Fears of a dire precedent as Brazil seeks results-based REDD+ payment

first_imgCritics worry that Brazil’s reference level for deforestation and the lack of guarantee that the carbon will stay locked up could set an unsustainable precedent for future payments.The forest reference levels currently used in the proposal are high enough that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon could double and Brazil would still qualify for “results-based” payments. Almost a decade after it was founded, the Green Climate Fund is ready to start paying tropical countries for emission reductions from REDD+. A proposal from Brazil has been submitted to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) board meeting for payments for 2014 and 2015. But advocates and forest policy experts say the way the emissions-reductions savings are being calculated, and the likely possibility that the reductions will not be permanent, might end up setting a poor precedent for future payouts from REDD+.Scientists agree that reducing deforestation and increasing forest areas play a critical role in keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Forests could provide almost a quarter of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed by 2030. However they receive less than 3 percent of climate mitigation funding.“In terms of directing climate finance to forests, we are off by at least an order of magnitude,” Frances Seymour, a renowned forest expert and distinguished senior fellow at the World Resources Institute (WRI), said about REDD+ projects.REDD+ was initially proposed as climate change mitigation mechanism that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing countries to keep their forests intact rather than cutting them down. Now the GCF, the multilateral climate fund created under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is considering proposals for a pilot program for REDD+ results-based payments at its 22nd  board meeting in South Korea this week.Unlike past REDD+ projects that received funds from the GCF to implement programs, the pilot program, announced in 2017, will pay countries ex-post for results achieved between December 2013 and 2018. The $500 million pilot program will pay $5 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) and limit each country to 30 percent of the total amount. Proposals are evaluated by a technical board and will be considered on a rolling basis at the GCF board meetings, which are attended by board members and observer NGOs.Choosing the right reference levelSome forest experts have raised concerns about the feasibility based on what they consider clear issues with one of the proposals. In its proposal submitted to the GCF, Brazil says it reduced its emissions in 2014 and 2015 by 1.25 billion tons of CO2e in comparison to the deforestation average from 1996 to 2010. It is requesting payment for 2 percent of that, around 25 million tons of CO2e. The Independent Technical Advisory Panel’s assessment of the proposal recommends paying for 19 million tons. If approved at the GCF rate of $5 per ton of emissions reductions, Brazil would get just over $96 million.But advocates say the 1996-2010 average, the so-called Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL B), represents years in which deforestation in the Amazon was exceptionally high, and doesn’t provide a meaningful comparison.“Under the current reference level, deforestation in Brazil could double and they would still be able to get payments,” said Jutta Kill, a researcher at the World Rainforest Movement and biologist who applies her work to support social movements. “If a different reference level had been chosen that reflects the reality of growing emissions, then Brazil would have had a significantly lower level or no claims at all because emissions are going up.”Not everyone agrees with this assessment.“The FREL of Brazil, recognized by the UNFCCC, is appropriate and scientifically rigorous,” says Daniel Nepstad, president and executive director of the Earth Innovation Institute, who has researched deforestation in Brazil for 30 years. “The risk of claiming otherwise is that it will punish Brazil for its success in lowering deforestation so rapidly through 2012, which created the huge difference between FREL and deforestation today. But this is a measure of Brazil’s success.”Pictorial representation of Brazil’s FREL as submitted to the UNFCCC. FREL (A) refers to the mean annual CO2emissions from the period 1996 to 2005 (1,106,027,616.63tCO2); FR(B) refers to the mean annual CO2emissions from the period 1996 to 2010 (907,959,466.33tCO2). Credit: UNFCCCCurrently, countries can choose their own reference level as long as the technical assessment of the FREL has been finalized by the UNFCCC. Brazil’s case is important in that the FREL for the Amazon biome was the first reference level submitted to the UNFCCC for use in results-based payments.In Brazil, deforestation levels were extremely high from 1996 to 2005, and then dropped substantially. Since 2012, deforestation rates have been creeping up again. Between 2014 and 2015, the years for which Brazil is claiming payments, deforestation in the Amazon increased from 5,012 to 6,207 square kilometers (1,935 to 2,397 square miles), an almost 25 percent increase.