With rigorous economic research and practical policy solutions, we focus on the issues and institutions that are critical to global development. Explore our core themes and topics to learn more about our work.
In timely and incisive analysis, our experts parse the latest development news and devise practical solutions to new and emerging challenges. Our events convene the top thinkers and doers in global development.
Frances Seymour was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development based in Washington, DC, where she lead policy research on tropical forests and climate change. In December 2016, CGD published her book, Why Forests? Why Now? The Science, Economics, and Politics of Tropical Forests and Climate Change (co-authored by Jonah Busch), to promote the importance of forests to climate and development objectives, and the potential of results-based finance. Ms. Seymour also served as Senior Adviser to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, with a focus on halting deforestation and peatland conversion due to expansion of oil palm cultivation in Indonesia.
From 2006 to 2012, Ms. Seymour served as Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), an international organization headquartered in Indonesia, and was awarded France’s Order of Agricultural Merit for her service there. Previously, she was the founding director of the Institutions and Governance Program at World Resources Institute, and served as Director of Development Assistance Policy at World Wildlife Fund. Early in her career, she spent five years as a Program Officer with the Ford Foundation in Indonesia.
She holds an MPA in Development Studies from Princeton University, and a BS in Zoology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
On July 9th some 140 million Indonesians went to the polls to vote for a new President. It was only the country’s third direct presidential election, and certainly the closest, with two very different candidates. Each declared victory based on competing exit polls but at the urging of the outgoing president agreed to await the official results, to be announced on July 22nd.
You might not know any of this if you rely on US media. I find it astonishing how little attention the Indonesian election is getting here in the United States—the print edition of the Washington Post did not have a single story about the initial election results on July 10th. Yet the next president of Indonesia will have a significant influence not only on the fate of the world’s fourth most populous nation and largest majority Muslim nation but also on the well-being of rest of us through Indonesia’s role in addressing a host of global challenges.
Take forests and climate change. An article in the journal Nature Climate Change this month presents new analysis showing that from 2000 to 2012 Indonesia lost more than six million hectares of natural forest, overtaking the rate of forest loss in Brazil. This deforestation translates into a globally significant contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
The outgoing President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, took several steps to address this challenge. In 2009, he was the first developing country head of state to announce voluntary emission reduction targets. In 2010, he signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with the Government of Norway to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) in exchange for up to a billion dollars in performance-based finance. Consistent with the terms of the LOI, the President has imposed (and extended) a moratorium on new forest exploitation licenses, initiated a process of increased transparency of forest-related information, and established a new agency to oversee the REDD+ agenda (CGD recently hosted an update on the agency’s progress with the agency head Heru Prasetyo).
Precisely because these initiatives were undertaken by presidential decree, they are vulnerable to being reversed by whoever succeeds Yudhoyono in October.
Neither candidate has made explicit commitments about what he would do on the REDD+ agenda per se. Both have promised to promote reforestation—tree-planting was also a favorite of President Yudhoyono—although protecting existing forests from destruction and degradation is more important than planting trees for protecting biodiversity and controlling climate emissions.
But while the new president could choose to undo the specific policies or institutional arrangements put into place by his predecessor, he will not be able to avoid confronting the issues of forests and climate change, or the growing domestic and international constituencies pressing for effective action.
Domestically, these constituencies include:
Indigenous peoples, whose territories were “made visible” when the REDD+ Agency’s predecessor unit in the president’s office invited them to submit maps of their traditional land claims as relevant to REDD+ policy-making. In a landmark ruling, these rights to forest lands were recognized by Indonesia’s Constitutional Court in May 2013;
Private firms that have made commitments to stop clearing forests to produce palm oil, pulp and paper;
Good governance advocates, who have applauded the Corruption Eradication Commission’s recent focus on corruption related to allocation of forest land;
Domestic environmental groups, who have campaigned against the impunity enjoyed by corporations that are destroying the last remaining habitats of Indonesia’s most charismatic species; and
The millions of Indonesians who are affected by the consequences of forest destruction, including increased incidence of forest fires, landslides, and flooding.
Internationally, constituencies for Indonesia to take action on forests and climate change include:
Private companies—including the members of the Consumer Goods Forum—that have committed to remove deforestation from their global supply chains;
Other countries that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change—certainly including Norway—who know that reducing emissions from Indonesia’s forests is a critical piece of a global strategy to avert catastrophic warming; and
Near neighbors, especially Singapore, that are affected by the haze from Indonesia’s forest fires.
Indeed, forest fires might well be a front-burner issue as the new president takes office three months from now. “El Nino” years, when Pacific Ocean waters are unusually warm, have historically been associated with bad years for forest fires in Indonesia and haze across the region. NOAA’s climate prediction center currently pegs the chances of an El Nino event at close to 80% for later this year.
Whether or not fires are especially bad when the new president takes over, he will need the support and encouragement of the international community to tackle the difficult challenges of stopping Indonesia’s deforestation. I hope that the US news media and the rest of the international community will be paying more attention when he takes office than we appear to be doing now.
Six months ago, I welcomed the announcement that Wilmar International – the world’s largest trader of palm oil – had pledged to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain. Since such voluntary actions, while important, aren’t enough to save the world’s remaining tropical forests, I was hoping that companies that grow, process, trade, and use commodities that have traditionally replaced forests with plantations and pastures would jointly press governments to step up their support for REDD+, the performance-based program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. “Lining up key industry players behind an agenda for change would be a big deal indeed,” I wrote.
Yesterday part of my wish came true. The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) – which represents some 400 manufacturers and retailers across 70 countries—issued a statement in which the firms not only repeated their pledges to continue efforts to put their own houses in order but also called upon governments to act:
In the run up to the UN Paris Climate Summit in 2015, we invite heads of state to engage and act with determination, leadership and ambition to secure an ambitious and legally binding global climate deal.
We urge governments to make United Nations REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) a priority for supporting appropriate local and national policies that protect forests and support livelihoods.(italics added)
Paul Polman, co-sponsor of the Forum’s Sustainability Pillar and CEO of Unilever, noted that the call to governments comes one year before Paris hosts the UN’s Climate Summit.
“That summit will offer another chance for leaders across the world to act decisively to combat climate change,” he said. “While we at The Consumer Goods Forum have a clear role to play in creating a more sustainable future, we need to draw upon and work in partnership with governments and civil society to transform markets at scale, and within the framework of an accepted and enforced global climate deal that implements the appropriate elements of REDD+.”
It’s clear that Polman (winner of CGD’s 2013 Commitment to Development Award) and other corporate leaders who belong to the CGF understand that their ability to meet their no-deforestation commitments will depend critically on actions by governments, and that REDD+ provides a way for rich countries to incentivize such action in forest countries in ways that are complementary to, and even synergistic with, voluntary efforts by supply chain actors.
There’s still plenty to be done to convince more companies and their various federations and associations – particularly those on the producer end of supply chains -- to deploy their considerable lobbying might on behalf of REDD+ and other sensible climate action. For now, three cheers for the Consumer Goods Forum and its 400 member companies for speaking up on behalf of a plan that’s good for development and for the forests on which so many people in the developing world depend.
Indonesia is a prominent test case in global efforts to reduce tropical deforestation—a necessary component in the global effort to avert runaway climate change. As part of the global climate negotiations, rich countries have agreed in principle to provide financial incentives for forest countries to slow deforestation under a program known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). Indonesia, meanwhile, has made better forest and land management a keystone of its development planning, and is putting in place the institutional arrangements to implement its ambitious deforestation goals.
What institutional hurdles has Indonesia overcome in the effort to prepare for REDD+? What remains to be done? Will the US and other rich countries step forward as expected to support Indonesia’s efforts to reduce deforestation? Most importantly: can REDD+ save Indonesia’s forests? This partnership event from the Center for Global Development and Climate Advisers is an opportunity to explore these important questions by hearing directly from the top Indonesian officials leading efforts to prepare for REDD+.
His Excellency Mr. Heru Prasetyo, head of the Indonesian National REDD+ Agency, will describe Indonesia’s vision for curbing deforestation rates and transitioning to a more sustainable economic development model. Panel discussants will include Mina Setra, a senior official with the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), who will describe the complex interaction between international efforts and indigenous peoples’ traditional property rights; and CGD senior fellow Frances Seymour, former director general of the Center for International Forestry Research, an international organization headquartered in Indonesia.
The Center for Global Development is a great place to be during the Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, when CGD plays host to a series of public and private meetings with senior leaders of multilateral development banks and aid agencies from around the world.
This year, a common theme of those discussions was financing for infrastructure investment in developing countries. I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that these conversations tend to focus exclusively on the need for new bricks-and-mortar infrastructure to meet needs for energy, water, or transport services, and seldom acknowledge the need to maintain the ecological infrastructure that already provides a large portion of those services for many of the world’s poor.
But to the extent that environment-related considerations are mentioned at all discussions related to infrastructure in developing countries, it is typically in one of two contexts: either compliance with safeguards -- perhaps put at risk via new infrastructure financing facilities being constructed outside the MDBs – or in relation to the choice between investment in fossil fuel-based versus renewable energy. In light of the recent IPCC Working Group II report, it’s surprising how little attention is paid to the role of intact ecosystems in protecting investments in bricks-and-mortar infrastructure in the face of climate change.
What’s the link? Perhaps I’m biased – focusing as I do on forests – but having lived in Indonesia for much of the last decade, it’s hard not to notice that roads are often blocked by landslides, and houses, roads, bridges, irrigation, and water and sanitation systems are all regularly damaged by flooding. Even harder to ignore is the fact that airports in Sumatra, Kalimantan and sometimes even Singapore are periodically closed by the thick smoke from burning forest and peatlands, which have been made vulnerable to fire through logging and drainage.
Hydrologists, soil scientists, and forest ecologists will tell you that the relationship between land cover change (such as deforestation) and environmental outcomes (such as vulnerability to erosion, flooding, and burning) is complex, and depends on scale, slope, soil, rainfall, and many other factors. But accumulating evidence suggests that maintaining natural forest vegetation can reduce vulnerability.
And while the desirability of hydropower development remains controversial, surely we can all agree on the need to consider forests if we do decide to invest in dams. It’s well accepted that the service life of hydropower dams is shortened by siltation of reservoirs, which is exacerbated by the deforestation of watersheds. Now we also know that forests provide a disproportionate share of the water that fills those reservoirs, and that deforestation could threaten the rainfall needed to keep them that way.
Going green might even be cheaper. The US Environmental Protection Agency promotes the use of “green infrastructure” – which uses or mimics natural processes – to manage storm water runoff and mitigate flooding in urban areas. Natural green infrastructure includes forests and meadows, which complement man-made green infrastructure such as green roofs and rainwater cisterns. Early economic analysis of the experience in American cities suggests that investment in green infrastructure can offer significant savings in capital and maintenance costs compared to traditional approaches.
And with climate change, it is likely that we will experience an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme events – such as heavy rainfall and long dry seasons – that trigger such “natural” disasters as landslides, floods, and fires. So it doesn’t make sense to talk about massive new investments in infrastructure without also talking about how to protect the ecosystems that provide resilience in the face of climate change. Such protection must be a key element of any climate adaptation strategy.
In early 2004, the World Bank, the ADB, and JBIC released a flagship study, “Infrastructure in East Asia: The Way Forward,” designed to chart a path for investment in the region’s infrastructure for the next 20 years. My own comments on a draft notwithstanding, the study did not address the implications of climate change for infrastructure in the region.
Ten years on, it’s nice to hear leaders of Development Finance World such as the World Bank president Jim Kim and ADB’s president Takehiko Nakao talking about climate change as well as infrastructure, so there is progress to be celebrated. But it would be even nicer to bridge the gap between the discourse about the need for investment in bricks-and-mortar infrastructure, and the silence about need to invest in maintaining the ecological infrastructure that is deteriorating all around us.
The French Republic chose well when it selected Frances Seymour for this honor. She has been a great asset to us here at CGD, where she leads our Tropical Forests for Climate and Development initiative, which is helping to broaden policymakers’ understanding of the close links between forest protection, successful development and reduced climate change threat. Frances epitomizes the combination of research rigor and practical policy experience that is a hallmark of our work at CGD.
I am looking forward to a reception that will be held in Frances’s honor at the French Embassy on May 1. A few places remain for friends and admirers who have not yet received an invitation. If you are among them, you can send a note to events@CGDev.org to request one.
Washington, D.C. (April 16, 2014) – Frances Seymour, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, has been awarded the title of Officer by the French Republic’s Order of Agricultural Merit (Officier de l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole) for her work as Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) from 2006 to 2012.
The Order of Agricultural Merit is bestowed by the French Republic to individuals for outstanding services to agriculture in public duties or in the practice of agriculture. It also rewards people who distinguish themselves in scientific research or in related publications. The rank of “Officier” is one step higher than the rank of “Chevalier”, or “Knight”. It is rare that the Republic of France bestows one of their most distinguished awards on an American woman.
Seymour received her Officer decoration and a certificate signed by Minister of Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll in February at a ceremony hosted by the French Ambassador to Indonesia, Her Excellency Corinne Breuze. The ambassador praised Seymour for her leadership in encouraging dialogue between the worlds of science and policy, developing a culture of impact assessment at CIFOR, establishing the annual Forest Day, and insisting on the highest quality of scientific research. Headquartered in Bogor, Indonesia, CIFOR conducts policy research on the use and management of forests in less-developed countries.
