Negotiators should address illegal logging when crafting REDD+ rules, says watchdog

Photo by Murdani Usman for CIFOR

DURBAN, South Africa (30 November, 2011)_An environmental watchdog warned that negotiators need to take extra care when crafting rules for measuring carbon emissions related to REDD+ because otherwise developing countries could be financially rewarded for simply enforcing their existing forest protection laws.

Current practices that include “systematic illegal logging” cannot be considered as business-as-usual, Andrea Johnson, Director of Forests Campaigns at the Environment Investigation Agency, said at the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Durban yesterday. She urged negotiators to put more focus on law enforcement and corruption issues, which are admittedly “difficult” to discuss as they raise “structural issues about impunities for powerful interests”.

At the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) in Durban, forested countries are hoping to reach consensus on a system to monitor, report and verify carbon emissions in REDD+ projects to allow the scheme to move beyond pilot projects. This includes setting a baseline against which the cuts will be measured – a question that is more political than technical, said experts.

REDD+ shares a key challenge with previous initiatives to control illegal logging, that is whether they can address underlying governance failings in the system as a whole, or leave necessary fundamental reforms untouched, said a recent study from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). The report derived lessons from measures like Indonesia’s voluntary partnership agreement with the European Union on timber legality verification standards and joint enforcement sweeps.

REDD+ design should be cognizant of weaknesses, including a lack of capacity to implement the scheme, rather than assuming that well-functioning systems are in place, said the authors of the CIFOR report. A clear lesson from previous efforts to curb illegal logging is that “it is inadvisable to look for short cuts in the process,” the study said.

Urgency to avoid the climate change tipping point “threatens to prevent REDD+ from being able to give close attention to key process issues. In this respect, it may be wise to reconsider the degree to which REDD+ processes that are implemented over a short time period can have fundamental governance impacts,” it said further.

REDD+ relies on deforestation rates based on spatial data as a proxy to calculate the actual amount of carbon emitted by forest clearance. Interpol estimated in 2008 that between 20 and 50 percent of timber worldwide was harvested illegally, according to a recent report from Global Witness.

Forested developing countries are susceptible to corruption, with about 80 percent of the 59 countries that have received REDD+ financing in the bottom half of countries assessed for Control of Corruption by the World Bank, said Davyth Stewart from the Global Witness. Aside from corruption in REDD+ funds disbursement and in securing land for the projects, future corruption risks include manipulation in carbon measurements and speculation in the carbon markets, he said.

For other reports from the event, visit the blogs of these organizations:
- The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC)