Can REDD+ really save the forests of the world?

November 30, 2012 in Asia/Pacific, Climate Justice, Eco Justice, Environment, Life, UN

Warime Guti at the COP18 climate summit

It’s the end of our fifth day here in Doha and one of the topics I have been most interested in is something called REDD+, because it is one of the most controversial issues back home in Papua New Guinea.

REDD stands for Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation. It is an international effort through the UN to collect funds from developed nations to offer incentives to developing countries to protect and better manage forest land. This is critical for the global fight against climate change. The “plus” in REDD+ is an important addition, because it includes the role of conservation, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest carbon stock as well.

In Papua New Guinea 97% of our 462,840 km² land area is owned by the people, while the government only owns 3% of the land area. Of that 97% almost 65% is classified as “primary forest”, which is the most bio-diverse and carbon-dense form of forest. So the challenge with REDD is who owns the forest and who will benefit.

There are three key points that I have learnt so far here in Doha:

  • REDD+ is far from effectively being implemented globally
  • There is no global policy on REDD+ and it depends entirely on the commitment of each country to implement it within its own constituencies
  • There is high threat of fraud and corruption because of the huge money involve in the REDD+
forest

Credit: Peter Zelnik

After attending various side events, I can better understand why REDD+ has failed to be implemented well back at home when the government introduced it in 2010. The government created a department called the Office of Climate Change and Development (OCCD). However, there were high rates of corruption where many so-called REDD+ or carbon trade consultants (what I call “middle men”) misinformed the local landowners and ripped people off. Since then it was halted because the government doesn’t yet have a proper national policy to implement REDD+ effectively. Therefore, what we need is a policy system that does not deprive local people or undermine their rights over their land.

I have also been surprised to learn that while my government made a commitment for REDD+, they still have been giving land and underwater permits to many logging, mining and natural gas companies in the last ten years. This is a complete contradiction to their effort to save the earth, which makes me wonder if their commitment to REDD+ is not to save the earth but just for monetary gain.

In addition the issues of corruption, I also still wonder if REDD+ can really save the forests of the world. Can REDD+ incentives really compete with what the logging, mining, oil, gas and agricultural multinational companies are offering to land owners? Because, if REDD+ is about money then it has to be able to compete well above the billions of dollar that multinationals have at their disposal. And I ask: should “compete” even be a word that I am forced to use in the fight to save the planet? Why can’t corporations find a way to cooperate?

But corporations aren’t the only problem.

In my context, the majority of the Papua New Guinea population is Christian at about 98%, yet the churches in my country are utterly silent on this issue. While preachers preach from the pulpit, the congregation members sitting in the pew are living the effects of climate change. We need to do more than just provide relief to those affected by increasing natural disasters and displaced by rising sea levels. I believe that as the church, we are squandering our influence and voice in Papua New Guinea. If we could only combine forces and speak with a singular, strong voice, then I believe we could start to make a lasting difference for our country and the planet.

Warime Guti is one of the coordinators of the LWF delegation to Doha and a member of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea.