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Friday, January 28, 2011

Forests are not commodities - REDD under fire for narrow focus on carbon storage

A new report from some of the world's top experts on forest governance has criticised various international climate change accords including REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and REDD+ for their narrow focus on carbon storage which has failed to stop rampant destruction of the world's most vulnerable forests and often acted to further marginalise indigenous peoples.

Despite billions of dollars being spent annually on sustainable forest management, the world is still losing an estimated 13 million hectares of forest per year, an important biological store of carbon. Tropical deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

"This is only the most obvious symptom of the fact that, not withstanding the growth of awareness and initiatives, international forest governance is struggling to meet a number of significant contemporary challenges." says the reports conclusion in Chapter 8. "There is now widespread recognition that forests are critical components of global climate change mitigation and will require careful attention in the development of national climate change adaptation strategies."

In December 2010 the REDD+ agreement worked out at Cancun climate negotiations was severely criticised by Friends of the Earth: “By prioritising REDD, the Cancun agreement is set to create a huge loophole in the international climate regime. REDD will enable countries like Australia to keep polluting by buying offsets in forest nations such as Indonesia." said Friends of the Earth Australia climate justice campaigner Ellen Roberts.

“The current reality of the REDD projects is very concerning; often opposed by local peoples; with Indonesian forest industries hoping to use REDD finance to further fund deforestation and destructive plantation expansion,” said Ms Roberts.

It has been known for some years that Carbon Markets Violate Indigenous Peoples' Rights and Threaten Cultural Survival. Greenpeace helped establish in April 20009 a Climate Defenders Camp to preserve Indonesian Rainforest Peatlands under threat from illegal encroachment of Palm oil groves funded under REDD. In 2008 Indigenous people were outraged that the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand opposed the inclusion of recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in a decision on REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) that was being drafted by government delegates at a UN Climate Conference in Poznan.

In November 2009 Friends of the Earth Australia and Aid Watch published a scathing report (PDF) on Australia's REDD offsets.

This new report on the governance of forestry was produced by 60 experts in political science, policy studies, law and international relations, and co-ordinated by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). The detailed results of the work of the expert panel, which was constituted under the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and coordinated by IUFRO, will be presented next week to the Ninth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) as part of the launch of the International Year of Forests.

"Our findings suggest that disregarding the impact on forests of sectors such as agriculture and energy will doom any new international efforts whose goal is to conserve forests and slow climate change," said Jeremy Rayner, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan Graduate School of Public Policy and chair of the panel of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) that produced the new assessment. "With this report in hand, we can say with greater certainty that the success of current efforts to protect forests through a global climate change agreement will depend in part on whether negotiators integrate these findings into their policy proposals."

Rayner and others on the panel argue the need for a dramatic shift away from "top-down" efforts to protect forests. They say that most international initiatives including REDD, should focus more on supporting regional and national efforts to impact the forces that are putting the forests at risk.

Although the authors cite some successful examples of efforts to slow destruction of forests, it is argued in the report that REDD shows signs of repeating many of the mistakes of the past. Even an expanded REDD agreement as negotiated in December 2010 at Cancun, known as REDD+, falls short of considering the needs and roles of forest communities and other local inhabitants. "REDD+ is an improvement, as it names forest conservation as a goal and sustainable forest management as a solution," Rayner said, "But it continues to explicitly value carbon storage above the improvement of forest conditions and livelihoods."

In their policy brief drawing on the results of the new assessment, the editors argue that REDD is more likely to succeed if the final agreement reflects lessons learned from past efforts. This means REDD negotiators must sufficiently engage stakeholders outside the forest sector--such as in the agriculture, transportation and energy sectors--and stop an over-reliance on a "one-size-fits-all" global scheme to address situations that are vastly different from region to region and country to country.

The report notes in Chapter 5 on Forests and Sustainability:

...Safeguards remain to be agreed and enforced for ensuring that other forest benefits and values, including social values, are not swept aside in the pursuit of greenhouse gas reductions. Given that some key REDD negotiators are climate scientists rather than foresters or land-use planners, there is a risk that forest values other than carbon sequestration will be short-changed.

