Archive for the ‘Climate Change & Carbon Markets’ Category

Bottom up thinking points the way for REDD

More good stuff from CIFOR, this time a survey of 23 different pilot REDD+ projects from around the tropics. The variety of approaches on show just goes to show, again, the benefits of Bill Easterly’s ‘seekers’ over ‘planners’. At both national and international levels I fear there is not enough flexibility in how government officials expect REDD+ to be delivered. And while there is plenty of justified scepticism about the prospects for REDD+ itself, I reckon a lot of that would go away if the price for carbon climbed up to the $20-30 per tonne of carbon dioxide that many experts think is required to push the global economy into making the necessary changes to head off catastrophic climate change. Less faffing around in negotiations and a clearer regulatory landscape would no doubt help too.

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Community conservation needs to be meaningful for communities

Some good stuff pumped out by CIFOR as part of a big comms effort around the latest round of international climate change talks, that this year took place in Lima. Much of the best stuff has a relevance far beyond just the UNFCCC negotiations bubble. One thing that particularly caught my attention was this story about what conditions are required for the successful involvement of local people in monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of carbon savings achieved through REDD+ activities. Manuel Boissière, a CIFOR researcher, boils it down to four things:

  1. Relevance – “if something about the project is not seen as relevant to their daily lives, local people might not be willing to commit to such a project.”
  2. Skills – not just technical capacity and literacy, but “is it always clear to local people what it is they are measuring?”
  3. Reporting systems – how do you get the data back to HQ? (An important consideration, but the least interesting lesson.)
  4. Quality validation – “the ability to check whether the data that have been collected are correct.”

The 4th is the hardest, Boissière reckons. Just using some remote sensing in the office doesn’t cut it, because it is a one-way street: the scientists can check their data, but it doesn’t provide any useful feedback to communities, and any good quality control system involves rapid feedback. Instead Boissière recommends an approach based around participatory maps that are meaningful to the local communities.

“If you look at academic literature [on community participation in MRV], it’s all about cost-efficiency—how to get local communities participating in tree measurement and what is the cost of it, and are they doing a good job compared to scientists or not? And that has been really the limitation.”

I couldn’t agree more, and it’s not just on the monitoring side. I don’t have a problem with those people who first come to the conclusion that they need to work with communities to deliver conservation goals because the resources just aren’t there to deliver ‘command and control’ conservation. It’s a valid observation, and often critically important in persuading officious bureaucracies to loosen up a little bit.

But if that is your sole basis for doing community conservation you are in trouble. If you want to succeed with community-based conservation you absolutely need to make your work meaningful and relevant to the communities. Providing a steady stream of recognisable benefits is very important, and without which you are likely to struggle, but beyond that communities need to be engaged as full partners. They need to have a basic comprehension of what they are doing and why. If they are truly going to (help) manage their local natural resources they need to be empowered to make informed decisions upon bases that they understand.

In short, community conservation will only work when the communities involved actually care. And how do you persuade anyone to care about something?

Tree grab or land grab?

A bunch of smallish NGOs has released a report criticising REDD as apparently incompatible with human rights. Some of these guys have previous form on just about any conservation programme that engages with markets. They have some nice principled arguments, but in the here and now they are so far away from a workable, affordable solution, that they’re just not helpful.

That said I have plenty of sympathy for the people subjected to rights violations mentioned here. I guess you could lay the blame on REDD for motivating at least some of these land grabs, but here’s my concern: are they not fundamentally illegal any way? (Yes, governments will deploy various quasi-legal arguments in their support, but in many cases these are weak, and courts with more than a modicum of independence may well find against them.) Stopping REDD will not stop other land grabs, e.g. for logging, agriculture or mining.

Blaming REDD is a bit like blaming world food markets for agricultural expansion, and betrays the fundamentally anti-markets stance of these critics. Better, I think, to tackle the underlying governance failings that lead to such abuses than to confuse the issue with an attack on REDD, which otherwise can deliver a lot of good to the world. I had the same thought a few years ago when biofuel production briefly menaced this part of Africa: no need for a dedicated biofuels policy if you implement your own land laws properly.

Zero sum games in a positive sum world

Charles Kenny of CGD has got a new book out: The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest Is Good for the West. I haven’t read it, and am not sure when I might find the time, but there’s a handy CGD wonkcast which summarises the main points.

“The US will lose some global influence, as China’s GDP overtakes it, maybe as India’s GDP overtakes it; but Britain has much less global influence today than it had at the height of the British Empire and it’s also just a much nicer place to live [for the majority].”

I.e. economic development is a positive sum game: one person getting richer does not diminish the amount of wealth available to everyone else. Add in some nifty technological innovation and the quality of life can improve out of all recognition.

So why fear the rise of China? In particular why do Western elites (as opposed to the ‘working classes’ who have seen jobs migrate eastwards) appear so wary? Is it because the unipolar world that emerged after the collapse of the USSR seemed so cosy, and they fear losing that?