“Your exceptional dynamism, your visionary thinking never prevented you from listening to partners and from remaining open to their concerns. This is a very rare quality among leaders,” Ambassador Breuze said at the ceremony. Importantly, Ambassador Breuze also acknowledged Seymour’s success at CIFOR “would not have been possible without the experience gained previously within the World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund, the Ford Foundation or the USAID.”
On May 1, Seymour will be honored at a reception hosted by the French Embassy in Washington, DC. Remarks will be given by Embassy General Consul Oliver Serot Almeras, CGD President Nancy Birdsall, and World Bank vice president and special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte.
Birdsall said: “The French Republic chose well when it selected Frances Seymour for this honor. She has been a great asset to us here at CGD, where her work is helping to broaden policymakers’ appreciation of the close linkages between forest protection, successful development and reduced climate change threat. Frances epitomizes the combination of research rigor and practical policy experience that is a hallmark of our work at CGD.”
French Ambassador to the United States François Delattre offered his commendation to Seymour on this high accolade. “It is a great honor for me to welcome Frances Seymour, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, to the French Embassy. I am particularly delighted that she has been promoted to the rank of Officer of the Order of Agricultural Merit in recognition of her eminent contribution to the protection of our ecosystems—a topic dear to both France and the United States, and important to the cooperation between our countries,” he said.
Kyte said: “In a world where we struggle sometimes to find ways to bring science, evidence and data smoothly into policy, and to go from the lab to the field or the forest, through both public and private sectors, quickly, Frances’ career is testament that it can be done.”
As a CGD senior fellow, Seymour leads the Tropical Forests for Climate and Development initiative. Her work has focused on creating a global consensus about the importance of forest conservation and promoting results-based financing for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
She is also the lead author of a forthcoming CGD report, Why Forests, Why Now?, which will present evidence of the urgency, affordability, and feasibility of rich country support for reducing deforestation to improve rural livelihoods and avert catastrophic climate change. In addition she is a member of a CGD working group that is identifying means for rapidly scaling up pay-for-performance finance for forest conservation.
The Center for Global Development: CGD works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for all people. As a nimble, independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit think tank, focused on improving the policies and practices of the rich and powerful, the Center combines world-class scholarly research with policy analysis and innovative outreach and communications to turn ideas into action.
One of the most attractive features of the Cash-on-Delivery approach to development assistance is precisely that payments are made (only) for performance against agreed indicators of outcomes. If desired outcomes are not achieved by the recipient country, the donor country doesn’t pay. But this very feature could create one of two very different dilemmas for donors:
What if donors offered a financial reward for performance, and prospective recipient countries were unable to overcome the political and technical obstacles necessary to claim it?
Or what if so many countries came forward to claim the reward, demand exceeded the funding available?
A new CGD Working Paper, “The Politics of German Finance for REDD+” by Dr. Till Pistorius and Laura Kiff of UNIQUE Forestry and Land Use GmbH, lets us eavesdrop on candid conversations with experts in the German aid establishment about these dilemmas in the context of payment for reducing deforestation.
A strong tradition of finance for forests…
To understand German support for forests internationally, you have to go back a few centuries. Just over 300 years ago in 1713, Hans Carl von Carlowitz invented modern forestry as a way to deal with rapid deforestation and wood shortages caused by the mining industry and urbanization in Saxony. According Pistorius and Kiff, an appreciation of the timber and non-timber benefits that come from sustainable management of forest resources has resulted in “strong emotional ties between Germans and their forests” that prevail until today.
With domestic deforestation no longer a problem, over the last three decades Germans have extended these ties to tropical forests. In addition to numerous long-standing bilateral assistance programs in forest-rich countries, Germany has been a key participant in multilateral forestry initiatives dating back to the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP) in 1985, and the Pilot Program to Preserve the Brazilian Rain Forest launched in 1992.
Indeed, at CGD-sponsored event on climate finance last year, Artur Cardoso de Lacerda of Brazil’s Ministry of Finance singled out German support for capacity building over the long haul as a contributor his country’s extraordinary performance in reducing deforestation:
To be very honest to Brazil being in the position that we are now in terms of governance and capacity, we have received a lot of external support. Just one example—Germany has been supporting Brazil in terms of improving its management capacity in the forest sector for more than thirty years. So although we have a lot of responsibility for the results we have, we have to acknowledge that this support has been really instrumental to put us in this position nowadays.
Germany has now embraced REDD+ as a promising mechanism to realize a broad range of benefits from sustainable forest management, including conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as reduction of forest-based climate emissions. According to Pistorius and Kiff, controversy over REDD+ has been virtually nonexistent in the domestic political arena in Germany. With the exception of a brief NGO-generated debate on forest offsets and safeguards in the run-up to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, a broad consensus has supported international forest protection as a climate mitigation strategy. As a result, debate about REDD+ has been limited to an “experts’ discourse” rather than broader discussions in the Parliament or the press.
…but recognition of limited results creates openness to results-based finance
One of the reasons that REDD+ appeals to German experts is their recognition of the limited effectiveness of traditional models of development assistance in the forestry sector. With perhaps the important exception of Brazil noted above, those models have not succeeded in helping partner countries slow deforestation. Performance-based finance offers the promise of a more effective approach. The following are statements from two experts interviewed for the study:
German cooperation has supported sustainable forest use and development for 30 years, and its success has been limited. Now there is a hope that there is a shifting paradigm with REDD+ because of its performance-based payments. I think this is one of the most attractive elements, as it is a new dimension of international cooperation where the partner country is more responsible. In this sense it’s based on performance and not just development aid without any conditions.
The concept of results-based payments is very attractive. Even in traditional ODA we probably need to head in this direction, so that it will require more ownership and responsibility from the countries.… It may be a painful process for some of countries, but I don’t see many alternatives because with the traditional ODA, what we did for 30 years, the success was limited. I think it would not be wise to go back to the old system.
In order to pilot the feasibility of results-based finance to reduce deforestation—and maintain the confidence of forest-rich countries and subnational jurisdictions while climate negotiations and the establishment of multilateral funding mechanisms drag on— Germany established the REDD+ Early Mover (REM) program. The REM program’s recent conclusion of an agreement with the state of Acre in Brazil is a welcome addition to the still-small “n” in the universe of REDD+ experiments at scale that will help us all learn the degree to which trees can grow on money.
What if we build it and nobody comes?
Long-standing, deep engagement of German experts in the forestry sectors of developing countries supports an especially nuanced knowledge of the governance challenges that would have to be addressed in order to reduce deforestation. This history of “hands on” involvement has bred skepticism regarding the degree to which “hands off” performance-based funding will be sufficient to overcome such challenges, especially in countries in sub-Saharan Africa where forest management capacity is low.
And indeed, the REM program has discovered that the number of “early movers”—countries or subnational jurisdictions positioned to take advantage of finance for verified reductions in forest-based emissions—is fewer than initially anticipated. Further, the process of achieving “readiness” is proving to take longer than expected. According to one expert:
Just providing a chunk of money will not resolve anything. REDD+ from a financing perspective is new, but all the underlying issues have been linked with the objectives of development assistance and bilateral cooperation … ; yet they still remain important issues, and you need all of these components to put together a workable solution.
Paradoxically, some German experts also have anxiety about what would happen if too many countries achieved REDD+ readiness (and therefore eligibility for results-based, or “phase III” finance) too soon. One expert said:
I have an uncomfortable feeling about the availability of funding for phase III, and I foresee already that REDD+ countries may become very impatient and frustrated if they see that the funding we promised a few years ago for phase III is not yet available.
Another expert commented:
In Warsaw we closed REDD+ negotiations on the REDD+ rule book, so the rules are there now, and they can be implemented. Like in Brazil—they did it. However, if more countries follow their example they will put us, the donors, in a very uncomfortable situation. They will say, so we are here now, where is the predictable stable finance you promised for result-based payments?
But maybe the two dilemmas do not constitute a paradox after all. According to Heru Prasetyo, head of Indonesia’s new REDD+ Management Agency, the prospect of results-based finance may induce countries to move more quickly toward readiness in order to get that “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” This would suggest that Germany’s “both/and” approach makes sense—putting money on the table for results-based finance could complement and improve the effectiveness of traditional capacity-building support.
Having lots of countries successfully reduce deforestation would be a really good problem for REDD+ donors to have, but how will they fulfill their commitments to reward those reductions? Donors could step up their pledges for results-based finance this week at UNFCCC COP 20 in Lima, and in the run-up to COP 21 in Paris next year, to avoid disappointment. If not, we may see forest countries begin to drive the pressures for donors to perform by outpacing pledges currently on the table.
In 2016, outcomes from last year's climate summit in Paris provide reasons to hope that we can save the world’s remaining tropical forests before it’s too late.
Here are the top five reasons why:
The Paris agreement validates performance-based payments for protecting forests as a key climate protection strategy.
If deforestation were a country, it would rank as the third-highest source of greenhouse gas emissions, greater than those of the European Union. And if deforestation were halted and damaged forests allowed to grow back, the combination of avoided emissions and additional carbon storage in forest vegetation would be equivalent to up to one third of current global emissions from all sources.
Over the last decade, climate negotiators have painstakingly negotiated an approach to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (so-called “REDD+”) in which rich countries provide financial reward to developing countries for conserving their forests on a pay-for-performance basis. The Paris agreement explicitly endorses this approach.
More than 50 developing countries have started putting into place the policies, strategies, and monitoring systems necessary to demonstrate progress and qualify for financial support. Unfortunately, the levels of finance pledged from donor countries have been far from sufficient to tip the balance against the strong forces driving business-as-usual deforestation. Moreover, as shown in the figure below, the majority of funds pledged prior to Paris have been programmed as traditional aid rather than as performance-based reward.
Thus, the pledge of an additional $5 billion of mostly performance-based finance by the governments of Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom (the “GNU” countries) on the first day of the Paris negotiations will provide an important a lifeline to forest protection efforts in selected developing countries. While funding is still not sufficient, perhaps the combination of the GNU pledge and the explicit text on REDD+ in the agreement will shame other rich countries to step up their financial support.
The agreement’s 1.5-degree aspirational target and goal to balance emissions with removals will draw more attention to forests.
Most observers were surprised that negotiators in Paris upped aspirations to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Further, they agreed to achieve a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and removals in the second half of this century. While appropriately exerting downward pressure on fossil fuel emissions, these goals will also focus more attention on forests a technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere: a safe and natural carbon capture and storage (CCS) system.
When fossil fuels are burned, there are only three places carbon emissions can go: into the atmosphere (causing climate change), into the oceans (causing acidification detrimental to marine life), or into the biomass of growing vegetation on land. Trees capture carbon from the air and store it in leaves, branches, trunks, roots and soil. If we’re serious about achieving the more ambitious goals contained in the Paris agreement, we’d be crazy to continue to destroy the only CCS technology we already have: forests.
Non-state actors are stepping up to play their roles in protecting forests, especially at jurisdictional scales.
Private sector companies are responsible for vast areas of forests under concession agreements. Sub-national political jurisdictions – states, provinces, and districts – often have authority for land-use planning and issuing permits for forest use. And indigenous peoples manage more than 20 percent of the world’s forest carbon in their customary territories (more on indigenous peoples below).
In Paris, these forest stewards were out in force. The Lima-Paris Action Agenda(LPAA) was an official series of events designed to highlight the commitments of non-state actors to collaborate in implementing a negotiated agreement. Private companies that have taken on “no deforestation” supply chain commitments were well represented, and several used the occasion to announce new pledges.
Unilever and Marks & Spencer, currently co-chairs of the Consumer Goods Forum, a grouping of consumer-facing manufacturers and retailers, announced a commitment to preferential sourcing of commodities to reward countries and subnational jurisdictions making progress to reduce deforestation. Such market-based rewards would complement the financial incentives sought by the governors of states and provinces that participate in the Governors Climate and Forests Task Force, who have pledged to reduce deforestation, and who were well-represented on numerous panels at side events in Paris.
Indigenous peoples are clearly recognized as key actors in forest conservation.
Indigenous peoples were disappointed that recognition of their rights was relegated to the non-binding preamble of the Paris agreement, but they were successful in using the Paris process to claim a place at any table where climate and forests are discussed. The evidence is clear that the presence of indigenous peoples correlates with less deforestation – in some instances, the boundaries of indigenous territories can even be seen from space.
Indigenous peoples were visible at the Paris conference venue and indeed across the city, where their “Paddle to Paris” campaign, culminating in a float down the Seine, caused a social media sensation. At the LPAA Focus on Forests event, HRH The Prince of Wales highlighted how indigenous peoples should guide forest protection efforts, and indigenous leaders from three continents articulated their roles in policy circles and on the ground. And at UNDP’s Equator Prize awards ceremony (video available here), indigenous communities from Bolivia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia were among those honored for their efforts on the front lines of forest protection.
Periodic review and revision of national pledges will empower advocates for forest protection.
