Planting trees through the Clean Development Mechanism: A critical assessment : Esteve Corbera and Charlotte Friedli

The Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allowed developing countries to promote Afforestation and Reforestation (A/R) activities as a means to sell carbon emissions reductions to individuals, companies and governments in developed countries. Five years after the official registration of the first CDM A/R project, very little is known about the design and implementation of these activities. This is somewhat surprising if one takes into account the current move towards the establishment of an international framework for reducing emissions from deforestation, degradation and increasing carbon stocks through forest management (REDD+), which may likely include forest enrichment activities. This paper reviews the literature on carbon forestry and examines a sub-sample of Project Design Documents (PDDs) from existing CDM A/R projects in order to highlight the projects’ potential positive and negative outcomes. Our analysis reveals that CDM A/R activities often rely on inaccurate carbon accounting methods that deem their actual mitigation benefits rather uncertain. Socio-economic assessments are non-existent or lack detail, casting doubt on projects’ contribution to local and socially transformative development. And, finally, projects also lack rigorous information on benefit sharing and in doing so they mask who will benefit most from carbon trading. The discussion contrasts these findings with emerging empirical and critical literature, and we raise a word of caution on the future impacts of forest enrichment activities under REDD+.

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