REDD scheme: a viable method for protecting biodiversity?

How best to protect areas such as Cusuco National Park in Honduras?

The United Nations ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation’ (REDD) scheme has so far attracted over US$ 4.5 billion in pledged funds. It is a system involving payment to developing countries (with remaining intact forests) by developed countries (with high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and high reduction targets) to reduce deforestation and degradation rates, which contribute to approximately 20% of global annual GHG emissions. If successful, the donor countries can count the carbon saved towards their carbon budgets.

Reducing forestry dependency

REDD will work by reducing local communities’ dependency on forest products.  This will be achieved through direct payments and the provision of alternative livelihood options. In turn this should result in the protection of forests, and the carbon and biodiversity within them.

How are biodiversity performance criteria going to be built into such schemes and then monitored?

A recent press release by the Centre for International Forestry Research who monitor pilot REDD projects in Borneo highlighted this point: “The future sale of carbon offsets from the project will help boost the livelihoods of more than 11,000 people in the area and save rare species including orang-utans and other primates.”

Questions over REDD

But will REDD funded projects really help biodiversity protection and if so how are biodiversity performance criteria going to be built into such schemes and then monitored? Will REDD payments be linked to meeting biodiversity performance criteria in the same way as they are linked to making sure that the forests have not been cleared from regular satellite monitoring? If so, how do you fix those biodiversity criteria allowing for natural variations in populations and on which taxa do you base them?

Normally one of the best ways to get efficiency in delivering products is competition, yet this is entirely missing from both approaches

Many of the REDD+ funded trial projects that are being carried out by the major NGOs are using the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Project Design Standards produced by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (80% according to one report) which is a consortium of leading companies (eg BP, SC Johnson, SFM etc) and NGOs (TNC, CI, WCS, WWF etc). This methodology includes a description of the biodiversity and community elements of the funded forest and by November 2008 there were 16 forests submitted and a further 100 in development using this methodology. These standards go a long way to developing biodiversity and poverty alleviation criteria but there are still shortcomings:

  • The projects, once accepted, appear to have their funding approved for five years, after which there is an independent audit. Presumably if they fail this audit there is no further funding – but until that point they still get funding.
  • The concept of being able to select forests not only on price (ie carbon saved) but on added value for conservation has been included, but the concept of developing mechanisms to produce relative indicators so that forests can be compared on biodiversity and poverty alleviation benefits has not been included.
  • The concept that local communities could still benefit by providing services (eg patrolling and monitoring) even if they didn’t have land or carbon rights has not been identified. This has major implications because it means that in many cases the forests cannot be submitted for REDD until land tenure issues have been defined. Contracting provision of services to local communities can still be run without final resolution of any disputes over land ownership as long as all parties agree on how the funds are being disbursed.

Different approaches

The official UN REDD scheme is taking the view that for REDD to be effective and for protection of one forest not to lead to increased threats to adjacent non-protected forests, the scheme needs to be run from the top down with entire countries signing up to the scheme. There are currently 12 countries signed up to REDD+ who are being helped to develop national plans for how they can implement REDD across all their forests. In June 2010 the UN REDD scheme published REDD+ Social and Environmental Standards which set out eight principles (each with criteria and associated indicators) that should be applied to REDD forests. These standards are much more generic and do not as yet include any auditing elements – in other words the countries submit all the documentation for each set of forests being protected under the scheme showing how these criteria will be met by the proposed scheme.

The UN country effort is concentrating on identifying the forests with highest carbon and greatest biodiversity. This approach is much more like the World Bank type of approach with heavy documentation up front (and therefore admin costs) but the same three shortcomings apply to this approach as to CCB.

In summary the bottom up approach of the NGOs is open to criticism that whilst they protect some forests they simply transfer the threats to other non-protected forests, whilst the UN REDD approach is open to the criticism that it is a bureaucratic and costly process with funding being channelled through government departments, many of whom are noted for corruption. See www.redd-monitor.org for more detailed critiques. Normally one of the best ways to get efficiency in delivering products is competition, yet this is entirely missing from both approaches. The concept of packaging forests and getting them to compete not just on carbon but on biodiversity and poverty alleviation, whilst using the private sector through mechanisms such as derivatives to deliver these products, has not yet been identified.

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