The Paris agreement requires that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to reducing global emissions submitted by individual governments be evaluated and re-submitted every five years. These procedures will enable domestic constituencies in both rich and poor countries to pressure their governments to implement the pledges they’ve already made, and to ratchet up their pledges over time.
In forest-rich countries, these reviews will be important opportunities for beneficiaries of the “non-carbon benefits” of forest protection to advance their interests. Now mostly latent, these constituencies include:
Communities in and around forests, who derive on average more than one-fifth of household income from wild forest products
Farmers who rely on the rainfall, pollination, livestock forage, and other goods and services provided by forests
Municipalities that rely on forested watersheds for hydropower, drinking water, and safety from landslides and floods, or on mangrove forests to nurture fisheries and protect against coastal storms
Supply chain companies and financiers who have made “no-deforestation” commitments, and face competition from producers of illegal or unsustainable goods on forest lands
Indigenous peoples, whose interests coincide with clarifying and enforcement forest land tenure.
In rich countries, the periodic renewals of pledges will provide openings to promote “joint implementation” – also explicitly encouraged by the Paris agreement – through which countries can work together to increase overall ambition – including through REDD+.
While there’s much work ahead to translate the pledges in Paris into progress on the ground, these five outcomes provide reasons for optimism that forests will finally take their rightful place in the forefront of the battle to fight climate change.
Last week marked the transition from commitments to compliance for a number of companies that have pledged to get deforestation out of their supply chains. For example, Wilmar International, the world’s largest trader of palm oil, set December 31, 2015 as the deadline for suppliers to adhere to its path-breaking “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” policy announced in late 2013.
December 31st was also Jim Bob Moffett’s last day at work as the chairman of Freeport-McMoRan, the company that developed one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines in eastern Indonesia. The coincidence of these milestones leads me to reflect on the changing norms of corporate leadership, and my brief interaction with Mr. Moffett 20 years ago.
A cascade of commitments to stop deforestation
In 2011, under pressure from buyers and financiers (who in turn had been sensitized by NGO activists such as Greenpeace), Golden Agri Resources (GAR), a large palm oil producer in Indonesia, agreed to stop converting carbon-rich forests into oil palm plantations, and set a target of December 2015 for achieving certification of its operations by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
Since then, a trickle of corporate commitments to stop producing commodities such as palm oil, beef, soy, and paper at the expense of tropical forests has turned into a cascade. More than 50 companies joined GAR and Wilmar International, along with dozens of governments, indigenous groups, and civil society groups, in endorsing the 2014 New York Declaration of Forests, which committed to working in partnership to end natural forest loss.
Many CEOs have taken on a personal role in negotiating corporate commitments and/or promoting forest protection. While companies at the manufacturing and retailing end have set a less ambitious deadline of 2020 for removing deforestation from their supply chains, their CEOs have made a point of identifying personally with the cause. Unilever’s Paul Polman and Marks & Spencer’s Mark Bolland – currently co-chairs of the Consumer Goods Forum – were among many corporate leaders who took the opportunity to advocate multistakeholder action to protect forests at last month’s COP21 in Paris.
Franky Widjaja of GAR in 2012 was recognized for his company’s “groundbreaking stakeholder engagement initiatives” with Greenpeace and others. Kuok Khoon Hong of Wilmar International personally engaged with activists to develop a position of industry leadership after being confronted by his wife, who had seen their accusations on television.
Jim Bob and me
How different was the reaction of Jim Bob Moffett, then CEO, when I dared to criticize Freeport-McMoRan in 1995. Based on experience gained during a five-year stint with the Ford Foundation in Indonesia, I was invited by the State Department to participate in an off-the-record briefing for Stapleton Roy, the newly appointed US Ambassador to Indonesia. At the briefing, I offered the opinion that it was not in the US interest to provide Freeport-McMoRan’s mining investment in Indonesia with a guarantee from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), in light of the company’s poor reputation for protecting the environment and human rights. (See, for example, this 2011 story on NPR.)
Apparently one of the business association representatives present failed to respect the off-the-record terms of the briefing. Within 24 hours, I received a personal phone call from Mr. Moffett at my office at the World Wildlife Fund. With his characteristic Southern drawl, he informed me that he didn’t like it when people said bad things about his company to his government, and made it clear that I should think twice before doing it again. Mr. Moffett was known for threatening legal action against activists, journalists, and academics who got in the company’s way.
Despite really having nothing to fear and little to lose, I was trembling when I hung up the phone. I imagined the effect of such tactics on more vulnerable critics of the company’s operations, such as those in affected communities in Indonesia, given that the company made payments to Indonesian soldiers and policemen.
Falling commodity prices were what prompted Mr. Moffett’s resignation last week, rather than intolerance of bullying behavior directed at critics. By no means have all corporate leaders signed up to the new norms of protecting forests and forest peoples. Some may have done so reluctantly, having concluded that advances in remote sensing of forest cover change have left them no place to hide. And even those who have made commitments in good faith continue to face severe implementation challenges on the ground, including lower level managers who haven’t yet gotten the memo that CEO-level pledges are to be taken seriously.
But while some corporate leaders have actively resisted the entreaties of activists, and some are better on public relations than direct engagement with critics or follow-through, few if any have resorted to threats and intimidation to fend off pressure for change.
Here’s hoping that the transition to 2016 marks a watershed, not only in the transition from commitments to compliance in the no-deforestation agenda, but also in the crystallization of norms regarding how corporate leaders should respond to criticism from civil society.
Threats and intimidation out, good faith engagement in.
On June 15 in Oslo, US Secretary of State John Kerry signed a Joint Statement on Deeper Collaboration on Forests and Climate Change with Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Short on new commitments but long on signaling, the Statement shines a welcome post-Paris spotlight on the importance of forests to climate objectives—according to the Statement, the goals of the Paris Agreement “cannot be achieved without forests.” It also highlights the complementarity of the multiple strategies needed to stop tropical deforestation.
Optimism in Oslo
The setting for the signing ceremony was the Oslo REDD Exchange, a two-day gathering of 500 policy-makers and practitioners working to reduce emissions from tropical deforestation and degradation. Hosted by the Government of Norway, opened by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and chaired by yours truly, the conference proceedings reflected a spirit of optimism that forests may finally be getting traction as a way to protect the climate and promote development.
The conference provided an opportunity for a stock-take on a wide variety of strategies to protect forests being employed by partner governments, civil society organizations, and private companies.
Improving the monitoring of changes in forest condition
Offering results-based finance for verified forest emission reductions
Strengthening the rights of indigenous peoples
Implementing corporate “deforestation-free” supply chain commitments
Integrating forests into domestic “green growth” strategies and fiscal policies
A voting exercise conducted among conference participants revealed a range of views on which of these strategies are most important. But framed as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, there was consensus that “all of the above” are needed for success.
