The Devastating Plantation Plans of the World Bank Forest Investment Program

By Simone Lovera

Sometimes you expect the worst, and you are not disappointed.

When the World Bank Forest Investment Program (FIP) was established 6 years ago, we were skeptic to say the least, as Global Forest Coalition. The World Bank had funded (and continues to fund) numerous projects with a devastating impact on forests and forest dependent peoples. Putting them in charge of what is until now the largest global fund to invest in projects to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks (REDD+) sounded like a classical case of inviting the wolves to herd the sheep.

Moreover, the FIP would not just give grants, but also loans, and as some of the most important values of forests cannot be reflected in monetary terms the big question was and remains how these loans would be paid back. Only commercially profitable activities are able to generate sufficient financial returns for countries so that they can pay back loans, but the experience with almost any commercially profitable activity in forests is that it leads, in the short or long term, to forest degradation and subsequent deforestation. In fact, as the definition of forests used by the World Bank includes monoculture tree plantations, a significant portion of WB funds are invested in such plantations, simply for the reason that they are far more commercially profitable than any other ‘forest’-related activity. Continue reading

Frustrating Times in the Fight against Biofuel Burning and Deforestation

By Missi Davis for the Global Forest Coalition

Forests cover nearly a third of the land on Earth, producing oxygen supporting a vast diversity of wildlife. Deforestation is responsible for around 15% of carbon emissions. Despite this, the planet loses 46-58 million square miles of forest every year. The global fight against deforestation continues to struggle against the rampant violation of the world’s forests. The fight against biofuel pollution has suffered a number of setbacks recently, unfortunately, and recent events expose how international bodies are failing to take an adequate lead on this.

On December 12, EU energy ministers failed to reach a deal to curb the use of transport fuels which come from food crops. The EU had suggested a somewhat low 5% cap, which the European Parliament advocated rising slightly with its 6% suggestion. Although Lithuania tabled a 7% cap on their use, this was opposed by an number of countries- including Poland, which complained that the suggested cap was too low and Belgium and Denmark, which protested that it was in fact too high. Unsurprisingly, people from the biofuels sector championed a higher cap, arguing that they had invested in the sector based on an assumption that biofuels will be responsible with at least a tenth of fuel provisions. They have protested that any cap below 10% would ultimately lead to layoffs in the biofuels sector.

Biofuel production is not the only worrying form of fuel-burning. Biomass burning is also causing untold damage to the Earth and forests in particular. On October 17 the The Global Forest Coalition published a report on the impact of biomass, especially in Europe and North America, to coincide with “National Bioenergy Day”. The report reveals how biomass burning is resulting in “green land grabs”, deforestation and greater levels of pollution in the southern USA and British Columbia due to the development of dedicated biomass centres and the transformation of coal plants to biomass in the EU.

REDD+’s shortcomings

It is widely recognized within the realm of green studies that international supply chains are the most important driver of deforestation. Despite the fact that this is received knowledge in many quarters, decision makers at the Warsaw Climate Change Conference in Poland seemed to neglect this fundamental truth when they decided to adopt the somewhat hole-ridden Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks (REDD+) initiative. REDD+ is a package of policies, which will more likely than not decide the direction of international action on deforestation. On November 12th, the Global Forest Coalition attempted to voice its disapproval of REDD+’s content by making an intervention during the negotiations, which were happening in Warsaw. In that intervention, The Global Forest Coalition branded the text adopted by the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as “without doubt the weakest text any international forest-related body has ever adopted on this issue”.

“The REDD+ drivers text does not include any reference to the broadly recognized fact that the most important drivers of forest loss are linked to international commodity chains, and that these drivers will per definition lead to transboundary leakage of emissions if actions to address them are implemented at the national supply-side level only,” the statement further said.

The Global Forest Coalition delivers its verdict on REDD+

The intervention is not the only time that The Global Forest Coalition has held REDD+ to account. The Coalition published a report at the 19th UN Climate Conference in November highlighting the shortcomings of the REDD+. In particular the report argues that REDD+ does not get to the heart of what factors actually cause deforestation and then goes even further by warning that the policies that REDD+ recommends could actually turn out to be counter-productive and further aggravate deforestation.

