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.
Posts Tagged ‘REDD’
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.
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:
- No-one can find the off switch for the global oven.
- 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.
Last Year Morten Jerven called into question the quality of statistics produced by (African) developing countries. In his musings on the political fallout from his publication, Professor Jerven summed up the situation as “governance by ignorance.” It also is clear that many stakeholders have a similar view but are reluctant to say so publicly for fear of the ‘anti-neo-colonialist’ backlash that Prof Jerven experienced.
Although I am slightly shocked that a statistic with as high a profile as GDP is so poorly computed, I really shouldn’t be surprised. Some of the government estimates for forest cover that the FAO collates each year in its annual Forest Resources Assessment are known to be extremely shaky; in some cases they are reportedly based on data years out of date, in others on little more than expert guesses. As with GDP, again many stakeholders are aware of this, and, in the case of donors, have money to throw at the problem.
Unfortunately this fits with a wider pattern in conservation: that we are getting better and better at identifying and measuring the biodiversity we are losing, but not much better at halting those losses. This is not to say that new knowledge is a bad thing; it is a vanishingly rare occurrence when an addition to our total body of knowledge does not increase the public good. But, as many researchers are all too aware, new knowledge can easily be misinterpreted or, worse, abused.
A paper last year from Gardner et al. (A framework for integrating biodiversity concerns into national REDD+ programmes) showed how biodiversity could be incorporated into REDD+ planning, and illustrated this with the map reproduced below that overlays biodiversity and carbon values for the case of Tanzania.
As I understand it, the map is a fair reflection of the current state of knowledge, and no-one should infer any particular agenda on the part of the paper authors. As a simplified guide to national decision making it looks eminently useful.
The trouble is, from what I gathered on a recent visit to the country, that this map may not be a good guide as to where are the best opportunities for effective REDD+ projects. The map highlights the Eastern Arc mountains as an area of “high opportunity (strong positive correlation in carbon and biodiversity values)” for REDD+ intervention. Most of these forests are, in theory, already protected in national parks and forest reserves, but which are threatened by encroachment and illegal resource extraction. A long developed strategy of Joint Forest Management (JFM) is intended to help resolve this, by giving local communities a share of forest revenue, except that this has been held up by the failure of the Tanzanian Government to agree a benefit sharing mechanism for JFM. I.e. potential REDD+ project developers would be advised to steer well clear of JFM in the Eastern Arc Mountains until the benefit sharing mechanism has been agreed and tested in practice.
Such policy issues cannot easily be represented on maps, and I would not expect an overlay to do so. However, theoretical exercises like this can be dangerous in how they may give policy makers and donors the illusion of agency: invest money in the sweet spots and best return on investment will be achieved. This omits the critical step that one needs credible potential solutions before investing money in actual projects. However, the reality of national planning in developing countries, often donor supported, and which this paper purports to assist, is that high level decisions may too easily be made without all the necessary information. Maps such as these are therefore potentially dangerous in implying a higher level of decision-directing knowledge than in fact exists.
(A second criticism is that such mapping exercises can sometimes almost imply a terra nullius – no-one’s land – attitude in which the wishes of existing inhabitants and forest users are irrelevant.)
In conclusion I would question the wisdom of a top down planning approach at all. Rather than prioritising problems I suggest we might be better off prioritising solutions. In which case the value of such maps are rather less than might be first supposed.
Catching up on reading this morning, I came across a couple of stories of interest in relation to recent blog posts.
- Killing some cuddly animals legally may be the only way to stop all of them being killed illegally, according to the Babbage blog at the Economist. The potential arguments around this have the potential to make the recent controversy over hunting polar bears a stroll in the park. Just because there are strong arguments why a trading ban will not work, that does not mean that lifting it and regulating the trade instead will save the rhino and tiger, so I suspect it will be a brave politician who agrees to legalise such a trade. Nonetheless, I think, these are definitely the right questions to ask, for the present strategy appears to be largely failing.
- The Guyanese national REDD initiative appears to be the complete opposite of the lack of progress elsewhere, I recently blogged about. Instead REDD in Guyana, and Norwegian support for it seems to have been initiated out of nothing by politicians keen to make an impact. The anti-REDD REDD Monitor implies such lack of context is in itself a bad thing, but I am not so sure. Whilst I imagine this start-from-a-vacuum has not been without its challenges, it seems much better to have strong political leadership searching for technical support to fill in the gaps, than the total lack of political interest that applies in some other countries. Leaders are supposed to lead!