No new commitments, but maybe 1+1 can equal 3
The Joint Statement itself and its further elaboration by Jonathan Pershing, US Special Envoy for Climate Change, made clear that it was more a pledge to “continue and enhance existing cooperation” on forests and climate change rather than an announcement of bold new initiatives or funding commitments. The subtext was a clear-eyed recognition that Norway and the United States have complementary capacities that will be more effective if coordinated more closely.
Due to a unique constellation of political and economic circumstances described in a CGD Working Paper, Norway has been in a position to establish and maintain a large financial commitment to tropical forest conservation. The Norwegian “rainforest billions” program includes payment-for-performance agreements with a growing number of countries, as well as a generous civil society grants program that supports activists, implementers, and researchers (including CGD).
In the league tables of forest and climate finance, the United States lags far behind Norway in absolute terms, and even further in relative terms given the sizes of the two economies.
As described in a CGD Policy Paper, the domestic politics of climate change have hobbled US leadership, and no one really expected Secretary Kerry to announce anything requiring Congressional action. Hence the Joint Statement includes a laundry list of worthy initiatives ranging from enforcing existing laws against trade in illegal timber to supporting efforts to rid deforestation from corporate supply chains and investment portfolios.
The idea is that although the US Government is not in a position to write big checks, US technical capacity and diplomatic muscle can be strategically deployed to make Norway’s money go further.\
The scarcest commodity
A former White House adviser once told me that the world’s most scarce commodity is the time and attention of a senior government official. By that measure, the forests and climate community gathered in Oslo was granted multiple treasures, not least the 13 minutes of Secretary Kerry’s speech.
While we might wish that bolder action from the US government were possible sooner, a moment in the spotlight to move forests higher up on the US government’s agenda is a good first step.
Back in January, #1 on the list of 2015 New Year’s Conservation Resolutions brought to you by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo was to “Purchase products made with sustainable palm oil.” Apparently the President’s Global Development Council (GDC) has taken this advice to heart.
The GDC was established in 2012 to advise the president and other senior officials on global development policy and practice. The Council’s second report, released last week, calls for ramping up US efforts to help developing countries expand agricultural production without clearing forested areas. As we’ve documented elsewhere, maintaining tropical forests is critical for both climate stability and development outcomes.
Toward this objective, the GDC report recommends a domestic policy action that the United States can take as a consumer of the products such as palm oil that cause tropical deforestation:
We also recommend the president issue an Executive Order directing U.S. government agencies to adopt deforestation-free procurement procedures by 2020.
Such an initiative would be a welcome complement to USG efforts already underway in support of private sector commitments to get deforestation out of commodity supply chains.
What the Private Sector Is Doing
Commercial agriculture is the most important driver of deforestation in the tropics. In fact, analysis commissioned by CGD showed that clearing land to produce just four globally-traded commodities – beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp and paper – in only eight countries accounted for fully one-third of tropical deforestation in 2009 and no doubt even more today.
Over the past two years, a growing number of companies that produce, trade, or purchase such “forest risk” commodities have committed to “deforestation-free” supply chains. In September 2014, 34 companies, including US corporate giants such as Cargill, McDonalds, and Walmart, joined the United States and 26 other governments in signing on to the New York Declaration on Forests, committing themselves to halving deforestation by 2020 and ending natural forest loss by 2030.
As I described in a blog last year, these companies now constitute an important new constituency for forest conservation. In June 2014, the board of the Consumer Goods Forum – representing some 400 consumer-facing manufacturers and retailers – called on governments to make REDD+ a priority, “supporting it with local and national policies that can protect forests and support livelihoods.”
The companies know that implementing their commitments will not be easy. In a CGD Essay published last week, I compared the challenge to Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition down a tributary of the Amazon River just over 100 years ago. So it’s reasonable to ask what our government can do to help them succeed.
The Third Leg of the Stool
Through global and bilateral initiatives, the US government has already signaled its support for commitments by corporations and producer countries to get deforestation out of supply chains. In 2012, the United States launched the Tropical Forest Alliance, a public-private partnership involving other governments, companies, and NGOs dedicated to reducing tropical deforestation associated with production of beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp and paper. And last year, the US Embassy in Jakarta helped to broker an “Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge” among key players in the Indonesia’s palm oil industry, demonstrating the potential pay-off to investment of diplomatic resources.
But so far, these internationally-focused initiatives have not been matched by actions at home. The Europeans are ahead of us in this regard. In 2013, the European Commission released a study calculating the “deforestation footprint” of commodities consumed in the European Union. According to a 2013 Chatham House report, thirteen countries have public procurement policies in place to ensure that timber and wood products are legally and sustainably produced, and the Government of the United Kingdom has adopted a target of sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil by the end of this year.
Even though the United States imports a smaller share of forest-risk commodities compared to the European Union (because we produce so much of our own beef, soy, vegetable oil, and wood products), a presidential directive to get deforestation out of federal procurement would be significant. First, it would send a much-needed signal to progressive companies and reform-minded producer country governments that markets will reward their efforts to stop deforestation. And second, it would show that consumer countries are willing take on difficult challenges themselves, and not just cheerlead the efforts of others.
The Challenges Ahead
The GDC report notes that a the proposed Executive Order on “deforestation-free” procurement
…would require a clear definition of ‘deforestation-free’ be established that was practicable across different commodities, and would have to be implemented in a World Trade Organization consistent and non-discriminatory manner.
Neither of these tasks would be easy — indeed, participants in a workshop that I chaired last year thought it would be so difficult that federal policy should instead focus on requirements for corporate reporting and transparency related to commodity-driven deforestation. My own view is that greening procurement is worth a try.
Fortunately, on the issue of definitions, there’s a small industry of companies and NGOs working together to define terms such as “High Carbon Stock” forest. The “no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation” commitment made in late 2013 by Wilmar International – the world’s largest trader in palm oil – is widely seen as a benchmark for the issues to be addressed.
Implementation would pose a number of thorny challenges, including the expense of certifying individual products as “deforestation-free”. One alternative would be to pursue certification at the level of entire jurisdictions – say, a district in Indonesia or a municipality in Brazil – to minimize the costs to individual farmers and larger commercial enterprises of obtaining certification for specific products.
In any case, any deforestation-free procurement initiative should include a focus on renewable fuels. We need to ensure that attempts to be climate-friendly in our transportation sector don’t inadvertently increase emissions from deforestation caused by expanding production of biofuel feedstocks. Those feedstocks are currently being planted at the expense of some of the most carbon-rich forests in the world, including the habitats of orangutans and other friends at the zoo.
The Global Development Council is right to join the Smithsonian in urging that we purchase what we preach.
 REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, a mechanism negotiated under the U.N. convention on climate change in which rich countries pay developing countries for performance in reducing forest-based emissions.
All the leaves are brown and the sky is grayCalifornia dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
—The Mamas and the Papas
After two weeks in Indonesia I returned to Washington to discover that fall had turned to winter in my absence. A new CGD Working Paper explains how the prospects of jurisdictional forest offsets have experienced a similar chill in California since first proposed in the late 2000s.
An initial blaze of REDD+ foliage
Almost exactly six years ago, on November 18, 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger convened a Governors Climate Change Summit in Los Angeles attended by governors of forest-rich provinces from Brazil and Indonesia. The governors signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on forests and climate issues, thus sprinkling Schwarzenegger’s celebrity stardust on the REDD+ agenda.
The context was the California Global Warming Solutions Act (known as AB 32) signed into law two years earlier, under which the California Air Resources Board (ARB) was in the process of designing a cap-and-trade program as a mechanism to meet emission reduction targets. Policy entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to marry the state’s need for low-cost emission reduction options and the potential to supply such reductions through conservation of tropical forests at the subnational scale.
Before long, the possibility of financing REDD+ through “jurisdictional” forest offsets was one of the hottest topics in Forests and Climate World. A potential California market was one of the few rays of hope for REDD+ finance following the crushing disappointment of the UNFCCC’s inability to reach an overall climate agreement in Copenhagen in 2009 and the subsequent failure of the US Senate to pass the Waxman-Markey legislation, which had included a large share of emission reductions from international offsets. A Governors’ Climate and Forest Task Force initiated by Governor Schwarzenegger grew to include additional states and provinces from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, and Nigeria.
Fast forward to the present. Last week I participated in a “Learning Exchange on Jurisdictional Approaches to Green Development” organized by the Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Jakarta along with participants from Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. Although REDD+ was a topic of discussion—indeed, Indonesia’s new REDD+ Management Agency was a co-sponsor of the workshop—village-level planning and implementation of recent “deforestation-free” commodity supply chain commitments received as much if not more attention. The possibility of finance from California’s cap-and-trade program for efforts to reduce deforestation was not mentioned, at least in my presence.
Why did the REDD+ leaves turn brown, and the sky turn gray?
The new CGD Working Paper, “The California REDD+ Experience: The Ongoing Political History of California’s Initiative to Include Jurisdictional REDD+ Offsets within Its Cap-and-Trade System” by Jesse Lueders and colleagues at the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the UCLA School of Law, tells the story of how the season changed in California. The paper traces the political fate of international forest offsets from initial conception, through the transition from Governor Schwarzenegger to Governor Brown in 2011, the deliberations of a REDD Offsets Working Group (known as ROW), and relevant discussions in the state legislature. The paper details the arguments that have been marshalled for and against inclusion of REDD+ offsets in the implementation of AB 32, and the constituencies aligned with each.
In brief, REDD+ proponents appealed to the potential for California to leverage broader reductions in emissions from tropical deforestation, a key element of any global climate protection strategy, and one with significant co-benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Cost-effective forestry offsets were also seen as a way to contain compliance costs of regulated entities. Pro-REDD+ forces were led by a group of environmental and conservation organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Conservation International, with some mild support from the private sector.
Opposition to the inclusion of international forestry offsets in California’s emission reduction strategy was led by a few large environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, who made common cause with smaller groups from California’s environmental justice community and international environmental and social justice movements. Their objections focused on three issues:
Skepticism regarding the environmental integrity of forest-based emission reductions, which the law requires to be “real, additional, quantifiable, permanent, verifiable, and enforceable” (see a companion blog by my colleague Jonah Busch on the “Baker’s Dozen” solution to the environmental integrity problem).
Concern that REDD+ initiatives could result in adverse social and environmental consequences, including the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights to forests.
A desire to give priority to in-state emissions cuts, so that low-income communities could benefit from associated reductions in local air pollution.
What’s striking to me is the seemingly inadequate analysis put forth by either side to justify their positions. On the “pro” side, for example, “there is no comprehensive, publicly available analysis of the potential effect of REDD+ offsets on California’s overall AB 32 compliance costs.” On the “anti” side, claims of harm allegedly caused by REDD+ projects appear to be based more on potential (rather than already realized) risks to vulnerable communities and ecosystems, as well as on the past performance of forest conservation efforts that look very different from those being contemplated by California.
According to Lueders et al.,
It is difficult to tell how much traction either side has made with policymakers. Outwardly at least, those in California government have maintained a mostly neutral stance, acknowledging the merits of both sides of the debate while declining either to move forward on REDD+ offsets or to abandon the idea.
Time is (not) on our side
As my colleague Michele de Nevers said in a blog on this topic back in August, “the window of opportunity to cut carbon emissions from deforestation dramatically may be closing.”
And while the door to including international forest offsets in California’s cap-and-trade program is still open, there is much uncertainty regarding whether, and how soon, that might happen. As recently as September, on a panel at the “Forests Pavilion” convened in the sidelines of the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols hinted that progress would be forthcoming “in the near future”.
Lueders et al. enumerate the various actors and factors that could influence a decision to move forward, which could take years to come into effect. Key actors include the ARB, the governor, the legislature, and the regulated community. If the last were to be more vocal in its support for international forest offsets, it could make big difference.
Key factors include the ability of the ARB to overcome legal and technical hurdles, the demand for offsets, and the degree of interest by other jurisdictions in following California’s example. The linkage of California’s cap-and-trade program to Quebec’s in January of this year suggests the potential for other states and provinces to piggy-back on California’s investment in overcoming those legal and technical hurdles, and to increase demand.
But delay in moving forward has eroded the momentum in both California and partner jurisdictions alike. Lueders et al. observe that over time, the voices of those opposing REDD+ have gotten louder, and garnered more political attention, compared to those of supporters.
Delay has also prompted partner jurisdictions to look elsewhere for support and finance for their REDD+ efforts. In a declaration resulting from their most recent meeting in Rio Branco in August, the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force reiterated their commitment to reduce deforestation through a jurisdictional approach. But rather than look to California as a market for offsets, they highlighted the potential of “partnerships with private sector initiatives” and “performance-based funds”—echoed in the discussions at the TNC workshop in Jakarta last week.
Winter could be followed by spring
President Obama’s recent elevation of climate change in domestic and international policy arenas increases the pressure to identify emission reduction options in the run-up to COP21 in Paris. As mentioned in my blog earlier this week introducing another paper on the US politics of REDD+ finance, it’s possible that flexible federal incentives to reduce emissions could reinvigorate debates over international forest offsets at the state level.
