Greenwashing Pay-to-Pollute, and Harming Indigenous Communities to Boot
In a recent blog post from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) they proudly announce their role in helping to develop offset credits from REDD+ programs in the Amazon — the reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation — for use in California’s cap-and-trade market. REDD+ programs exist in Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and elsewhere, and in theory they supposedly protect tropical forests.
EDF specifies that incorporating offsets from REDD+ leads to rewards for indigenous peoples and even ecosystem protection under this supposedly great initiative. However, we see evidence of very different outcomes from REDD+ offset programs; so don’t start guzzling the cool-aid just yet.
The reality of this program is all but rewarding or great. To begin with, offsets of any kind are part of a pay-to-pollute loophole that allows companies to continue polluting at the source under the empty promise that emissions reductions will happen elsewhere; whether those reductions actually happen is highly questionable.
Offsets lead to emissions hot spots where pollution continues at the source, shifts the burden of reducing emissions elsewhere, and makes no guarantee that reductions will happen at the offset location. If no reductions occur at the source of pollution or at the offset site, this means an increase in total emissions, all because companies are allowed to pay-to-pollute rather than stop polluting, without exceptions.
If this isn’t bad enough, adding offsets from REDD+ programs introduces a new level of liability and entirely irresponsible disregard for legitimate emissions reductions. REDD+ programs alone have garnered quite a lot of attention over the years, and not because of their shining success. Rather, REDD+ initiatives have become notorious for fraud, corruption, land grabs, violating indigenous rights and many other serious injustices.
In October 2013, The Atlantic featured an extensive exposé on REDD+ and carbon markets. It told the deplorable tale of an offset developer who defrauded indigenous communities in the Amazon after conning them into signing over their forest rights for REDD+ offsets. The contracts for the forest rights ran for 200 years and the developer planned to harvest the timber and plant palm oil after the 25-year carbon plan in the contract ran out. This is just one side of the many problems of generating offsets from REDD+.
But don’t worry, in EDF’s glowing promotion of REDD+ offsets they reassure the reader that with the right technology everything will be okay and emissions reductions will be achieved. However, the cited satellite and airplane technology only shows whether forests are standing or have been destroyed—this means nothing regarding measurements of sequestered carbon dioxide (CO2), establishing and monitoring baselines, ensuring additionality, and a slew of other highly important requirements for verifying legitimate emissions reductions.
REDD+ programs have even been rejected by major carbon markets like the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), and forest offsets are not allowed as part of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol. However, California seems to have missed the memo on the perils of REDD+ and continues to push for the inclusion of these offsets as part of their cap-and-trade market.
As a result, indigenous groups continue to speak out against California’s plans to include offsets from REDD+ programs. In October 2012, several indigenous groups traveled to California to testify against REDD+ offsets and urged Governor Brown not to allow their use. These same indigenous groups have also sent several letters to the California Air Resources Board in charge of running the cap-and-trade market urging them not to allow REDD+ forest offsets.
Last May, The Sacramento Bee even featured an article by Jeff Conant of Friends of the Earth condemning California for considering REDD+ offsets as part of their cap-and-trade market.
Both the environment and indigenous groups lose when it comes to REDD+ offsets. The only players rewarded are polluters. Generating offsets from REDD+ programs requires privatizing large swathes of forest and subsequently commodifying this precious resource, placing it under private and economic control. Can we really afford to subject invaluable and incommensurable tropical forests to the volatility of global markets, all for the sake of making it easier for polluters to keep on polluting?
REDD+ offsets put profits over people. Our forests, water and air are owned by no one and shared by everyone. No one should sell what they do not own.