Saturday, February 8, 2014

Avoided deforestation or avoiding the issue? The “geography of evasion”

I have to admit I took that title from the REDD Monitor’s January 14th article regarding USAID’s forest carbon project in West Bali National Park in Indonesia. (REDD = reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation)

The whole thing caught my eye because since the March 2013 realization that new Governor Zaini Abdullah was planning on re-zoning protected forest to make it “productive” (ie, a palm oil pipeline) there haven’t been many recent articles on deforestation in Aceh.  Also because JMD has been trying to get USAID Jakarta’s attention since 2008 and with the exception of the radar blip of the Deputy Mission Director and “Strategy Implementation Advisor” being nice to me when I visited their offices to beg for funds in December 2012, JMD has received bupkus in terms of assistance, returned emails/phone calls, or even requests to keep us up to date on projects in the country.

Now, I don’t want to get USAID mad.  JMD needs their support.  But this latest brainstorm of theirs is just so shockingly naïve (or politically motivated with respect to extraction interests) that I am hard pressed to think they would even consider funding a project that actually addressed true and rampant deforestation, no matter how sweet we are to them.  Even the commenters were astounded. The highlighted text is mine. And a lot of the technical references have been cut—not to bolster my point because it doesn’t need it, but just so that you will read to the end, even with some of the jargon in there.  It is really important to know how these programs work, and the fact that they are in their infancy and yet billions are being thrown at them is something we all should be concerned about.  The REDD Monitor is.  That’s enough for me.

January 21, 2014
Last week, a small announcement appeared on the website of the US Embassy in Jakarta: “The United States government and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry today launched a new rainforest standard for carbon credits in West Bali National Park.”
It’s an extraordinary project. In a country faced with very high rates of deforestation, this is a forest carbon trading project in a national park.
The project will be carried out by the University of Columbia, the University of Indonesia and the Sustainable Management Group with funding from USAID.
Jatna Supriatna, head of the University of Indonesia’s Research Center for Climate Change, told the Bali Daily that, “We have set a target that within the next one year or two, we will have discovered the appropriate and standardized mechanism to develop carbon credits using the RFS [Rainforest Standard] system.”
Supriatna explained that the aim was to sell carbon credits on the voluntary market. Part of the profits are to be used for conservation of the West Bali National Park.
. . .  Tedy Sutedi, head of the park, welcomed the initiative to designate the park as the pilot project for research, saying that it would support the park’s management plan to reduce deforestation rates. He said that based on continuous monitoring, no deforestation occurred in the park, however, there were some cases of ornamental fish and wood thefts by locals.
So the National Park already has a management plan aimed at reducing deforestation rates. And according to Sutedi, it’s very successful, as there is no deforestation in the Park.
. . .The project developers have to prove that the project is additional before carbon credits can be sold. They have to prove that deforestation would have continued or increased in the absence of the project. That’s going to be tricky under the rules of the “Rainforest Standard” that the US Embassy mentions in its press release.
 . . . In his comment for the Bali Daily, Zulkifli Hasan, Indonesia’s Foresty Minister, read from Columbia University’s website:  “The Rainforest Standard is based on the fundamental understanding that the environment, economy, and society are ‘in it together’.”
At the launch of the project, Andrew Sisson, USAID mission director in Indonesia, said that,
“Through this initiative, Indonesia is at the leading edge of preserving biodiversity and setting conservation standards. We believe that scientific collaboration between the US and Indonesia can help to address the challenge of global climate change.”
This claim is ludicrous, based as it is on a project that has yet to start and which is aimed at protecting forest in a National Park in Bali. The project will do nothing to address the drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and less to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel.
Robin Biddulph, a researcher at the Department of Human Geography at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, describes such projects as “Geographies of Evasion”. He explains the concept as “implementing interventions in places where they do not make a difference”.

Comments [I have edited these comments to only include the most basic language about the common sense (or lack thereof) of conducting a deforestation measurement project in a national park with little deforestation.  Both commenters are well-versed in the carbon-credit/biomass removal language, but it is pretty mind-bending so I eliminated it.]
Comment 1  We applaud the author’s concerns that any REDD or REDD-like project demonstrate real and verifiable reductions in carbon emissions. . . . .
Unfortunately, the author is incorrect in asserting that The RFS precludes government gazetted Protected Areas because they do not pass a three-level additionality test. The RFS explicitly states the following:
“ER1: The RFS™ endorses the strict Legal Additionality Test, but allows one exception under very limited circumstances: i.e. where there is a history of recent and repeated Tree Biomass removals inside a Protected Area.
Limiting evidence of removals to those that have occurred inside a Protected Area eliminates consideration of threats from external Drivers of Deforestation such as highway construction or expanding farming and ranching activity. In the view of The RFS™, outside threats should not be considered because the law has already recognized those threats when prohibiting removals inside the Protected Area. In other words, external threats to a Protected Area cannot trigger a finding of Additionality; instead there must be evidence that the Protected Area is experiencing recent and repeated Tree Biomass removals despite its legal protection, i.e., there is clear evidence of ineffective enforcement in the Protected Area. The RFS™ recognizes that there may also be examples of ineffective enforcement of laws against removing Tree Biomass outside of Protected Areas; however, the extent to which any Project Proponent is complicit or compliant with respect to illegal removals is presently deemed too difficult to determine. The RFS™ makes the presumption that the Governmental Authority managing a Protected Area would not be so complicit or compliant. Therefore, The RFS™ retains strict legal Additionality for all Project Areas other than Protected Areas[1].
[1] Reduced Removals in Protected Areas will be able to earn a special form of RFS Credit™ to be known as RFS Protected Area Credits™. Important features of RFS Protected Area Credits™ include: (a) proceeds from their sale must be used solely for the social, environmental, and economic well-being of the Protected Area and its Rightsholders; (b) the credits cannot be resold or transferred by the initial purchaser, and therefore will not be subject to market price fluctuations or speculation; and (c) credit purchase agreements will be long-term and performance-based. RFS Protected Area Credits™ will be used to financially support management of Protected Areas to reduce their deforestation and degradation consistent with the integrated social, environmental, and economic well-being practices required by The Rainforest Standard. . . .  Based on on-the-ground experience of this group of nearly 70 practitioners [who created the Rainforest Standards], a conservative method was developed to include Protected Areas. Why? Because in all but a very few countries, Protected Areas are not protected. The principal reason for the lack of protection is a lack of funding to underwrite a Best Practices Management Plan that includes all stakeholders in the protection of the Protected Area.
Comment 2 [to previous commenter]:.1. Deforestation in West Bali National Park is low compared to many other areas of Indonesia (whether or not they are inside national parks).
2. Determining how much carbon is saved from entering the atmosphere as a result of a REDD project is fiendishly complicated. It’s difficult to measure the carbon accurately and it’s even more difficult to guess what would have happened in the absence of the project. Having said that, it’s even more difficult to stop deforestation in areas of current rapid deforestation such as Sumatra or Kalimantan or where the threat of deforestation is high .  . . . If the aim is to reduce deforestation in Indonesia, why is stopping deforestation in the West Bali National Park a priority?
3. If the aim is to stop deforestation in national parks in Indonesia, why start in a national park with very little deforestation?
4. How much money has the University of Columbia received from USAID for the Rainforest Standard project in total? 

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