The report, “REDD+ and the Underlying Causes of Deforestation and forest Degradation” was based on five case studies compiled by NGOs in South America (Brazil and Colombia), Asia (India) and Africa (Uganda and Tanzania). It claims that REDD+ neglects the biggest causes of forest loss, which are related to  international commodity chains- for example, wood, meat and bioenergy. The Global Forest Coalition advocates a package of policies instead of REDD+. These are mainly non-market based remedies against forest loss, for example ensuring the legal recognition of areas for conservation.


A Pathetic REDD Package

On 12 November 2013, the Global Forest Coalition made the following intervention during the negotiations in Warsaw on methodologies to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks (REDD+):

“The Global Forest Coalition, a worldwide coalition of 54 NGOs and Indigenous peoples’ organizations promoting rights-based forest policies shares the concerns of our NGO and IPO colleagues about the extremely weak draft decisions that have been developed in the areas of drivers of forest loss and safeguards. We particularly wonder what we are doing here if this body, and the REDD+ mechanism it is designing, is not capable of addressing the real drivers of forest loss, most of which are linked to international commodity trade. Frankly, if REDD+ is not about addressing the real drivers of forest loss, we don’t think it is a mechanism that should be supported. So we strongly urge governments to focus on developing more effective non-market based approaches to address the international drivers of forest loss, and if they feel they cannot do that within the framework of the REDD mechanism, we urge them to do so within other Frameworks for Various approaches.”

