Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Problems with avoided deforestation payments...

I just read a report by some WWF scientists arguing that Reduced Emissions for Avoided Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) could be a good way to get money for protecting forests and in particular tigers. They argue that countries should get a premium on any REDD payments (normally given for carbon) if the density of various key species, such as tigers, increases.. The paper has left me feeling deeply uneasy.

While I agree that there may be a place for direct payments to protect and value forests, I see numerous problems with REDD and its various derivations. First of all if the payments are made in exchange for offsets, then it is simply another way to allow big polluters in the rich countries to keep polluting, for no concrete reductions in another country (offsets with developing countries cannot work as there is no cap on the emissions of developing countries). Secondly there would need to be a very good set of baseline data from which to measure deforestation, otherwise there will be an incentive to increase or fudge defprestation data to ensure an artificially high baseline rate of forest loss. Also, there will be pressure to inflate the numbers of tigers, something that has been a big problem before. And who will recieve the money? It is supposed to help the poorest communities around forests, but the amount of projected money is vast.. how will this be handled?

All of these issues are exaccerbated by basic a structural concern. Basically, there is no incentive on any of the bodies involved in these sorts of REDD schemes to blow the whistle if there are problems. The people paying for the credits want a supply of offsets. The people receiving the money don't what that threatened. The NGOs backing it will want to make it look as though everything is okay (there are similar problems with forest certifications and 'sustainable' palm oil). Even the conservation teams on the ground would find themselves under huge pressure to keep claiming that forests and tigers are in good condition.

In the end there is huge pressure to make this work, from developing countries, some environmentalists who seem to see it as a way to protect forests, western governments who see it as a way of wriggling out of tough decisions on reduction emmissions and conservationists desperately seeking anything that can help their prize species. I only hope that it will not become a very expensive failure.

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