Chimps and Chumps: A United Call for REDD+

Jane Goodall couldn’t make it to Cancun.  Instead she sent the greeting call of a chimpanzee to reverberate around a hall full of senior diplomats, negotiators and observers on Wednesday night (a lot like this).  It was a stirring signal of support for the efforts to reach agreement on REDD+ from one of the world’s most respected conservationists.

Perhaps the main purpose of this gathering, hosted by Avoided Deforestation Partners (ADP), was the public declaration of support for REDD+ from such a wide range of high profile figures from all parts of the spectrum: UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, financier and philanthropist George Soros, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, Goodall herself and the heads of government of Norway and Guyana, to name a few.  The point was well made.

Not everyone kept to the script, however.  President Bharat Jagdeo of Guyana openly voiced his frustration that the finance promised by Norway a year ago, in return for his country’s decision to preserve their entire forest capital, has not arrived.  As well as thanking Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway for his generosity, he warned that he taking a huge risk with his political capital.  If the benefits of the scheme are not soon evident in transforming the economies and livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities, the experiment would fail.  He identified the inefficiency and unpreparedness of the international institutions as the weak link and declared, to sustained applause, that ‘If REDD+ cannot work in Guyana, it will not work anywhere.’

Stolotenberg agreed, and highlighted that he is also putting his political capital on the line – both of Norway’s opposition parties advocate a sharp reduction in overseas aid.  His investments have to show results.  And this is why REDD+ has to work – the performance-based nature of the mechanism is the best chance we have to link aid to tangible outcomes, and thus maintain the support of voters in industrialized countries.

Jeff Horowitz, the founder of the ADP, sent a strong message in his opening address: ‘No one country must be allowed to hold forest protection hostage to other goals’.  This was certainly intended to hit home with particular delegations – but was it targeted at the US, who still refuse to countenance a REDD+ agreement unless as part of a broader package, or at the Saudis, who have once again willfully inserted another slew of last-minute suggestions into the draft agreement to hold up progress?

The tension mounts

The atmosphere is still, on balance, optimistic, as we move into the final day of negotiations.  But many people from civil society groups, press and academia remain profoundly uneasy at the ‘commoditization’ of forests, despite the unity of purpose on display at gatherings such as ADP and CLUA.  This article in Der Spiegel sets out the risks of REDD+ once again.  They want an alternative dialogue, based on moral, not financial, incentives.  We’ve tried that for the last 40 years.  Time for something else.

Posted by Ben Vickers

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