The text that was adopted by the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on the drivers of forest loss is without doubt the weakest text any international forest-related body has ever adopted on this issue. The negotiators could at least have had the decency to refer to the far more elaborate Proposals for Action and recommendations on addressing the underlying causes of forest loss the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests and the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity adopted 13 resp. 11 years ago. The REDD+ drivers text does not include any reference to the broadly recognized fact that the most important drivers of forest loss are linked to international commodity chains, and that these drivers will per definition lead to transboundary leakage of emissions if actions to address them are implemented at the national supply-side level only. Such transboundary leakage can already be detected as a result from the Brazilian efforts to reduce forest loss in neighboring countries like Paraguay and Colombia, where both soy expansion and the expansion of large-scale cattle ranching is mainly driven by Brazilian immigrants, and the massive leakage of emissions caused by the Chinese logging ban. For the climate, this means there is no positive result of such supply-side measures, but the countries themselves will be able to claim results-based payments, which is exactly what motivated a country like Brazil to suddenly become a pro-REDD champion. And please note it was Brazil that played the key role in derailing the REDD negotiations in 2012. To what extend the recent Norwegian contribution to the Amazon fund has played a role in buying their support for the 2013 deal can only be guessed, admittedly the clumsy EU suggestion in 2012 that middle income countries would not need financial support for REDD+ policies also caused the negotiations to turn sour in Doha. It is clear that REDD+ was always a profitable deal for Brazil, provided they have full and unlimited access to the funding.
Meanwhile, none of the big forest countries had any interest in a REDD+ decision that hinted at taking demand-side action to address the drivers of forest loss, even though reducing demand for key commodities is the only way to reduce forest loss without causing leakage. Especially biofuel policies provide a lot of opportunity for reducing commodity demand (as the demand is artificially created in the first place) but they are a red flag, especially for Brazil and Argentina, which acted fast to kill any reference to demand-side measures in the drivers text in June 2013. The chairs of the negotiations and many other countries were fine with this, in fact, one of the co-chairs stated openly at an NGO briefing in June that he felt that “drivers are better addressed somewhere else”, and not in the REDD+ mechanism. In fact, GFC itself already concluded in its latest report on REDD+ and the underlying causes of forest loss ( that through its focus on national results-based payments REDD+ is per definition not the right mechanism to address the main drivers of forest loss. We also found that in the countries we analyzed (Brazil, Colombia, Uganda, Tanzania and India) the REDD+ policy discussions had not lead to any concrete measures to address the main drivers of forest loss in practice, even in the cases where they had been identified in the readiness process.
The Coalition of Rainforest Nations, as usual totally dominated by PNG as many of its members are not able to follow the (English….) negotiations themselves, Norway (especially trying to convince its own new government its billions were not wasted) and key other countries, including the Philippines as co-chair of the working group, had very strong financial interests to get any kind of deal on REDD+ as well. Sadly, the EU was coordinated on this issue by a country with at least as much interest in REDD+ offsets as Norway, namely the Netherlands – quite fascinating how two of the biggest fossil fuel producers in Europe played such a big role in these negotiations. So there was a strong willingness to agree on any kind of text, including on issues like MRV, reference levels and safeguard information systems, where countries are more or less free to provide any kind of information according to any kind of system they want, with only some vague principles and a rather non-sensical verification system to guide them on reference levels and MRV. In our report on the REDD+ negotiations in June we already classified the emerging package of REDD rules as the “Whatever Approach” (See: All the REDD decisions adopted are pathetically vague and non-sensical from a legal point of view, using clauses like verifications that “might” happen, technical assessments that should be limited to “facilitative, non-intrusive exchanges”, and “summaries” of information on things as important as safeguards without any further guidance. Frankly, such texts are an insult to international law. Especially the weak decision on reference levels will lead to REDD+ contributing very little to additional emission reductions. Of course, there is a clear relation between the weakness of the reference level text and the weakness of the drivers text: If drivers remain unaddressed at the demand side, this inflates the baseline, and makes it possible for countries to demand far more funding to reduce forest loss.
So REDD+ has been developed as a mechanism that will not address the main drivers of forest loss. In fact it provides an incentive for the international community not to address demand-side drivers. Due to the ‘whatever approach’ it has taken to its own rules there is a great risk it will not contribute anything to mitigating climate change, in fact, if REDD+ would be financed through offsets it would seriously undermine the climate regime. The safeguards and safeguards information systems discussion has taken up a lot of attention from the NGO community following the negotiations, but only in countries where the NGOs and especially Indigenous peoples were able to put a very strong fist on the table, like Indonesia, these safeguards have provided instruments for some positive policy measures. In most other countries (like Paraguay), the NGO and IPO community is far too weak to promote or even monitor their implementation, and as a result the Government will be able to provide any kind of artificial information in its “summary” on how it has implemented the safeguards.
Last but not least, REDD has been developed as a results-based payment system with a small but quite significant omission: It is as yet not defined who or what will actually pay for the results. The fact that the REDD+ mechanism was adopted at the darkest and most unproductive Conference of the Parties the UNFCCC had even seen is significant for the real intentions of the mechanism, which was developed by a small group of isolated negotiators that seemed untouched by the drama’s that took place in the other negotiations, which ranged from tears and hunger strikes to walk outs by country negotiators and most of the NGOs. However, the lack of a clear financial agreement on what was previously announced as “the finance COP” will have very serious consequences for REDD as well. In fact, contrary to all existing international forest policies, REDD+ is 100% dependent on financial support. It is always easy to talk about ‘other people’s money’, and this is precisely what the REDD negotiators did when they mainly referred to the Green Climate Fund as having a “key role” as the potential source for results-based payments. Alas, finance negotiators have proven to be less interested in REDD+ than REDD+ negotiators interested in finance; when the Board of the Green Climate Fund discussed its priorities earlier in 2013 REDD+ was chosen as 1 of the 14 results-based areas only, side by side with entirely independent “sustainable forest management” and “sustainable land use” areas, making it clear that REDD+ is only one of the forest-related policy areas to be funded. More importantly, this fund remained basically empty in Warsaw, which rather saw a controversial declaration by the US that it expected most of the 100 billion USD that was promised by the developed countries in 2009 to come from the private sector. The EU had already clarified in 2010 that it did not expect more than 40% of this 100 billion to consist of public support from the developed countries to developing countries. A quick calculation (40/14 results-based areas) learns that public funding levels for REDD+ should not be expected to rise significantly above current levels of readiness support, and this is in the very best case scenario that the 100 (or rather, 40) billion commitment is ever fulfilled. According to the EU a remaining 40% is supposed to come from the private sector, but according the latest State of the Forest Carbon Market report forest carbon offset markets have already declined with some 20% since 2011 and Conservation International recently calculated that supply of REDD+ offsets on the carbon markets is currently some three times higher than demand. More importantly, a small victory for the climate justice movement and countries concerned about carbon markets in the dark Polish days was that negotiations on a new market mechanism were postponed due to profound disagreements about the need for an evaluation of existing market mechanisms before such a new one is established. It is not yet sure whether agreement on a New Market Mechanism will be reached before 2015 at all.
Meanwhile, other forest policies continued to gather momentum at the Warsaw COP. They are explicitly mentioned in the decision on results-based finance, and influential events like the Global Landscapes Forum showed clear support for holistic, integrated policies that fully take into account the many non-carbon benefits of forests, and the interactions between different types of land use. Here again, the REDD+ mechanism simply does not provide the right incentives for such holistic approaches as its financial incentives target carbon benefits only, with non-carbon benefits being at most something to ‘take into account’ as it is suggested they make the carbon-oriented approach of REDD+ easier to implement. Alternative non-market based approaches like the joint mitigation and adaptation approach proposed by Bolivia seem far more in line with the outcomes of the Global Landscapes Forum, and while these are still to be developed, they could very well provide a better framework to address international drivers of forest loss as well. These approaches also do not pretend to be 100% finance-dependent, which is not unimportant in light of the bleak financial outcomes of Warsaw.
In summary, this pathetic REDD package deal might as well mark the beginning of its end.
Simone Lovera

