African rainforests may welcome carbon traders

Does the role of the private sector in climate finance for developing countries become more or less likely as a result of the Durban conference last month?

My own feeling was that the substance of this controversial issue was once again put off for another year. Negotiators had no stomach to tackle anything financial in Durban.

In the context of reducing emissions from deforestation (the UN REDD scheme), a much more decisive interpretation emerged from a conference hosted last week by the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests in the UK.

One of the speakers on the final day of Climate Change, Deforestation and the Future of African Rainforests was John Mason, Executive Director of the Nature Conservation Research Centre in Ghana. Commenting on the REDD section of the Durban text, he said:

there was very clear reaffirmation of market mechanisms for post 2012, and post 2020…… We think there is an important boost for what is going to happen in terms of willingness to invest in REDD+ in Africa from governments and private sector.

Mason’s overall presentation could almost be perceived as a glossy prospectus for all those buccaneering carbon investors in evidence in Durban. “We’re seeing an elevated interest in African credits,” he declared.

As if to quell any remaining doubters, Mason added:

the REDD+ technical text was completely resolved in Durban. It was probably the only element in the climate change negotiations where there is actually now an agreed text. All the brackets have been removed for REDD

I’m not sure whether those NGOs fighting for the rights of indigenous groups or forest communities would agree that their business at UN climate conferences is over. And Friends of the Earth, amongst many other campaigning groups across the world, remains implacably opposed to “market mechanisms”.

This model of climate finance has more work to do to sell itself to all stakeholders. There are deep conceptual flaws in awarding carbon credits for developing country mitigation projects so that the rich can “carry on polluting”.

John Mason was ready with an answer to calm investors’ nerves:

We’ve also seen dramatic reduction in opposition to REDD+ from civil society. While 3-4-5 years ago REDD+ was being actively countered and there was very strong advocacy against REDD+ in many African jurisdictions – that has dramatically declined in the last two years.

The range of activities listed by Mason’s NCRC includes: “promoting carbon trading and payments for ecosystem services in the sub-region.” But it’s a non-profit organisation with a clear rural development agenda and Mason has a hatful of African experience to justify his views.

Indeed, his talk offered a valuable inside track on African government politicking – the infighting between all those ministries “competing for who is going to control REDD and the perceived billions that are going to come down that pipeline.” And the failure of those ministries (for the same reason) to ensure that REDD plans are joined up with agriculture, energy and finance.

Mason did suggest that this picture of internal mayhem is improving:

I have seen growth in realisation of African governments how low their capacity to deliver on a REDD+ project actually is..….. that means there’s going to have to be all sorts of collaboration between governments and private sectors to put together consortia that can actually deliver on for specific projects in specific locations

That dreaded private sector phrase again. We’re just going to have to learn to live with each other.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK