Packaging forests for REDD funding


Background

The United Nations ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries’ (REDD) scheme is a system involving payment to developing countries (with remaining intact forests) by developed countries (with high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and high reduction targets) to reduce deforestation and degradation rates which contribute to ≈15% of global annual GHG emissions. The scheme has now attracted over US$ 4.5 billion in pledged funds. If successful, the donor countries can count the carbon saved towards their carbon budgets.

The UN funded REDD scheme is government to government funding and 12 countries have been selected for inclusion in trial funding. The scheme has already had some notable successes with the Indonesian Government agreeing a two year moratorium on logging. Using this top-down approach has the advantage that it can ensure that entire forested areas in a supported country are protected, avoiding the problem of leakage where one forest is funded but the threats to that forest are just transferred to a nearby forest. The downside of this government to government approach is a lack of transparency and possible corruption issues in some of the receiving government departments.

A bottom up approach to REDD has been developed by a number of international NGOs who have agreed a Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance set of standards for packaging forests for the REDD scheme. Large international NGOs have started packaging their most important forests using these standards which produce Verified Carbon Units but also require performance data on biodiversity protection and poverty alleviation. Funding mainly from the private sector has been obtained to fund a number of these CCBA packaged forests.  The Verified Carbon Scheme (VCS) which forms part of the CCBA standard is highly complex and can require huge investment in project development, costs which in many cases are never likely to be realised from selling credits. The price of VCS credits (verified carbon units) are typically low as similar methods are applied to all projects although these can be enhanced by coupling the VCS scheme with the biodiversity and societal impact measures of the CCBA scheme.

There is a third major player in this field -the Natural Forest Standard which allows the quantification of carbon and associated ecosystem benefits resulting from conservation (and restoration) of natural forests. It is aimed at certifying the carbon benefits, and biodiversity impacts of medium to large-scale projects, within the context of appropriate social safeguards and economic development. In the development of the NFS, Ecosystem Certification Organisation (ECO), a not-for-profit organisation, drew upon the work of several other standards for quantifying carbon credits, including; the American Carbon Registry Forest Carbon Project Standard v2.1 (ACR), Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance Standards (CBBA) and Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). The NFS method applies a risk approach to baseline quantification and could be described as an application of a risk adjusted performance benchmark.

The NFS is specifically designed to bring together carbon, biodiversity and social aspects within a single process. It uses a ‘risk’ approach and does not try to define precisely how much forest will be lost each year in the future. The risk approach rewards projects which conserve carbon and biodiversity at risk. The NFS incorporates a management plan, benefit sharing mechanisms and land-use rights. With the NFS scheme the amount of credits is also related to the quality of data, and as the Opwall teams have very good quality biodiversity data for a number of sites it makes sense to use this combined approach.

Projects

The Opwall Trust has done and is doing a large amount in this area since it is an ideal way in which  the in-country partners for the studied forests by the Opwall teams can obtain long-term  funding to ensure the forests are properly managed.  The first step in this process was to part fund Dr Peter Long a post doc at Oxford University for an 18 month period to help with the development of the Local Ecological Footprinting (LEFT) tool (see http://www.biodiversity.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Mahamavo_GBIF.pdf).  This tool allows the relative biodiversity value of particular forests to be quantified which is one of the hardest parts of any REDD+ type application.

Now this has been completed the next stage is to complete the packaging of 3 forests where the Opwall survey teams have completed detailed biodiversity surveys and which are under significant threat unless conservation management action is taken.  All the reports though are being drafted on the basis of the successful Opwall Trust World Bank funded Lambusango Forest project in that local communities that live within or on the edge of the targeted forests are being offered contracts where the whole community agree to ensuring there is no logging or hunting from any of the village members and that the forest/village boundary remains unchanged.  In exchange these communities will then be offered access to small business loans via a microfinance institution. This linking of microfinance and environmental performance is a relatively new research field and Dr Jen Dyer at Leeds University is leading on these aspects of the research and getting funding for this aspect of each of the projects.

The first of the forests being packaged under this scheme is the Cusuco National Park in Honduras where a funding application has already been submitted for help with preventing further desforestation.  The Opwall Trust is funding Dr Eimear Rooney at Queens University Belfast to complete a Natural Forest Standard report for the ICF (Honduran forestry department) forests in the Merendon mountains which includes the Cusuco National Park.

The Opwall research sites in the Mayan forests of the Yucatan Peninsular, Mexico are also being packaged for the Natural Forest Standard with the biodiversity data summarised by Dr Kathy Slater and the carbon data by EcoSur a Mexican University organisation.

The third of the sites being packaged in this way are the forests of Buton Island in SE Sulawesi, Indonesia.  Here the REDD+ standard is being used since Indonesia is a recipient of significant international funds for the REDD+ scheme and are mainly short of detailed projects with management plans that are likely to prevent deforestation and protect the biodiversity.  The Opwall Trust is funding Dr Edi Purwanto to complete the management plan for the Buton forests and Dr Tom Martin at Hull University to complete the carbon and biodiversity aspects of the reports.