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REDD+ In The Paris Climate Accord: A Summary

Steve Zwick

After decades of evolution and years of difficult negotiations, efforts to slow climate change by saving trees and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) are enshrined in the United Nations Climate Accord. Here is a brief synopsis of Article 5, the one related to REDD and REDD+.

Note: this story has been excerpted from “How Markets And Mother Earth Each Found A Home In The Paris Climate Accord.” Click here to read the full story.

15 December 2015 | REDD began percolating way back in the early 1970s, when physicist Freeman Dyson asked a simple question: “Can we control the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere” by planting trees that breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen? His answer: yes, we can, but we’d still need to slash our industrial emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change. In the late 1980s, a policy analyst with the World Resources Institute named Mark Trexler realized you could sponge up even more carbon dioxide if you saved endangered rainforest rather than planting new trees, and the energy company Applied Energy Services (AES) worked with him to reduce their carbon footprint by doing just that.

[“REDD Dawn: The Birth Of Forest Carbon“]

To measure the carbon, they used the same process that timber companies use to estimate the amount of wood in a forest: basically, measuring trees at chest-height and then applying “allometric equations” to see how much wood – and, by extrapolation, carbon – they contained. To determine which parts of the forest were in danger, they used a combination of econometric modeling and historic rates of deforestation (a process that was rudimentary at the time and resulted in over-counting, but which has been improved and refined over the years).

[“Understanding Carbon Accounting Under The UN Framework Convention“.]

Since then, indigenous people from Brazil to Kenya have used REDD to save endangered forest by jump-starting sustainable business activities like harvesting acai berries or Brazil nuts, or even just adopting more efficient woodstoves. From the start, however, REDD was plagued by the false duality that sees an either/or relationship between morality and markets – a view just as crippling as the pure free-market fundamentalism that got us into this mess. (It’s a way of thinking that also concludes you either save the forests or you reduce industrial emissions; in reality, we must do both.)

Article 5: REDD+
Article 5 contains just two paragraphs, but those paragraphs refer to at least a dozen decisions and elements of other agreements, and the entire history of this extraordinary document is there if you know to look for it.

Paragraph 1: Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests.

This refers to that part of the framework convention itself that recognizes “common but differentiated” responsibilities between rich and poor countries, and also the need to promote the sustainable management of natural carbon sinks, including “biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.” It’s echoed in the Paris agreement, which recognizes the “importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and noting the importance for some of the concept of ‘climate justice’, when taking action to address climate change.”

Paragraph 2: Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.

This is a mouthful, so let’s break it down. “Results-based payments,” means money, to be paid from one country to another based on the amount of extra carbon the receiving country keeps locked in forests as a result of actions that countries take to slow deforestation. These payments may be “market-based”, which means the country paying for them then gets to reduce its own emissions by the additional amount of carbon locked in trees, or they may be “non-market” based, in which case the country receiving the payment also gets credit for the emission-reduction achieved – but that is dealt with in Article 6.

“The existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention,” refers to roughly a dozen decisions made over the years regarding the measurement of forests, the establishment of reference levels, and the role of indigenous people in preserving forests.

[“Forests Look Set To Play Big Role In Paris Patchwork Climate Accord“.]

“Activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” refers to REDD, but without mentioning the acronym directly, because it’s become a target for people with duality delusion syndrome.

“The role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests,” is the “+” in “REDD+” – all the other land-use issues associated with farms and fields.

“While reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches,” refers to things like biodiversity and the protection of indigenous rights.

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  • Forest Keeper

    How does REDD+ in the Paris Accords establish ethical markets, when it does
    not require the enforcement of the resource tenure
    and human rights of forest peoples?

    Above Steve Zwick argues:
    “From the start, however, REDD was plagued by the false duality that sees an either/or relationship between morality and markets – a view just as crippling as the pure free-market fundamentalism that got us into this mess.”

    A well-regulated market requires clear ownership of resources, the rule of law and enforced human rights in order to fairly: trade, negotiate and litigate. So how does REDD+ in the Paris Accords (REDD) establish well-regulated and ethical markets, when it does not require the recognition and enforcement of resource tenure and human rights of Indigenous and forest peoples prior to payment or funding?

    Mr, Zwick or your allies, if you read no further, please answer this question using only the agreed REDD text and its Paris Accord references. If your answer cannot be found in the texts, then what is the REDD strategy to ensure that those rights are recognized and enforced?

    To explore “REDD’s ethics (I prefer to explore the term “ethics” as it refers more to social contract, as opposed to morality’s basis in a higher power), lets start by reading REDD’s text in Decision 1/CP.16:
    “72. Also requests developing country Parties, when developing and implementing their national strategies or action plans, to address, inter alia, drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, land tenure issues, forest governance issues, gender considerations and the safeguards…”

    The key non-binding words there are, “…request…to address…” applied to the “…land tenure issues… forest governance…safeguards.” This is vague “UNese” language providing the dangerous illusion of safeguards that are not there. The fate of millions of forest peoples reside in the difference between enforcing resource and human rights vs addressing them.

    The world’s largest forests and their peoples primarily exist because these forests were not profitable to exploit due to inaccessibility or danger. REDD is creating an economic incentive to now make these forests and their peoples much more profitable to exploit but without the enforcement of the rights and safeguards that will protect them. Carbon credit entrepreneurs, Government entities and NGOs have already started pushing REDD into the last remote forests endangering many forest peoples.

    Jorge Furagaro Kuetgaje, climate coordinator for COICA, the Indigenous People of the Amazon Basin stated, “For us to continue to conserve the tropical forests … we need to have strong rights to those forests. Death should not be the price we pay for playing our part in preventing the emissions that fuel climate change.” A Global Witness report found that at least 116 environmental activists were murdered in 2014, and 40% of the victims were indigenous.

    ?Got The Golden Rule?

    How is REDD ethical, if it only is “requesting to address land tenure rights, forest governance, safeguards (read human rights) and participation” for marginalized traditional forest peoples? Would the Paris Accord negotiators and REDD promoters sign an agreement not to have their family’s property rights or human rights enforced but just request them to be addressed? Not to secure those rights prior to REDD funding or payment for marginalized people with minimal legal means and sophistication is unethical.

    Mr. Zwick identifies and interprets REDD in Article 5, Paragraph 2 where he states:
    “While reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches,” refers to things like biodiversity and the protection of indigenous rights.
    Mr. Zwick, please explain exactly what binding protection this text provides for indigenous rights?

    He continues:
    “Activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” refers to REDD, but without mentioning the acronym directly, because it’s become a target for people with duality delusion syndrome.

    As revealed above, many REDD supporters at COP21 stopped using its’ 10 year old acronym and started referring to saving the forests possibly to avoid REDD’s text being scrutinized. Not all REDD’s critics have “duality delusion syndrome”, many of us support ethical markets. But REDD is ethically inadequate and needs to be amended by applying the The Golden Rule.