Afforestation/Reforestation CDM projects within the ambit of carbon forestry – Adrian Nel

Afforestation/Reforestation CDM projects within the ambit of carbon forestry.

Afforestation/Reforestation (A/R) CDM’s form only one part of the broader carbon forestry agenda, with REDD+ (Reducing the effect for Deforestation and Degradation) and Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM) Projects fulfilling the compliment of project types.  Whilst my contribution to the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) report  focused on the A/R CDM and  stemmed from communications with Patrick Bond on the same, my broader Ph.D research concerns Carbon Forestry.  I would like to use this blog post to expand the lens a bit and take a speculative look at the place of A/R CDM projects within Africa’s experience of carbon Forestry. I utilise some material derived from a forthcoming publication (hopefully) of mine, and couch the information within some thoughts on market environmentalism generally.

A/R CDM projects have been the bug bear of the Carbon forestry agenda in Africa to a great extent.  They comprise 7 of the 13 projects that have exhibited controversies so far, and these controversial projects have attracted the full repertoire of criticisms from civil society actors. These have included allegations over additionality claims, failure to devolve benefits to the community level, inadequate FPIC and outright evictions.  Not least amongst these are criticisms of the monoculture approach which a number of A/R projects adopt, belying the close alignment between commercialising interests and big industry. It is loosely acknowledged within the literature (and confirmed in my own initial findings in a desktop survey of carbon forestry projects) that initiatives which inadequately balance commercialisation aims with conservation and development criteria can run into problems for both the local communities impacted and for the projects themselves through ‘blowback’.  A/R CDM projects have exhibited the most imbalance in this regard, and Commercialisation logics predominate the projects surveyed.

Speaking to Carbon forestry more generally, Carbon Forestry seems to have had faltering progress in East and Southern Africa. The big push factors have been funds such as the UN REDD scheme, and the Forest Carbon Partnership’s ‘Readiness for REDD’ Initiatives, which have sought to engage with local governance structures and institutions to re-orient them in facilitating REDD progress. The government of Norway has also been a large contributor, in Tanzania particularly, and in another congruency which I will state and refrain from commenting on the Norwegian Green Resources as simultaneously become the largest African forestry company. Whilst many African countries have taken up such schemes, and receiving donor funding, and have initiated re-alignments of policy orientations accordingly, there has been no deliverance of the promised funding to date. This is in a large part due to the UNFCCC negotiations pertaining to REDD faltering.  Voluntary Carbon Markets have provided the rest of the funding but have also slumped since the boom 2008/09 period. It is a sign of the times that today Carbon Solutions laid off 25% of its staff, that the World Bank itself projects a decrease of funding to its offset mechanisms, and Citibank this week faces a resignation on its carbon trading desk of its commodities exchange, taking the number of employees there to three.

Simultaneously indigenous groups all over the world have voiced their opposition to REDD, and has been vociferous in its chronicling these and other various emergent issues within the REDD sphere.  Much of this criticism stems from the lack of significant devolution of ownership and control to the local level, or in the hands of the communities claiming ancestral custodianship over the forests.  Whilst REDD and Carbon forestry claim to have community developmental aims at their core the reality is often not reflective of this orientation. Emerging literature by a number of authors on the African context cite the disjunct between project aims and community control and benefit.  Paralleling these and there are voices from within African civil society as well as academia that seek to locate carbon forestry  within the historical context of ‘community based development initiatives’, which in many ways is the methodological parent to the carbon child. These accounts criticise the lack of devolution of control and ownership to the local level, articulating how centralised control still pertained in these intiatives, merely pushing responsibility (in the contemporary case for emissions reductions) to the local level with a lack of substantive access to power/incentive structures.  This is in many ways enravelled within the tricky relationship between core and periphery, urban and rural in many post- colonial African states.

Carbon forestry projects and processes are thus to be understood as intergrating into, or overwriting  and re-scripting variegated institutional frameworks and power structures at the national level, to priviledge the access of certain actors, be they international NGO’s, donor governments, private carbon offsetters etc.  This form of governance is the site of much criticism of carbon forestry, and also the reason why carbon forestry is such a tricky beast to tackle.  Watching the surges and trickles of interest and opinion on the topic over the past few years has been fascinating. It incorporates so many facets of, the penetration of ‘new’ actors and logics of operation into the conservation and forestry spheres, it entails a host of technical and practical considerations, and at its core involves the re-arrangement of the way in which we view nature and our valuation of it. There is a wealth of literature which speaks to its origins as a project of neoliberal governance, and as such has attracted some very emotive detractors and proponents.  Whilst it is true that there are better project forms on the ground, and that I do believe carbon forestry contains a number of progressive elements, in the main the experience of carbon Forestry in Africa to date has been halting and patched with controversies and limited broad success stories. There are a number of positives which include but are not limited to our changing value/consideration of local ecosystems, efforts at engaging local communities, realising that we can facilitate and regenerate ‘natural capital’, however my criticisms of the schemes and their involvement with ‘the market’ has been exactly within its discourse of valuation. This inclusion of the private capital interests and the language of profit has in some (but not all cases), when combined within simplistic, depoliticised and technocentric approaches to complex and systemic local problems (which in many commerciailising interests have historically contoured) lead to imbalances in approach and the side-lining of local knowledges and ownership. In such cases the global concerns of climate change ‘hop over’ as opposed to flow through national lines (to adopt Furgeson’s terminology) and indeed globalise local areas, but enevenly and selectively and instead of spreading the benefits centralises them into certain hands and away from others (often not to the benefit of local communities, local reliance methods etc).

My issues with carbon forestry then are of scale. While they de-emphasise local solutions and contexts in the favour of tradeable commodities in the form of carbon offsets.  Larry Lohman has commented that the endless algebra of carbon markets acts as a perpetual kick the bucket along the road, distracting from the necessary pathway shifts that are necessary for substantive climate solutions. Such criticisms are levelled at carbon offsetting in general too, where It is unveiled that they make no distinction between technologies oremissions reductions, equating reductions on a coal fired plant with those for instance from solar energy or forestry. Naomi Kelin in a recent blog post on how market-based solutions are not going to meet the needs required to address climate change and how ideologies have hampered both the left and right in climate action, and I think the lessons from the carbon forestry sector echo this sentiment.  What is certainly evident however is that A/R CDM projects, and their close alignment with monoculture plantations which de-emphasise local connections and engagement are not the climate solution that many had hoped of them.  I feel in terms of carbon forestry and A/R CDM projects it is important to make visible what is happening on the ground and call a spade a spade. There are some positive elements In the process and the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater, but predomination of ‘market logic’ is obscuring substantial and alternate voices which could offer more sustainable solutions to the cases of A/R CDM controversy that we offer in the CCS report.