This week, Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade, the governor of Nigeria’s Cross River State, will be in Guadalajara, Mexico taking part in the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force Annual Meeting. The aim of the GCF is to link states and provinces running REDD programmes with carbon markets in the rich countries.
But before getting carried away with the REDD promotion tour in Guadalajara, it’s worth taking a quick look at Ayade’s record so far in Cross River State.
In April 2015, Ayade won the election to become governor of Cross River State. He quickly announced a series of massive infrastructure projects in Cross River State. The Calabar Deep Seaport. The biggest garment factory in Africa. Several new cities. And a six-lane, 260-kilometre-long superhighway.
The superhighway through the forest
The superhighway is particularly controversial. Construction started in October 2015, before an environmental impact assessment had been carried out. After complaints from the National Park authorities, the route of the road was changed, to avoid going through the Cross River National Park. But large areas of forest remain under threat, including the Ekuri Community Forest.
The road would cost US$3.5 billion, but it is unclear where the money would come from. Little is known about the company building the road and the deep sea port, Broad Spectrum Industries Limited, apparently has no experience of road construction. The company may be based in Israel, Germany, or Port Harcourt, depending on which news report you’re reading.
On 22 January 2016, a Public Notice of Revocation was published in a local newspaper. It was signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development. The Notice stated that,
“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely”.
Which would look something like this:
In March 2016, construction of the road was stopped, until an environmental impact assessment is carried out. While an EIA has now been carried out, Nigerian environmentalist Emmanuel Unaegbu writes that it is “inadequate and lacks merit”.
In June 2016, in a post on the Cross River Facebook page, Eval Asikong, an advisor to Ben Ayade, explained that “The Government is not claiming 10 km of land from both sides of the Super-Highway”. Instead, he explains that the “essence” of 20 kilometre wide strip, was for development control where house structures and every piece of land that is contiguous to the super highway is managed for development control and aesthetic value addition. Government does not forbid individuals from building around this perimeter but strongly frowns at indiscriminate building of structures. Besides, the state government intends to build new cities all along the super highway. Government can even paint structures within those areas for the dwellers as long as they adhere to the control measures. Government intent to provide commercial and social infrastructures like hotels, filling stations, etc to improve the environment.
The impacts of REDD in Cross River State
Meanwhile, Cross River State has started to implement REDD programmes that are having an impact on local communities’ livelihoods.
A report by the Nigerian NGO Social Action exposes the costs to forest communities. A task force in the Forestry Commission has a mandate “to enforce a moratorium on forest activities as part of the implementation process”.
Social Action reports that,
With neither adequate consultation nor alternative livelihoods options for communities, the task force has been harassing community members that have depended on the forests for generations. Movement and trade of products deemed to have been derived from the forests are confiscated. At Nwanga Ekoi in Akpabuyo Local Government Area (LGA) for instance, the task force routinely seizes agricultural products like kola nuts and fruits meant for the market on account that they are derived from forests earmarked for REDD + . The harvesting of Afang leaves, a local vegetable consumed in West and Central Africa, is now banned in affected forests. The hunting for bush meat, a main source of protein in the communities, as well as the tapping of palm wine from the raffia palm and associated brewing of kaikai, a local beverage, have been stopped.
In 2008, Liyel Imoke, then-governor of Cross River State, put in place a logging moratorium – a complete ban on wood cutting in all forests. In effect, forests that were under the control of communities have become forest reserves, under the control of the government.
The moratorium also includes harvesting leaves for food and medicine, and subsistence hunting. Bush meat was an important source of protein for forest communities.
Chief Owai Obio Arong of the Iko Esa Community told Social Action that
“I and my people have suffered for five years now since government stopped us from entering our forest because REDD is coming and till now I have not received anything from them.”
Ayade: “The conservation of forests is only a small aspect of the bigger picture”
On 24 August 2016, in a speech at a UN-REDD meeting, Governor Ayade argued that, “The conservation of forests is only a small aspect of the bigger picture”.
