- In March, the Trump administration proposed the elimination in its entirety of the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI), established by President Obama to integrate climate change funding into U.S. foreign assistance.
- Though Congress has yet to finalize a 2018 budget, Trump’s cuts if implemented, would end the GCCI, reducing to zero all U.S. payments to U.N. climate change programs, including the Global Climate Fund (GCF), Global Environmental Facility (GEF); Clean Technology Fund (CTF); and Strategic Climate Fund (SCF).
- These losses would impact UN-REDD+ programs (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in Africa and around the world only to a degree, since many are funded by other nations or supported by private groups.
- However, Trump’s proposed cuts, if approved, would impact REDD+ programs in Malawi in the short term, and likely in other countries, if U.S. international climate change funding is not restored.
In July, a community-led Kenyan conservation organization called Mikoko Pamoja, Mangroves Together, was among the 2017 Equator Prize winners. The program was singled out as an exceptional REDD+ project, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, a global United Nations initiative to combat climate change.
Mikoko Pamoja’s effort, carried out on the southern coast of Kenya about 50 kilometers from Mombasa, is the first community-run REDD+ project of its kind in the world. It has been validated to generate and sell mangrove carbon credits to companies and individuals globally.
REDD+ is a U.N. policy mechanism that helps developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions on forested lands. Negotiated under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2007, the initiative was expanded in 2010 to include sustainable forest management, and conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks among its tools.
At the time, the UNFCCC also established the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a financing mechanism for advancing low-emission, climate-resilient solutions in the developing world. Developed countries agreed to mobilize $100 billion per year for GCF by 2020.
As of 2017, about $10.3 billion had been pledged for GCF by 43 national governments, though a mere $6.3 million had been disbursed. Since 2008, over $4 billion in support for REDD+ has been pledged and partially distributed through multilateral funds or programs.
That was how things stood after the GCF Board meeting in Songdo, Korea this April.
But as REDD+ projects gear up in Africa, and in developing nations around the globe, the long term future of the GCF, REDD+ and other U.N. climate programs are in doubt due to the election of Donald Trump — the only current major world leader, to outspokenly deny the reality of human-caused global warming.
The July 2017 Green Climate Fund board support for the early phases of REDD+ acknowledged that current funding levels are inadequate for supporting the mechanism, and the GCF board called for action to mobilize significant multiple sources of funding from public, private, domestic, international, multilateral and bilateral sources.
Trump sows climate chaos abroad
In March, 2017, the Trump administration’s “skinny budget” proposed the elimination in its entirety of the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI), established by President Obama to integrate climate change financial considerations into U.S. foreign assistance through a range of bilateral, multilateral and private sector mechanisms.
The GCCI, according to Meena Raman of the Third World Network (TWN), was part of Obama’s plan to provide the “fast-start finance” needed to address climate change agreed to at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.
The Trump administration, in its March 2018 budget proposal called for combined cuts of $10.1 billion to the two primary agencies doing international climate work, the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID).
Trump’s proposal to end the GCCI, and eliminate all international climate-related spending (a cut of at least $1.3 billion dollars), has yet to be acted on by Congress, which has until October 1st to approve next year’s budget, though that vote could be delayed until December.
Many Democrats in Congress were quick to reject the administration’s proposed cuts. “I am deeply disappointed and dismayed to find out that despite the concerns raised by bipartisan Members of Congress… President Trump appears determined to gut U.S. national security by slashing the State Department and USAID,” said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Potential Trump climate program cuts: by the numbers
Under Obama, the GCCI funding request for 2016 was $1.3 billion. It roughly allocated $500 million for the GCF; $12 million for the UNFCCC/IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change); $168 million for the Global Environmental Facility (GEF); $170 million for the Clean Technology Fund (CTF); and $59 million for the Strategic Climate Fund (SCF). It also included $25 million for the Montreal Protocol and $348 million for international climate change programming at USAID. Another $459 million was allocated for international climate programs at the State Department.
Trump’s proposed 2018 “America First” budget would eliminate all international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs. Ending GCCI would reduce to zero all U.S. payments to all U.N. climate change programs, including the GCF, GEF, CTF, and SCF. Trump also proposes discontinuing all funding to Obama’s Clean Power Plan, reducing the likelihood of the U.S. meeting its Paris Climate Agreement carbon reduction pledge.
How much damage this might do to REDD+ in the short and long term remains uncertain. “The U.S. cutbacks to REDD+ are hitting some of the key countries that directly benefitted from U.S. support on REDD+, such as Malawi. But for the UN-REDD+, we do not envisage the Trump proposed cuts as being a major [immediate] threat, as UN-REDD+ is mainly funded through bilateral initiatives from Germany, Norway, the UK, and Japan,” said Tim Christophersen, a lead expert of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Forests and Climate Change.
USAID is investing $1.8 million in REDD+ and $100,000 in REDD+ preparedness in Malawi as part of its “fast track” climate finance program. This would likely be lost if Congress votes to approve Trump’s proposed aid cuts.