In the meantime, for a fascinating read on a winter’s day, the paper by Lueders et al. provides an illuminating primer on how those debates are likely to be joined.
My first few days in Paris have included encounters with royalty and royal jelly, both in the context of forests and climate change. More on those below. First, a quick take on the flurry of announcements related to forests that took place on the first day of COP21.
Round up the usual suspects…on climate finance for forests
On November 30th, Germany, Norway, and the U.K. (“the GNU”) pledged to provide over $5 billion for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) between now and 2020, “including a significant increase in pay-for-performance finance.” This pledge is a welcome and much-needed continuation of the leadership of these three countries, and consistent with the recommendations of the recent CGD Working Group report, Look to the Forests.
However, as mentioned in the postcard from my colleague Jonah Busch, while this commitment is critical to maintaining current levels of funding, it will not represent a step-change in the amount of climate finance available for forests unless other investors step up as well: A CGD-ODI Working Paper estimates that aggregate pledges for REDD+ were about $10 billion from 2006-2014. This blog by Michael Wolosin of Climate Advisers provides his take on why the pledge is nevertheless significant.
The new financial pledges for forests are also disappointingly limited to the usual suspects. Conspicuously missing from the league table is the United States. Although President Obama repeatedly referenced US climate leadership in his press conference at the OECD on December 1st, leadership on forest finance is one area where the United States is missing in action. In the words of Harrison Karnwea, Director of the Liberia Forestry Development Authority at a CGD side event on Thursday, “Where are the other countries? It’s time to hurry up!”
Another pay-for-performance agreement signed
We also celebrated the announcement of a new $100 million REDD+ pay-for-performance agreement between Colombia and the same three usual suspect donors — the GNU — to be administered through Germany’s REDD Early Movers Program. Happily, one now needs fingers from both hands to count the number of such national-level agreements in place, following those previously concluded with Brazil, Guyana, Indonesia, Peru, and Liberia.
The Colombia agreement will be one to watch: Among other things, the Government of Colombia has committed itself to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. To meet this goal, the government has embedded the Amazon Vision Programme in its new National Development Plan designed to lead the country out of conflict with a combination of policies to support increased agricultural production while protecting forests. Although a “pure” pay-for-performance model would not regulate how earned revenues would be used (as argued in a recent op-ed by Nancy Birdsall and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, we don’t tell Saudi Arabia how to spend the money we pay for its oil), the new agreement specifies that at least 60 percent of the funds will benefit local actors.
Also on November 30th, a number of heads of state stepped away from their formal speeches in the plenary hall to join a photo op with Mary Robinson, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, and sign on to a Leaders Statement on Forests and Climate Change. While the statement stressed the “essential role” of forests, and reiterated forest-related commitments already made in the UNFCCC process and as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, it didn’t contain anything splashily new or specific.
Perhaps that’s why although the statement was endorsed by 17 rich and forest-rich countries—including all the big players on both sides, plus the United States—it couldn’t compete for headlines. While forests were at least mentioned in more general stories about the opening of the COP (hooray!), most coverage focused on the Mission Innovation announcement, in which 20 countries committed to double investment in R&D for clean energy, with President Obama out in front, flanked by Bill Gates representing a host of private investors and philanthropists participating in the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
Tommy Smothers Syndrome
In fact, none of the forest-related announcements on Monday got the attention they deserved. For example, they were barely mentioned in this top 10 list. Proponents of forest protection as a climate mitigation strategy are used to being overshadowed by the love lavished on energy-oriented solutions, but Monday’s imbalance induced a bout of TSS. (TSS, or Tommy Smothers Syndrome, refers to the 1960s-era US television program “The Smothers Brothers”, in which Tommy complains to his brother Dick that “Mommy always liked you best”.)
Fortunately, some celebrity stardust from royalty turned things around a bit on Tuesday, creating a buzz and bumping forests into the headlines.
Focus on Forests Thematic Event
On December 1st, I had the honor of serving as Master of Ceremonies for the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) Focus on Forests event hosted by the Government of Peru. The LPAA is an official stream of activities focused on implementation by state and non-state actors, and is meant to complement the formal negotiations. The Focus on Forests event was the first of a dozen topics so featured, followed by agriculture, transport, and others. In addition to the opportunity to introduce HRH the Prince of Wales, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting the King of Sweden—himself a forest owner—who showed up unannounced and sat in the first row.
HRH Prince Charles kicked off the proceedings with an eloquent speech that achieved the press coverage that was due (see, for example, this piece in The Guardian). He stressed three themes that were echoed by many other speakers throughout the day:
We must hear the voices, respect the rights, and support the roles of indigenous peoples in forest management
Private companies must get deforestation out of commodity supply chains, and
Forest restoration needs attention on par with halting deforestation.
This blog by Chip Barber at World Resources Institute provides a good summary of the event.
Indigenous peoples claim their rightful place
It wasn’t just HRH Prince Charles who highlighted the centrality of indigenous peoples in any strategy to protect the climate. Indigenous peoples’ representatives themselves were visible in the audience, and claimed their roles in national forest politics from the stage. For example, Abdon Nababan of AMAN in Indonesia promised to hold the Government of Indonesia accountable for delivering on the various promises made by President Widodo to advance recognition of indigenous peoples land rights. Henderson Rengifo of AIDESEP in Peru provided an encouraging description of how progress was possible once a dialogue of mutual respect had been established with the government.
A nice video on indigenous peoples’ “Paddle to Paris” can be found here.
Private companies step up
Another notable development on Tuesday was a pledge by Marks & Spencer and Unilever—co-chairs of the Consumer Goods Forum—to begin preferential sourcing of commodities such as beef, palm oil, paper, and soy from jurisdictions that are making progress on reducing deforestation and improving forest governance. In light of the limited public finance that has so far been made available on pay-for-performance basis to date, such market-based incentives could be critical in creating a value proposition for elected leaders at state and provincial levels to get serious about protecting forests.
Speaking of creating a buzz…
A Paris highlight outside the COP21 negotiating venue is a photo exhibition on beekeeping installed around the perimeter of the Parc du Luxembourg—“The Honey Roads”—conveniently located near our hotel. Extraordinary images show the bees themselves attending the royal jelly in the hives, as well as dramatic photos of indigenous peoples around the world high up in trees and hanging off cliffs as they harvest the honey. (Royal jelly is a nutritious substance secreted by worker bees to feed bee larvae and queen bees.) The photos are a nice reminder of the importance of forests for maintaining local livelihoods and cultural practices that have been around for millennia.
For those of you not in Paris, you can take a look at the photos here.
 CGD is grateful to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation for its continued support of CGD’s research on forests. CGD’s work is independent and grounded in evidence-based research and analysis that is subject to peer review.