It will be interesting to see how both situations develop in coming months and years.
Hat tip for both stories: Mike Shanahan at IIED
Chewing the fat with a colleague recently we were musing upon what has happened to REDD. Clearly the biggest problem is the lack of any global agreement to mitigate climate change, and the consequent collapse in the price of carbon on many markets. But even if this were fixed would there be a long queue of sellers about to push carbon credits from REDD on to the marketplace? We didn’t think so.
The problem is that, as I have remarked before, REDD is far from easy. In fact it contains multiple challenges on so many different levels that, we thought, these difficulties had obscured the strategic focus on the hardest problem of all: actually delivering carbon savings.
Firstly there are the technical and technological challenges around MRV (Measuring, Reporting and Verifying the carbon fluxes) and defining appropriate reference points (the business-as-usual scenario) against which to measure progress. Secondly there are the social justice issues: who will benefit from REDD, elites or local forest dwellers? There were genuine fears that REDD could initiate another land grab by governments, reversing the trend in recent decades towards decentralised and community-based forest management. Finally there were fears that mono-specific plantations might prove more efficient at carbon sequestration than existing natural forests, and that biodiversity might therefore take another beating.
All three sets of issues posed serious challenges which urgently needed addressing. Without the capacity to monitor their own forest carbon stocks developing countries would be effectively barred from participating, or, at best, find themselves dictated to by others who had the necessary technological nous. And there is no doubt that, in some countries at least, the technical and institutional gaps were, and largely still are, quite substantial. Similarly, there is a huge amount to be said for getting the social justice issues properly incorporated from the start, because, like the proverbial oil gusher, once the money starts to flow, it might be very hard to bolt on the relevant safeguards later.
To donors and other big aid sector players these multiple technical and social challenges must have appeared rather like stumbling upon a car crash scene for an ambulance-chasing lawyer. “Aha!” they said, “Here is a role for us.” Projects were created left, right and centre, the dollars flowed, and the consultants came and feasted. People were trained in analysing satellite imagery, whilst gender and indigenous peoples experts galore advised on how to ensure REDD delivered benefits to all. I expect there were even strategies drawn up for dealing with HIV/AIDS in REDD.
But where are the carbon savings that all of this work would support? Here we meet what is both the great strength and the great weakness of REDD: it is almost impervious to fudged or sticking-plaster type solutions. In order to succeed in REDD one must not just conserve a patch of forest, but reduce the drivers of deforestation, so that another forest loss (and hence carbon emissions) are not simply displaced elsewhere. This is hard. Seriously hard. Most of the time someone will lose out, whether it is big business intent on industrial-scale logging or adding another oil palm plantation, or poor farmers pushing further into the bush in order to find more fertile soils.
Such challenges are not susceptible to ‘projectisation’ in the standard aid model that works with mid-level managers plus advisers. Instead they require tough political decisions, probably at cabinet level. It is clear that in some countries (Brazil, Indonesia and Guyana come to mind) REDD has reached this level of serious political engagement, even if (in the case of Indonesia) the desired outcomes are not yet secured. However, elsewhere REDD appears stuck a rung or two lower on the government bureaucratic ladder, and thus the actual mechanism by which forest carbon savings will be generated remains either theoretical or entirely undefined. In such a context all the investment in MRV and social justice seems like the football team that plays very pretty football, with lots of neat passing, but too often fails in its primary goal: to get the ball in the actual net.
All is not yet lost, every country’s situation is different, and if the fundamental carbon markets issues do get worked out I expect a decent price should start to act as a pretty big incentive for countries to get serious about REDD. But it will all, no doubt, take considerable time, which, given the urgency of addressing the problems of climate change is worrying. Certainly it is all a far cry from the hope that major forested countries could all start selling REDD-based carbon credits from the beginning of 2013 when the successor to the Kyoto protocol was originally expected to kick in. Donors might like to consider what all good football managers know: all the pretty passing patterns in the world count for nowt if the team still gets relegated at the end of the season; REDD countries will each need a big-name striker to lead the line if they are to succeed.
ps. All this also makes me wonder what other big development initiatives might similarly have been donorised and projectised into ineffectiveness. Anti-corruption efforts seem a good candidate. Suggestions welcomed in the comments.