1 per tCO2 can hardly be said to be a real project. It involves too superficial a cost to the buyer to drive him away from carbon over long term, and too superficial a benefit to the forest preserver to keep him away from deforestation (maybe he would anyway have kept away from deforestation, the $1 is just some pocket money). And of course, for a real offset to happen it must be the case that in absence of that transaction BOTH parties will continue to pollute. If the forest would get preserved in absence of the REDD project, the project is false. If the company will find other ways to stays within its limits in absence of the project, the project is false.

    – Indigenous rights: It depends where you come from. In absence of a policy context, whether REDD causes IR or IR causes REDD is merely an academic question. If the objective is to reduce emissions, IR is an instrument to achieve REDD. If the objective is to promote human rights/ social justice, REDD is an instrument to achieve IR. Thus, if you come from human rights department, you will think one way; and if you come from climate protection department, you will think another way. I think the question whether REDD causes IR or IR causes REDD is an ill-posed/false question.

  13. @pforester (#13) – Thanks for this. You give two prices for REDD credits, and argue that $10 is enough to persuade polluting companies to reduce their emissions (at some unspecified point in the future). A price of $1 for REDD credits won’t persuade anyone to change anything.

    I have three questions for you. First, the current price of CDM credits (CER futures Dec15) is €0.67. How do you know that REDD credits won’t face a similar price collapse?

    Second, participants in the World Bank’s Carbon Fund, under the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, have said that they won’t pay more than $5 per REDD credit. In your opinion is that enough to persuade polluting industries to clean up?

    Third, there’s the other side of the price of REDD credits discussion. In your opinion, is $5 per REDD credit enough of an incentive to persuade governments and companies not to clearcut the forests and replace them with oil palm plantations?