"REDD has gone further than past global forest strategies in engaging agriculture and other key sectors. Nevertheless, there is still a long ways to go," said Constance McDermott, James Martin Senior Fellow in Forest Governance at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute. "Unless all sectors work together to address the impact of global consumption, including growing demand for food and bio-fuels, and problems of land scarcity, REDD will fail to arrest environmental degradation and will heighten poverty."

McDermott notes that if REDD results in an overriding focus on protecting and pricing the carbon stored in forests this will lead to the "further exclusion of indigenous people from their forests and the criminalization of their traditional livelihoods." These concerns are heightened by the growing number of "land grabs" by governments and individuals who are motivated by a desire to take advantage of REDD's forest-based carbon credits, incidents that already are occurring without consultation with local forest users.

"International approaches that aim to transform forests into storehouses for carbon, or for biodiversity or some other narrow purpose, are inevitably going to produce disappointing results," McDermott said. "Instead of generating 'grand plans' based on the simplification of complex problems on a global scale, we might be better advised to listen and learn from existing efforts, both public and private, across multiple scales and multiple sectors."

Despite noting the pitfalls surrounding REDD and other accords in chapters devoted to the topic, the report reflects optimism that conditions are ripe for reducing forest destruction worldwide, and with an international effort playing an important role.

The positive forces include an unprecedented amount of attention worldwide to the problem of illegal logging and a widespread acceptance of the concept of sustainable forest management. The report also cites a flurry of activity driven by NGOs to give local communities in many forested regions--and, in particular, indigenous groups and women--a stronger voice in forest planning processes.

Meanwhile, the IUFRO analysis finds many bright spots of forest governance work at the regional and national level. For example, the US, through its amendments to a law known as the Lacey Act, has made it illegal to import wood known to come from stolen timber. The EU is making a similar effort to exclude illegal wood from imports through its "due diligence" process that has forged important partnerships with major tropical timber producers like Cameroon. Brazil, long the target of an international campaign to reverse its forest destruction, has enacted new environmental and policy reforms that have the potential to slow forest loss in the Amazon Basin.

A chapter in the report proposes the creation of a new framework called "Forests +" that would bring a more inclusive spirit to global discussions of forest governance, focus most international initiatives on supporting and coordinating national and regional efforts, and pursue global accords only when a top-down approach is broadly demanded.

"The goal of Forests+ is to solve problems by focusing on the many ways people use forests and by including from the start a broad group of stakeholders and institutions inside and outside of forests," said Benjamin Cashore, professor of environmental governance and political science at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and director of the Yale Program on Forest Policy and Governance. "Specifically we identified new ways of having an impact that don't require a 'top down' approach. Instead they would help nurture national and local strategies that work, provide training where needed and encourage market incentives that allow consumers to pick products based on how sustainably they are produced."

La Via Campesina, an organisation of indigenous and peasant peoples, said "REDD means the privatization of forests, the expulsion of communities from their land and financial speculation" in a statement about the Cancun negotiations:

"Through Clean Development Mechanisms, industrialized countries and multinationals can continue contaminating in their places of origin and still fulfill their emissions reduction goals through carbon certificates financing “clean development” projects in other places. CDM projects are also highly polluting and cause great environmental and social devastation, since projects such as large dams, methane recovery from industrial farming, massive dumps and plantations, etc. fall into that category. REDD inserts forests and agricultural land (if we are considering REDD plus) into the carbon market to benefit transnationals, and it poses a threat as the greatest land grab of all time."

Unless the new approach advocated by the forests+ framework places importance on indigenous rights and supporting sustainable forestry practices of indigenous people, deforestation will continue.

Video: The Forest dependent people and the possible effects of REDD

* Adapted from media release, Jan 24, 2011 - New Study Suggests Global Pacts Like REDD Ignore Primary Causes of Destruction of Forests
* The report is available in full as a PDF (3.2MB)
* Photo - Protest against proposed programs like REDD+by Ian MacKenzie from Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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