Commentary: Greenpeace report threatens climate change mitigation and tropical forests

Commentary by Daniel Nepstad,
Executive Director & Senior Scientist at IPAM's International Program
special to
September 25, 2012

This is Dr. Nepstad's response to Greenpeace's Outsourcing Hot Air report. Nepstad is a member of the California REDD Offsets Working Group

From 2008 through 2010, deforestation in the states of the Brazilian Amazon declined steeply, lowering CO2 emissions to the atmosphere by approximately 1.5 billion tons. During this same period, the 30 nations that participate in the world’s largest carbon market—the European Union’s “Emissions Trading Scheme” (EU ETS)—reduced emissions by about 1.9 billion tons (Figure 1). There is an important difference between these two extremely important steps towards emissions reductions. The first was achieved through climate-related donations of approximately US$ 0.47 billion. The second involved financial transactions of US$ 411 billion—roughly 875 times more money. Greenpeace’s new report, Outsourcing Hot Air, could help to slow—or reverse—the progress of tropical states and provinces around the world in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

Emissions reductions from states of the Brazilian Amazon calculated based upon INPE/PRODES estimates of deforestation rates (see Nepstad et al. 2012); Emissions reductions from EU ETS countries - source. REDD revenues to Brazilian Amazon - source. Financial transactions of EU ETS estimate - source. Click image to enlarge.

If Brazilian Amazon states are to continue their remarkable progress in slowing deforestation and mitigating climate change, they urgently need a signal that their efforts are recognized and that some portion of their costs will be recovered (Nepstad et al. 2012). California’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” (AB32) is one of the few possible sources of finance for rewarding the performance of state-wide REDD programs. If progress is going to spread beyond Brazil to the major deforesting provinces of Indonesia and to the forest states of Mexico, Peru, and Nigeria, then the four-year-old collaboration among these governments through the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) must be strengthened and expanded. This collaboration shares approaches to state- and province-wide land-use planning, policy reform, law enforcement, moratoria on illegal activities, improved forest monitoring, benefit allocation, and stakeholder participation.

Comment from Mariana Pavan,
Public Policy Coordinator at Idesam

My view regarding the article is that there are some misunderstandings about the GCF and what it does. First, the GCF is a platform to support the states in their efforts to move forward with their jurisdictional REDD+ regulations as a whole and these systems are looking at a wide variety of funding sources, both related to market and non market. Second, if you look at the REDD+ regulations that are more advanced in Brazil (Acre, Amazonas and Mato Grosso), all of them are closely related to deforestation control policies (such as the Deforestation Prevention Plans) and sustainable development policies, and some of the goals [Greenpeace] cites at the end of the articles are goals of the states themselves.

The GCF in Brazil has been having an important role also on supporting the states in developing these regulations and programs. As said, these programs are looking into different sources of funding, not only related to markets, and working on a wide strategy where REDD+ is one of the tools that can help them value standing forests and provide sustainable livelihoods to their people, inverting the current economic logic that leads to deforestation, where standing forests are less worthy than other land uses, such as cattle or soya.

These programs are being built with a wide and open process of consultation and discussion with civil society and forest communities. A practical example of that is the Amazonas law project for environmental services, which process of construction was carried under the Amazonas State Forum on Climate Change and its Forests Working Group (Idesam is the coordinator of that group), a space where civil society, as well as other sectors, have an active voice and direct interaction with the government. These discussions were complemented by a series of public consultations and meetings. Similar processes happened in other states such as Acre and Mato Grosso, where a diverse range of stakeholders (including community and indigenous groups) were directly involved and consulted during all phases of construction, and those are now serving as reference and generating lessons learned to other states who are starting to undertake similar processes.

Hopefully, during the meeting (Greenpeace will participate) they will get a chance to understand more about what is the GCF and what it does, as well as its members’ advances, and how they can contribute to it, since it’s an open process and stakeholders’ views and contributions are always welcome.
Greenpeace’s puzzling report takes aim at both California’s REDD offset provision and the GCF—two beacons of hope in a world that is failing to put in place the robust policies that will be needed to avoid catastrophic human-caused climate change. The report’s logic is simple but flawed. It assumes that that there will be a one-for-one trade-off through the REDD offset measure, with, at best, a neutral impact on the atmosphere. It singles out the Lacandon Maya conservation payment scheme as the illustration of its critique.

The report criticizes an emerging emission offset system that is in the early stages of development and years from implementation. California’s AB32 REDD offset provision, if it survives attacks and the California budget crisis, is intended to link California companies with jurisdictional REDD programs. Projects such as the one in the Lacandon Maya forest would not qualify for offsets unless there is a measurable, verifiable impact on emissions reductions.

The California AB32 REDD offset mechanism is one of several options under consideration within the GCF for deliver benefits to governments and critical sectors of society who are keeping forests standing and improving the livelihood of economically marginalized communities. If it survives, it could provide a crucial proof of concept that could send an extremely powerful message to tropical governments and societies around the world—that successful programs for significantly lowering tropical deforestation and forest degradation will be recognized and rewarded. It is in the context of the “REDD Offset Working Group” (ROW), involving representatives from the California, Chiapas, and Acre State Governments, together with experts from several fields, that possible designs for this system are under development and will soon be available for public review. These designs will be compatible with the REDD+ decisions taken within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

UN-driven climate change mitigation is now 20 years old and is not progressing fast enough. We must pragmatically identify all of the near-term potential pathways to large-scale emissions reduction that can also protect and restore native ecosystems and other forms of natural capital while improving the lives of economically marginalized communities. A handful of tropical states are mitigating emissions at the scale of the Kyoto Protocol, virtually off the radar of the UN policy processes (Nepstad et al. 2012). It is time to recognize and reinforce the innovation that is behind this progress and make sure that it is built into the policy regimes that will be needed to slow climate change over the long term.
    For more information:

    D. Nepstad, P. Moutinho, W. Boyd, A. Azevedo, T. Bezerra, B. Smid, C. Stickler, O. Stella. 2012. Re-Framing REDD+: Unlocking the potential of REDD+ as the public policy framework for low emission rural development. Research results and recommendations for governments. (English, Portuguese, Spanish) Access

    Key recommendations for “re-framing” REDD+ for success. Summarizes the results and recommendations of IPAM’s major study of 13 states and provinces that are building jurisdictional REDD+ programs in five tropical nations; co-published with the University of Colorado Law School.

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Commentary by Daniel Nepstad,
Executive Director & Senior Scientist at IPAM's International Program
special to (September 25, 2012).

Commentary: Greenpeace report threatens climate change mitigation and tropical forests.