REDD herring

Last updated: Mar 2009


Will the UN’s latest initiative to save rainforests really work? Simon Birch looks to environmental groups for an answer.

With the world’s rainforests still going up in smoke at an ever-increasing rate, the good news is that a new global initiative is being billed as a way of helping. REDD (yes it’s another clumsy acronym: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries) is now offcial UN policy in the fght against climate change.

The REDD proposals have come about as a consequence of the 2006 Stern Report which identifed that carbon dioxide emissions resulting from rainforest destruction account for a massive 20% of the world’s total. The idea behind REDD is in theory at least quite simple: rich Northern countries will offset their own greenhouse gas emissions by paying poorer Southern countries not to level their rainforests. The whole scheme, which will cost billions of dollars, would then be paid for by the sale of carbon credits on the emerging global carbon market.



Divided Movement

So much for the good news. The bad news is that the environmental movement is now becoming increasingly divided over the potential benefts of REDD and its ability to save any rainforest at all. Leading the REDD sceptics is forest campaigner Chris Lang from“Saving the rainforests was one of the biggest green issues in the ‘80s but somehow it’s slipped off the agenda,” says Lang. “The only positive thing about REDD is that people are now talking about rainforests again, beyond that the whole idea of REDD is just nonsensical.”

“For starters,” says Lang, “the World Bank, countless aid agencies and campaign groups including Greenpeace have been trying to save rainforests for decades without any real success. The idea that by throwing vast sums of money at the problem you’ll succeed where everyone else before has failed is frankly ridiculous.”

Lang goes on to point out that the majority of the world’s remaining rainforests are found in some of the most corrupt and unstable countries in the world, most notably Laos and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “It’s just naïve to expect these countries to suddenly turn around and say ‘we’ve changed’ when faced with the prospect of being given vast amounts of money to stop logging their rainforests. It just won’t happen.”



Land grab?

Owen Espley from Friends Of the Earth shares Lang’s scepticism.“We’re also concerned that the huge sums of money that are being talked about will lead to a massive land-grab from the world’s 60 million indigenous rainforest people who depend upon the rainforests for their livelihoods.”

However the chief concern of those environmental groups who are at best lukewarm about REDD is that it simply won’t achieve its core objective i.e. reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.“Our worry is that REDD is entirely driven by the need for rich, industrial Northern countries to offset their greenhouse gas emissions and not take action at home to cut emissions – which won’t solve anything,” says Cath Long from the Rainforest Foundation.

Meanwhile Fauna and Flora International is one of the environmental groups which see REDD’s potential in preserving rainforests and has been involved in establishing one of the world’s frst REDD projects. Tigers saved Nearly two million acres of rainforest in Sumatra, home to the rare Sumatran tiger, has now been protected. The project is expected to prevent 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere by slashing the rate of deforestation by up to 85%.



Backed by Bankers

The project, now backed by international bankers Merrill Lynch, will be paid for by the sale of carbon credits, the frst of which are expected to go on sale this year. “We’re keen to tap into the world’s fnancial markets to secure rainforest conservation,” says Annelisa Grigg from FFI. So does Grigg believe that the market is the answer to rainforest destruction?

“Absolutely not, as the drivers of deforestation are very complex. What the market offers is just one solution which needs to sit within a whole package of measures which must for example address the issue of corruption and governance,” replies Grigg – who then takes a swipe at those critics of REDD:“REDD is a very new project so people are going to be a little bit scared by it.”



Bryony Worthington, former climate campaigner at FoE and now the founder of the climate change action group, remains unconvinced however:“REDD won’t end up saving rainforests simply because the global carbon market isn’t yet mature enough to take that much uncertainty – which REDD will undoubtedly bring,” states Worthington.

What’s more, Worthington believes that not only will REDD fail in its core objective, it’s actually potentially dangerous:“Our fear is that REDD will drive investment away from developing carbon-free technologies which we need right now if we’re to avert climate change catastrophe.”

From Ethical Consumer, Issue 117, March/April 2009