Diplomacy, at least in the context of superpower rivalry, often seems to be treated as a zero sum game. My guess is this is why so many international negotiations – and especially the climate change ones – are utterly bogged down at present. The US feels it can afford to be magnanimous to Chad but not to China, and with that thought we kiss goodbye to the notion of altruistic global leadership.

I have a little theory. You know those studies that suggest after a certain level becoming richer does not make us happier? (Yes I know they are not without their critics.) Could it be that we are not so much made happy by increasing material wealth, but by how we compare to our peers? By this logic it matters little if we cook the planet so long as at the end of it we are still richer than the Chinese.

Depressing, huh? Have a little listen to the resolutely optimistic Charles Kenny, and maybe you’ll cheer up a bit.

The sins of our forefathers

Last week Ed Carr and I had an amicable little to-and-fro in the comments stream of his blog on the culpability of the environmental movement in pushing economically restrictive rules on those least able to resist (the global poor). Ed concluded his post:

“Environmental governance is never going to work if it is the implementation of a ‘think globally, implement locally (ideally someplace else)’ mentality. It has to be thought, understood, and legitimized in the place it will be implemented, or it will fail.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Ed’s case in point was restrictions on charcoal makers in Zambia, which appear now to be rationalised as part of the fight against global climate change. Although I do not know the Zambia case specifically I suggested that these restrictions might actually have much older provenance in colonial times, with an intellectual heritage that dates back to laws designed to safeguard mediaeval aristocracies’ hunting privileges. And indeed that much (though sadly not all) of the modern international conservation movement now opposes such anti-poor regulations, which are rarely very effective any way.*

Some people might get a bit frustrated with this unjustified negative image that others in mainstream development may have of us in tropical conservation. For my part, however, I think we need to face up regularly to the sins of our forefathers. Push back by all means, but better to have people like Ed Carr keeping us on our toes than to naïvely assume that just because now we are a bit more people friendly we have automatic claim to the moral high ground.

It takes a lot of hard work to shed a bad reputation, and the job is yet at best only half done.

* It’s a bit of a dirty secret that some community conservation programmes were at least partially originally justified on the basis that the government of the time simply did not have the resources to police their own laws, and community conservation was as much an attempt to co-opt local allies into the enforcement effort as to generate them any particular rewards.

Whose goal is it anyway?

The post-2015 world is supposed to see some kind of merging of the international development and environmental worlds in the Sustainable Development Goals. As the writer of a blog on the conservation-development nexus I am very much in favour of this direction of travel, but the sceptic in me does question a little the political viability of all this given the entrenched positions at climate change talks. Most countries appear to favour goals that primarily concern changes to be made by others rather than changes they themselves have to make.

I found an echo of this in Ben Ramalingam’s new book Aid on the Edge of Chaos (review coming soon): he says some EU evaluation report found ‘a sense of lack of ownership of the MDGs in developing countries … [which] are often seen as instruments for the developed countries’. No great surprise there: you can understand that most country officials would be rather more concerned about how development initiatives impact their own country over any contribution to a notional global goal.

Conversely there is an interesting counterpoint in that now some developing countries reportedly prefer MDGs v2.0 (i.e. continued focus on economic development issues over environmental ones) over the mooted SDGs. I suppose their reasoning goes that if we must have pesky goals and performance targets, better they relate to their primary concerns than how many trees have or have not been cut down. I suspect most, however, would just prefer to take the cash (which supposedly the MDGs helped rally support for) to spend on their own priorities.

Would you CoP that?

So, busy as I am, I could hardly let pass the fact that the most recent UNFCCC Conference of Parties (you know: those endless climate change negotiations) both plumbed new depths and yet actually achieved something that might be worthwhile.

The bad news:

  1. No-one can find the off switch for the global oven.
  2. Worryingly many people actually appear not to want to find it.

Such conclusions always remind me of Al Gore’s boiling frog analogy (which sadly appears to be not 100% true).

Are the heads of the Polish coal industry an amphibious race of secret infiltrators sent to bring the human race down? We deserve to be told the truth!

But, the long awaited agreement on REDD+ was finally concluded. This was expected about two years previously but had gotten bogged down, just like everything else. Exactly what it contains I cannot tell you: I’m waiting on the policy analysts just like everyone else. But it should be something of a fillip to the whole REDD+ sector. In the long term it needs a global agreement on the bigger questions to provide the market, but in the meantime the World Bank and some other donors have set up a couple of funds to buy carbon credits from REDD+ national initiatives. This, then, may bring us to the crunch, about which I have been warning for a couple of years; the even bigger challenge of operationalising REDD+ on the ground, and how the various architectural elements of REDD+ work against it*.

For now, however, it might just have given everyone working in REDD+ the renewed hope they so desperately needed, and will hopefully persuade donors to keep the faith on various projects they are developing. Whilst on the bigger picture, can we take comfort from the notion that things surely cannot get any worse? Or maybe they can: try asking the WTO.

*See here and here for previous rants on this subject.

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