“In 2014 and 2015 Brazil had the two worst increases in deforestation since it started to rise again,” said Maria Fernanda Gabara, an anthropologist who works with indigenous communities in Brazil. “It’s really contradictory that they are getting payments for these years.”Keeping the carbon locked upThe Green Climate Fund was set up in 2010 as part of the financial mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It has 24 board members, representing an equal number of representatives from developed and developing countries. It seeks to “promote a paradigm shift to low-emission and climate-resilient development.” But some experts are concerned that this mission may be at odds with Brazil’s recent shift in government, and question if the emissions reductions that the GCF is paying for will remain locked up forests.“From a climate perspective, REDD+ can only have a benefit if the carbon is kept sequestered,” Kill said. “There is nothing in the proposal that guarantees to keep the carbon in the trees.”Jair Bolsonaro, the recently elected right-wing president of Brazil, ran on a platform of reducing environmental and legal safeguards for forests. He has signaled his intention to develop the Amazon, which experts say has already led to an increase in deforestation.“The annual rate of deforestation is increasing. Whether [it] stays that way we can’t say for sure,” said Peter May, a professor at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, in an interview. “But last year there was a considerable upswing in deforestation after Bolsonaro got elected.”According to Brazil’s official monitoring system, Deforestation in the Amazon has increased from 4,571 square kilometers (1,765 square miles) in 2012 to almost 8,000 square kilometers (3,090 square miles) in 2018 — the highest in almost a decade.Brazilian Amazon deforestation 2002-2018. Image via Mongabay.One of Bolsonaro’s first moves after taking office in January this year was to move control of indigenous lands and the forest service under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, which has been touted as a win for agribusiness.This means there’s a chance that the emissions reductions the GCF would pay for might not be permanent.“Brazil was able to reduce deforestation in the past, but it hasn’t stayed down. Now even though deforestation is on the rise, they will be getting paid,” Thomas Fatheuer, a social scientist with Heinrich Böll Stiftung, a German political foundation focused on green policy, told Mongabay. “It’s like rewarding someone for having quit smoking for a few months, even though they are still smoking today.”Political pressureDespite the problems with the proposal and bad precedent it could set, some believe that political pressures could push the GCF to accept Brazil’s proposal anyway. Bolsonaro has threatened to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and recently withdrew his country’s invitation to host COP25, this year’s UNFCCC climate summit, which will instead be held in Chile. Some believe that failure to follow through on environmental pledges like REDD+ payments could provide further fuel to the Bolsonaro administration’s anti-environmental stance.“If the Green Climate Fund and the UNFCCC refuse the proposal from Brazil, that might give Brazil more of excuse to leave the climate agreements,” Federal Rural University’s May said. “So that might act as a push for them to say yes.”Given the pro-development stance of the current government, not being able to fulfill expectations around environmental agreements and mechanisms like REDD+ may become further weaponized by the government.“If we kill [the] GCF contract today,” Nepstad said, “the chance that the new admin will roll back forest conservation policy will grow.”To add to the external political pressure, the GCF board might be feeling the pressure from inside as well. The board came under fire at its meeting last July for failing to approve any of the projects under consideration and disburse funds from the more than $10 billion in pledges it has attracted from countries. The meeting was described as “very difficult” by the chair of the board, Lennart Båge.“They are in a sort of double bind,” Fatheuer said. “REDD+ unfortunately has the perverse implication that by not paying out emissions reductions now, it gives countries like Brazil the justification to say ‘conservation doesn’t work, let’s develop instead.’”Banner image: The tinctorius poison dart frog inhabits the greater Amazon rainforest in Suriname and Northern Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.Sarah Sax is a freelance environmental journalist based in New York City, formerly with Vice News. You can find her on Twitter at @Sarah2theSax.Clarification: This article has been updated to include the the full name of Maria Fernanda GebaraFEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the editor of this article. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page. Article published by Genevieve Belmaker Amazon, Amazon Destruction, Amazon Logging, Carbon Finance, climate finance, Environment, Featured, Finance, Forest Carbon, Forest Destruction, Forests, Governance, Rainforests, Redd, Tropical Forests center_img Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. 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