Barking up the wrong model for REDD+

There is increasingly vocal resistance by representatives of local communities and indigenous peoples to REDD. What was seen at Copenhagen as an almost ‘oven ready’ agreement on REDD has been subject to significant proposed changes over the past year most notably at the intercessional UNFCCC meetings in Bonn and Tianjin. These changes reflect a weather change in the attitudes of  marginalized groups  and their increasingly determined representation. It might cause us to wonder if the scale is tipping on the side of REDD’s costs  outweighing its potential benefits.

The apprehension is founded on fears of diminishing rights of forest dependent peoples over their lands, their forests and their traditional livelihoods.  Fundamentally they express real concerns that  REDD and carbon markets, like many initiatives before them, will be co-opted to serve the interests of the elite and undermine the interests of the poor.

As much as some, such as myself, are inclined to believe that with sufficiently robust safeguards REDD can be molded such that local communities are genuine beneficiaries, a recent report by the Rainforest Foundation poses some serious challenges to the way REDD activities have been conducted to date. The report accuses a widely used REDD cost accounting methodology, the carbon mitigation ‘cost-curve’, of being misleading to policy makers, deeply methodologically flawed and inherently undermining of local community interests.

Brought into the popular sphere by the Stern Report and long associated with the McKinsey consulting firm in Australia, undeniable biases are built into the methodology which favor economically quantifiable activities and in particular, commercial interests. In efforts aimed at grasping first for ‘low hanging fruit’, McKinsey has used the cost-curve to advocate for eliminating shifting agriculture as a ‘cheap’ option for reducing deforestation. They suggest this to be achievable in Indonesia at bargain basement prices of only US $1 per tCO2e.

 But the Rainforest Foundation report asserts that they are wrong. Methodologically, economically and ethically. The carbon mitigation cost-curve seriously undervalues the package of services that forests provide to subsistence communities. It simply does not account for the range of values that exist outside the parameters of market forces.  It blithely undervalues the costs of REDD in all of transaction, implementation and monitoring costs.

Despite the findings of the report, I remain convinced that REDD can (and must) serve the interests of the global armies of rural poor. The case of the cost-curves’ subtle but unjust biases should be a call to vigilence. On the positive side, as civil society and community groups become more informed, engaged and determined, the less the risk that inequitable systems and methods will slip by unquestioned.

Posted by Regan Suzuki

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