Ayade acknowledges that for eight years, forest communities have not been allowed to benefit from the forests.
Ayade demonstrates his ability to say what his audience wants to hear:
“UN-REDD plus is not about finances, it’s not about gross carbon stock, it’s not about monitoring the forests. It’s about social safeguards. It’s about livelihood security of the people.”
He got a round of applause for that.
He spoke “from his soul”, urging UN-REDD to move into the implementation phase:
“That implementation phase will address the pain and neglect, the harrowing poverty of our people, who for the last eight years have suffered a complete ban on their dependence on their forests. Who will now begin to see a legacy of hope.”
Perhaps predictably, he wants more money:
“I understand from statistics that reached us so far that you are proposing about US$12 million in your initial fees in the REDD-ready plus phase and we will move into the implementation phase. US$12 million is very exciting. But the relationship of pain and agony of our people in the last eight years, the relationship to the responsibilities ahead of us, it is very insignificant.”
He asks UN-REDD to focus on tree planting:
“There is a delicate balance between conservation and management. That is what I am asking for UN-REDD plus to focus as they move into the implementation phase. To focus agressively on tree planting. Because when you do, you increase the amount of rainfall. When you do, you reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
Then he talks about the green economy, the decarbonisation of Africa and the world, and about stopping using fossil fuels. He gets quite excited:
“Africa is challenged to seek alternatives for our crude oil. While Africa is struggling with that, Africa is also told, stop cutting your forests.
“Africa therefore is a whipping child. Standing before the world. We don’t have the technology for alternative research.”
At the end of his little speech, Ayade tells us that,
“The modalities and procedures, the validation process must focus on African philosophy of protection of the environment. It must be indigenous. It must be customised to reflect African heritage. Then a man who owns the forest, that pays from the forest, you only teach him how to depend on the forest without exploiting it to the detriment of the future.”
But of course Ayade made no mention of his proposed 260 kilometre-long superhighway in his speech
In order for REDD projects to generate carbon credits, a “baseline scenario” has to be created. This is supposed to reflect what would have happened under business-as-usual, or what would have happened in the absence of the REDD project.
The baseline is also necessary to show that the REDD project is additional, that the reduced emissions would not have happened without the project.
Conflicts of interest
Clearly, it is in the REDD project developers’ interest to have a baseline that predicts a high rate of deforestation in the project area. The higher the rate of deforestation in the baseline scenario the more carbon credits will be generated. And the less the project will have to reduce deforestation.
Of course REDD project developers can’t pick their own baselines and hope that the rest of the world believes they are not just making things up. The methodology proposed by the project developers has to be validated and project has to be audited. This is where voluntary certification schemes come in, like the Verified Carbon Standard, Plan Vivo, CarbonFix Standard, and so on.
But there’s a catch. The voluntary certification schemes make their money from generating carbon credits. The more carbon credits generated, the more money they make.
And the validators and auditors that are accredited by the certification scheme are paid directly by the project developers. In order not to lose future work opportunities, auditors are unlikely to be too picky about approving their clients’ methodologies.
This is a blatant conflict of interest at the heart of the REDD mechanism.
A new paper published in the International Forestry Review, looks at two REDD projects and asks a series of questions:
What can we learn from the study of baseline settings in REDD+ projects?
Does it sufficiently address the issues of permanence and additionality?
More importantly, can certification standards provide a legitimate guarantee that chosen baselines are reliable measures for predicting CO 2 emissions’ reductions in the long term?
The two projects that the paper looks at are the Mai Ndombe REDD project in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena REDD project in Madagascar. Both of these projects were certified under the VCS system, in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
The authors note that,
It is tempting for project developers to design a ‘convenient’ baseline scenario to generate more credits in order to seek financial profit or, as currently appears to be the most frequent case, to render a high-cost REDD+ project financially viable.