Of the $10.3 billion promised to GCF by the world’s nations, $3 billion was originally pledged by the United States. President Obama rushed to honor that commitment, at least partially, paying out $1 billion before leaving office. But Trump says he will renege on the remaining $2 billion GCF pledge.
Experts expect those cuts to be confirmed by Congress, though some in his own party have balked at the administration’s foreign aid cuts. GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina believes Trump’s budget is “dead on arrival, it’s not going to happen, and it would be a disaster. This budget destroys soft power, it puts our diplomats at risk and it’s going nowhere.”
So far, no other country has indicated it will step in to fill the resulting climate funding gap. “The impact of this reduction is likely to become more apparent at the point in time when GCF starts discussing replenishments,” Ravi Prabhu, Deputy Director General for Research with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), told Mongabay. He explained that the GCF board will likely set a replenishment trigger when there is a gap of $6-7 billion between what has been allocated and what has been pledged, with a $2-3 billion buffer.
Given the U.S. withdrawal of funding, he added that “there was a feeling among experts that the GCF might need to reduce the trigger amount in order to replenish in time, and that “the board would prioritize discussions to make this happen sooner rather than later”.
U.S. climate cuts serious to developing world
The United States is the biggest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, contributing to costly global impacts ranging from sea level rise to extreme weather. In 2015 alone, the U.S. emitted 6.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. That’s why critics argue that the U.S. elimination of international climate change aid is irresponsible, and why the U.S. should keep its financial commitments to developing countries under the UNFCCC.
Raman urges Congress to reject Trump’s cuts and to meet U.S. climate obligations to the rest of the world, warning that America “has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, but it has not withdrawn from the UNFCCC. Hence, it still has a legal obligation to provide the financial resources under the Convention. The issue is how to force it to do so when [the U.S.] has no political will to do so.”
Tony Simons, the director general at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), told Mongabay that the proposed cuts are tragic because the U.S. has broken faith with a collectively negotiated international agreement and failed to address a global crisis.
“It signals undoing all the knitting that has been done over the years [via international negotiations]. Climate change is long term and intergenerational. However, it’s encouraging that many sub-nationals [states] and companies in the U.S. are behind the collective process,” Simons told Mongabay.
Raman noted that the financial gap resulting from the U.S. default is significant. She sees grave implications for developing countries, which urgently need climate financing to bypass dirty fossil fuel technologies and to implement green, low-carbon energy sources quickly.
In particular, lack of finance will heavily impact the capability of developing nations to meet their Paris greenhouse gas emission commitments, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s) submitted to the UNFCCC before Paris.
Analysis shows that developing countries need around $3.5 trillion to implement their INDC’s by 2030, while the cost of adapting to climate change in developing countries could rise to between $280 and $500 billion per year by 2050, according to the U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP).
Raman believes the U.S. shortfall can be made up by other developed countries increasing their contributions: “If this is not done, then developing countries will not be able to do more climate action, as they have no resources of their own, [and that will] negatively affect the poor and the planet overall.”
Trump administration officials contacted for comment by Mongabay failed to respond to the author’s queries.
REDD+ future projects at stake in Africa
The Mikoko Pamoja project was launched in 2013 by two local communities that wished to sell carbon credits earned via mangrove conservation. Like other REDD+ initiatives, the project is built on an international partnership; it is supported by the Association for Coastal Ecosystem Services (ACES), a Scottish charity, and by the Plan Vivo Foundation, headquartered in the United Kingdom.
Mikoko Pamoja now makes 3,000 tons of carbon (CO2) available for trade annually on the voluntary carbon market. The revenue earned flows into a community benefit fund, supporting local development projects in education, water and sanitation, and mangrove reforestation. About 3,500 community members are now benefiting from access to cleaner water, while 700 children receive educational materials through their schools.
This REDD+ initiative has so far conserved 117 hectares (289 acres) of carbon-storing Rhizophora mucronata and Sonneratia alba, two types of mangrove listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In the heart of Africa, another project is reaping the benefits of REDD+ financial investment. In the Congo basin — a mosaic of flooded forest, savanna, swamp, and rivers spanning six countries — the Isangi REDD+ project is among initiatives significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions by preventing deforestation caused by forest conversion to agricultural uses.
Located in the Isangi territory, Yangambi District, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the project is expected to significantly reduce deforestation rates and annually sequester more than 280,000 tons of carbon in conserved forests over the next 30 years.
This REDD+ project’s work sprawls across 180,000 hectares (695 square miles), and is financed by the Jadora Limited Liability Company based in the United States, and by Safbois, a private company in the DRC.
An estimated eight percent of carbon stored in living forests planet-wide is held within DRC forests, giving that country the fourth largest carbon reservoir on Earth, according to the NGO Greenpeace. As a result, the Congo basin rainforest — covering portions of Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the DRC — plays a critical role in regulating the global climate, and in maintaining these forests as a hedge against runaway climate change.
While these particular projects are not directly reliant on U.S. funding for their continued existence, experts say that their success to date in combatting climate change in the developing world demonstrates why it is crucial that REDD+ funding continue growing.
