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Why REDD+ is dangerous (in its current form)

Why REDD+ is dangerous (in its current form)

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Published by Kjell_Kuehne

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Published by: Kjell_Kuehne on Jan 30, 2011
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02/18/2014

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Why REDD+ is dangerous (in its current form)
This essay shall help you understand the role REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestationand Forest Degradation in „Developing“ Countries plus Conservation, Sustainable ForestManagement and Enhancement of Carbon Stocks) can play in solving the climate crisis, andthe role it can and will not play. There is a relatively small group of experts who have adeeper understanding of the technical details of REDD+ who sometimes lack a criticaldistance. On the other hand, many people who are against REDD+ do not understand toomuch of the technical details. With this essay, I hope to help both to get valuable additionalinformation.I will first outline the general goal for solving the climate crisis (zero fossil emissions), thentalk about offsets in general. An outline of the challenges which REDD+ programmes face infulfiling their promise is the main part. I conclude with a best case and a worst case scenario.Obviously it is our common responsibility to work towards the best case and avoid the worst. At the moment, we seem to be steering more towards the worst case scenario. Hence thetitle.
1. Zero fossil emissions are the principal climate goal,and REDD+ doesn't bring us closer to that.
The „most important number on Earth“ is 350. 350 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere is the mark below which we need to get if we want to continue having ice on the Earth's polar caps in thelong term and a coastline that we would recognize on the map (25-35m sealevel rise wouldbe due if we stayed over 350 ppm for too long). For getting there, obviously zero fossilemissions are a must. And the sooner we reach that goal, the greater the likelihood that wewill be able to bring atmospheric CO2 levels down fast enough to avoid triggering one of theseveral tipping elements that might result in "runaway climate change". According to currentknowledge (see e.g. the Copenhagen Diagnosis
1
) and current political climate goals(maximum global mean temperature rise of 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels), we
1
http://www.copenhagendiagnosis.org
 
need to hit the zero point globally around 2050, give or take a few years. That is a greattransformation in little time and REDD+ could only buy a little time, while possibly – if set upas an offset mechanism – pushing the date of vigorous action back, which comes down towasting that same time again (see next section).
2. Offsets postpone structural changeand may even damage the climate goals.
REDD+ is not (yet) an offset mechanism. While technically speaking, this statement is true,because the Cancun text postpones the UNFCCC decision on this thanks to Bolivia'sopposition, the huge interest in REDD+ is closely linked to the expectation that it would"generate" emissions reductions at much lower cost than other mitigation options. Thisprojection in itself is questionable
2
, but economists seem to be considered representatives of the highest form of wisdom in our times, so if they say REDD+ will be cheap, it must be so.Their verdict, together with the urgency of climate change and the favourable image thatrainforest protection has in the public sphere, this is quite an attractive package for the bigplayers who are unwilling to change anything major in the way that our fossil economyworks. California is working full speed on bringing tropical forest carbon into its compliancemarket and the US government seems to have put its REDD fast-start finance under theheading „get them into the market“. Take the offsets part out of REDD+ and the whole thingwill deflate like an empty balloon. This is an argument sometimes used: if we can't involvemarkets, we won't get enough money to save the rainforests.The basic task of our generation is to transform a fossil world economy into a renewable one.That task is not facilitated by the availability of cheap offsets on the carbon markets. And onthe markets one ton of carbon from avoided deforestation shall equal one ton of fossil carbonextracted and burnt.
3
But ("green") forest carbon is not equal to ("black") fossil carbon. Whileone is part of the natural carbon cycle the other is an addition to that cycle. And setting aside
2
See the Rainforest Foundation's warnings here:http://rainforestfoundationuk.org/files/McREDD+%20English.pdf 
3This has been avoided in the only forestry projects that are allowed in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM):Afforestation and Reforestation (A/R) Projects. They produce only temporary credits, due to the fact that trees storecarbon only temporarily. These temporary credits don't fetch a good price on the market, therefore the intention withREDD+ is to make sure that the credits are „for good“ instead of temporary. Obviously trees are still only able to storecarbon temporarily.
 
a few percent as a buffer doesn't help much if a big part of the Amazon rainforest turns into asavannah or the food crisis at some point in the future obliges people to farm whatever landthey can get hold of, including remaining forests.While from a justice point of view offsets are very problematic, from a strictly carbon point of view, offsets could work fine – they could, if there was a global cap on emissions.But at the current state of the climate negotiations, we are far away from that global cap. Annex-I countries have reduction targets which may include offsets. The major non-Annex-Icountries have voluntary targets, which also include reductions from offset projects (asexplicitly stated by Brasil in their letter of association with the Copenhagen Accord). Thismeans that in fact any reduction achieved in an offset mechanism is counted twice! Once inthe country buying the offset, and once in the country producing it. And this unfortunatesituation will not change in the near future, because non-Annex-I goals are voluntary innature. If Annex-I countries were to insist on excluding the offsets from non-Annex-I nationalaccounting, there is nothing easier than to „correct“ the voluntary goal by the amount of offsets sold. This situation will not change until we have binding goals for all countries, i.e. Aneffective global cap. And when will that be? For the time being, all UN offset mechanisms arenot reducing emissions, they are increasing them. This applies to the CDM and would apply toREDD+ as well.The pro-offsets argument that they make it possible for naughty emitters to commit toambitious targets would need to be proven with real-life examples if we were to take itseriously. (I have my doubts about this and am looking for an institution to fund a little studyon this topic.)
3. REDD+ works in theory.Making it work on a big scale in reality is a huge challenge.
The list of pitfalls and roadblocks for a successful REDD+ programme is long. You get a firstidea by looking at the negotiation text.
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Especially the section on safeguards reads like a listof „what could go wrong with REDD+“:
 – 
Permanence:
See above.
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Sylvain Martel added this note
I like the how the author assesses the economics of deforestation verses conservation - This essay added to the little I knew about REDD+ and offers a different perspective to what I read before
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