Mai Ndombe, DRC
The baseline for Mai Ndombe was established, not by looking at historical trends of deforestation in the project area and extrapolating into the future, but by using a reference area.
According to VCS guidelines the reference area does not have to be adjacent to the project area. In the case of Mai Ndombe, the reference area is about 600 kilometres away: the Mayombe forest in Bas-Congo province.
The authors point out that there are important differences between the two areas. Mai Ndombe is a dense, humid forest. Mayombe is a mosaic forest. Mai Ndombe is about 50% further from Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, than Mayombe. Mayombe is close to major shipping harbours. Bas-Congo province has a high population density. Mai Ndombe is sparsely inhabited.
The authors describe the reference area as “a dubious choice”.
The developer of the Mai Ndombe project, Wildlife Works, chose the following baseline scenario:
Where deforestation is initiated by the primary agent through legally-sanctioned commercial harvest and the area is ultimately converted to non-forest by the secondary agent through unplanned deforestation (e.g. subsistence agriculture)…
The authors question the assumption that in the absence of the REDD project, the forest would be logged (legally) and then converted to agriculture by local communities:
Ultimately, the loss of forest cover in DRC depends on many drivers including commercial or illegal logging, mining, farming and industrial agriculture. The weight of each driver on deforestation and forest degradation may reflect the degree of compliance with the law by logging/mining/agricultural companies, the local context of poverty and land tenure, and overall, the capacity of state bureaucracies to implement an efficient command and control system.
Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena, Madagascar
The CAZ project, set up by Conservation International, also uses a “questionable” reference area. The reference area in this case is 22 times the size of the project area.
Differences between the reference area and the project area include elevations and slopes, farming practices, and population density (the reference area is more densely populated than the project area). The authors conclude that, “there are major differences between the CAZ project area and its reference area.”
There are differences in the deforestation rates in the two area. The reference area has an annual deforestation rate between 1% and 1.26%. In the project area the annual rate is somewhere between 0.5% and 0.6%.
In its project design document, Conservation International takes the higher rate of deforestation for the reference area as a baseline scenario. And then assumes this same rate to be the historical rate of deforestation in the project area!
“The deforestation rate inside a well-established protected area is 0.20%/yr, being an 84% reduction of the historical deforestation rate within CAZ 1.26%/yr).”
The authors point out that without doing anything on the ground, Conservation International could, on paper at least, reduce deforestation by half. This, the authors note, with a hint of academic dryness, “could lead to the so-called ‘hot air’ phenomenon”.
Baselines are “untestable guesses”
Baselines allow project developers to put an exact figure on the number of tonnes of carbon that have not been emitted as a result of their project. But this number is based on a fiction.
There is no way of testing whether a baseline scenario is true or not, because it is something that might have happened had the REDD project not gone ahead.
As the authors conclude, “the baseline scenarios in REDD+ projects amount to untestable guesses”.
[W]ith REDD+ projects there is a kind of irreducible uncertainty regarding what the ‘right reference scenario’ should be. Our case studies show that only small differences in baseline scenarios – whether designed intentionally or not – can have severe financial (positive for business actors) and environmental (negative for the climate) consequences. The interest of the project developers is obvious: as the market price of carbon credits falls, the financial viability of a project (that relies on the carbon market for financing) declines. ‘Optimizing’ the parameters, notably those related to baseline settings, seems to be the only way to maintain the viability of a project’s business model.
The authors of the paper are careful to talk about project developers “optimizing the parameters” or using a “convenient baseline scenario”.
Fraud would be a better way of describing what REDD project developers are doing when they set bogus baselines. The voluntary certification systems, such as VCS, are complicit in this fraud.
At a recent workshop in Sacramento, Environmental Defense Fund’s Steve Schwartzman was waving around copies of a letter in favour of California using REDD offsets in its cap and trade scheme. Following the letter was a list of NGO logos, including that of Greenpeace Brazil. But Greenpeace has consistently opposed REDD offsets in California. How did Greenpeace’s logo appear on a letter supporting REDD?