The urgent need to curb deforestation in Africa
Between 2011-2015, intact forests worldwide stored an average of 2.1 gigatons of CO2 annually, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), proving that forest conservation via initiatives such as REDD+ is vital for carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Globally, forests cover slightly over 4 billion hectares (15.4 million square miles), or about 31 percent of the world’s land surface. But in Africa, while forests cover about 675 million hectares (2.6 million square miles), they account for just 23 percent of Africa’s land area, says the FAO and World Bank.
Africa’s forests are also in rapid decline. Despite current efforts to reduce deforestation through REDD+ and other initiatives, about 3.4 million hectares (13,127 square miles) of forest are currently being lost annually — the world’s highest rate of continental deforestation, according to FAO’s 2016 State of the Forests report.
That report attributes the rapid loss to over-reliance on wood fuel — still the primary energy source in Africa for cooking and heating — and to agricultural expansion, urban growth, infrastructure development, and mining.
Deforestation and forest degradation account for roughly 30 percent of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the 2012 World Bank Action Plan for Engagement in Forests and Trees in Africa. And that’s clearly why, say experts, REDD+ needs greater U.S. support, not less.
Building Africa’s REDD+ capacity
REDD+ initiatives are at varying stages of preparation and implementation across Africa. Projects are funded either by UN-REDD, the UN’s Global Environmental Facility (GEF), private companies, bilateral agreements, or through multilateral initiatives, such as those funded by the World Bank and the African Development Bank. Those funded by the GEF could be the ones most likely immediately impacted by Trump’s proposed budget cuts.
Larwanou Mahaman, a forest ecology professor at the University of Niamey in Niger, and a senior project officer at the African Forest Forum (AFF), told Mongabay that despite the fact that some REDD+ projects in Africa have started off well, very few countries as yet have operational projects.
“In most [African] countries, it’s [still] just paperwork — preparing the readiness phase, strategy, policies and legal frameworks — that go towards implementing REDD+. Local communities haven’t started benefiting from REDD+” as yet, Mahaman said. The ecology professor attributes this slow start to a lack of expertise available for writing bankable proposals, as well as a lack of organized environmental data, such as country forest inventories — data vital to the REDD+ application process.
The African Forest Forum (AFF), an NGO, is trying to build that capacity by training African governments, civil society, researchers and the private sector in how to complete the REDD+ project application process in order to access currently available funds.
Christophersen explained that African countries have yet to realize major REDD+ results compared to their counterparts in Latin America, “whose measurable REDD+ carbon emissions cuts can now be sold to voluntary markets.”
The Côte d’Ivoire REDD+ start-up example
Christophersen singles out Kenya, the DRC, Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire as among the few African countries to have so far effectively implemented REDD+ national strategies. Côte d’Ivoire has created a detailed roadmap for the implementation of its national REDD+ process, and could stand as an example and guide to the rest of the continent.
That being said, the country stands in great need of REDD+ assistance. Its total forest area has fallen sharply due to high rates of deforestation and degradation. From 2001 to 2015, Côte d’Ivoire lost more than 1.8 million hectares (6,949 square miles) of forest.
Over that same period, it only managed to restore about 230,000 hectares (888 square miles) of forest, says Global Forest Watch, which estimates that Côte d’Ivoire’s current forest biomass carbon stock stands at 1.9 billion metric tons.
Côte d’Ivoire has been supported by UN-REDD, and has jointly implemented forestry programs through the FAO, UNEP, and UNDP totaling $791,000 — not nearly enough to address the nation’s serious rate of deforestation, but at least a start. It seems likely that the country’s REDD+ work will be largely unaffected by Trump’s proposed budget cuts.
Africa plays catch-up
Launched in 2008, UN-REDD in Developing Countries is currently supporting 64 partner nations across the Asia-Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, including 28 countries in Africa. But the program is still far from meeting its potential, largely due to the complexities and unpredictable fluctuations of the voluntary carbon trading market.
“Voluntary markets simply cannot generate sufficient funding to create the [sequestered] carbon volumes required to make a real difference to deforestation rates. Apart from which voluntary markets often simply displace deforestation to other areas within a country,” says Prabhu
Some African countries have yet to sign up for national REDD+ assistance, noted Prabhu. This national sign up procedure is required to avoid “leakages” within each country, where one community might be preserving its forests, while another community might be cutting theirs down.
“Countries aren’t signing up at the national level,” says Prabhu. So far “it’s mainly private projects being implemented, selling carbon to the voluntary markets, which do not prevent [in-country] leakages.” For example, “Mikoko Pamoja could be preserving one area of mangrove, but another [Kenyan] community might be cutting forests elsewhere. In the end, the net effect on climate [could be] zero [if the] REDD+ projects… are not nationally coordinated.”
Christophersen said that African nations urgently need to change their approach to land use by implementing new top-down policies to govern and regulate forests. “REDD+ aims to bring to [each] country a policy coherence and effectiveness that changes the deforestation trends nationally. You can’t do that by [stand alone] projects.” Instead a holistic approach is required, “that includes policies of land tenure and its governance.”
But even if all of Africa’s nations get their REDD+ act together, there is still the question of where the big money needed to do the job will come from — especially now that the U.S. has withdrawn its support for climate change related foreign aid.
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