California’s Air Resources Board is currently considering whether to include REDD offsets in its cap and trade scheme (AB 32). The ARB is holding a series of technical workshops about this proposal, one of which took place in Sacramento on 28 April 2016.
The day before the workshop, Carlos Rittl, Executive Secretary of the Climate Observatory, a coalition of 40 NGOs in Brazil, sent a letter to California’s Governor, Jerry Brown. The letter was in support of California including REDD in AB 32:
We write to express the support of the Brazilian Climate Observatory to the State of California for its significant efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions domestically, and also for considering the importance of tropical forest conservation and the involvement of local communities in these efforts.
A day after the workshop in Sacramento, Steve Schwartzman, Senior Director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund referred to the letter in a tweet:
The link in Schwartzman’s tweet is to the letter from Carlos Rittl, posted on EDF’s website.
For the meeting in Sacramento, Schwartzman printed out copies of the letter. Schwartzman’s version of the letter was the same as that on EDF’s website, but with one very important difference. Schwartzman had added several pages to the letter, featuring the logos of the member organisations of Climate Observatory – including Greenpeace Brazil.
A few days later, Jonah Busch at the Center for Global Development, tweeted about Schwartzman’s version of the letter:
A colleague sent REDD-Monitor a link to Busch’s tweet, with the following comment:
“I have to admit that I’m more than average surprised that Greenpeace supports to include REDD+ as an offset mechanism in California.”
So I asked Greenpeace about this. And Greenpeace asked Climate Observatory. Very soon, a clarification letter appeared from Carlos Rittl. It turns out that the original letter to California’s Governor Brown was signed by Rittl only. It was a “network-led initiative that contains its single signature”.
Rittl’s explanatory letter is posted below. Busch, at least, tweeted Rittl’s clarification.
Schwartzman didn’t bother.
To whom it may concern.
The Brazilian Climate Observatory (OC) is a network comprising a broad spectrum of Brazilian civil society organizations. OC’s positions and recommendations on any issue are developed after consultation processes among its members aiming to reach consensus.
OC’s position about any given issue represents the average views of its members, and does not necessarily correspond to any individual organizations’ views or positions on the same specific subject.
OC has recently submitted a letter to the Honorable Governor of California, Mr. Jerry Brown, expressing its support for the inclusion of REDD+ activities on the States’ AB32 program. That letter was a network-led initiative that contains its single signature.
It has come to our attention that third parties have shared that letter with stakeholders from different groups in the United States alongside a list of OC members, without previous consent of any or all network members. Unfortunately, that could have been mistakenly understood as a list of associated signatures to the letter from each individual OC member. That was not the case. The referred members list does not represent a list of additional signatures to the letter.
Greenpeace Brazil is one of OC members. Its well-known public positions, as well as the positions Greenpeace International, Greenpeace US or any other Greenpeace national organization, have not changed and do not endorse the inclusion of REDD+ activities in any offset mechanism or legislation worldwide. However, during the Climate Observatory internal consultation process, Greenpeace Brazil has kindly not expressed its opposition to the OC letter to the Governor of California as a matter of respect to the views of some other members.
In last few days, external stakeholders have approached Greenpeace USA about the issue with questions related to its positions on the subject of the letter. Therefore, I hereby certify what has been already stated above. The letter to Governor of California expresses the average views of OC members for its own position on the issue only. It was not signed by OC individual members and do not necessarily expresses the position of each network’s member organizations.
“This COP will determine how Africa will be In this interview by WST TV Boaventura Monjane, a journalist and activist from Mozambique speaks about the outcomes of the Paris Climate Talks, COP21 and argues that most of the solutions proposed by Conference Of the Parties and Corporations are marketed oriented and that mechanisms like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) are a new form of colonialism for Africa