Brief comments on two recent articles: 1. Editorial: Meeting global challenges in forestry / 2. The World (Fake) Forestry Congress

Here (below) are two articles from the latest FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) ‘Forestry News’ for your interest.

The first article quotes Tiina Vähänen, currently REDD Coordinator at the FAO, and formerly Senior Global Programme Officer at the UN-REDD Programme, who will preside over the World Forestry Congress in 2015. Also see . Though in this short interview, she comes over as somewhat sceptical of the potential of REDD+ to deliver equitable benefits to local communities.

Ms Vähänen states: “Forests and trees are renewable; they can help provide our growing global population with environmentally friendly fuel, fibre, food and plastics, as well as essential ecosystem services.”

However in this context “renewable” most likely refers to the practice of first allowing real forests to be cut or burned down, and then replaced with ‘renewable’ industrial timber or palm oil plantations.

When she refers to “environmentally friendly fuel, fibre, food and plastics”, no doubt this means the mass production of biomass-fuels (wood pellets), wood-pulp fibre for flush-away loo-paper and long-life disposable cellulose fibre nappies, chocolate bars made with palm oil produced from converted tropical forests, and eucalyptus wood fibre made into chemical cellulose (as a form of plastic).

There can be no doubt that “essential ecosystem services” refers simply to the problematic idea that forests and plantations are needed to provide a cheap way to supposedly offset the industrial carbon emissions of dirty polluting industries and transport systems, so that they that can then continue to dominate the global economy, making real energy efficient solutions more difficult to implement.

When she goes on to say: “The planet needs forests”, what is probably meant is that multinational corporations need access to a plentiful and cheap supply of raw materials from massive tree plantations, subsidised by Nature, poor local communities, and future generations.

And finally, when she declares: “Forests need to be conserved and, in many places, expanded, and used sustainably”, the giveaway is the word ‘expanded’. This can only mean that the ‘fake forest’ monoculture model will be used as an alternative to biodiverse real forests and thus allow the displacement of forest-dependent communities through land-grabbing, in order to establish more tree plantations.

The second article is less ambiguous, however a critical issue is the stated objective: “promotes the elaboration and world-wide acceptance of technical standards such as an international forestry terminology…”  This is a key concern as it is the incorrect terminology being touted by FAO that is used by governments and organisations to justify mis-using the word ‘forest’ to describe industrial tree monocultures, and thereby create confusion in peoples’ minds.

The WFC in 2015 will provide an important opportunity to for civil society to expose the true reasons why real forests are being lost, and to highlight the threats posed by monoculture tree plantations.

For any questions, comments, please send an email to:

REDD Fiddlers on a Burning Roof

Before we report on the national workshop on REDD Safeguards Information Systems and Conflict Resolution mechanisms, which took place from 8 to 12 April in Paraguay, let us talk briefly about reality.

Last year, almost 600.000 hectares of forest were lost in the Paraguayan Chaco. This deforestation does not only have devastating impacts on the environment, it threatens the survival of Indigenous Peoples, including in particular the survival of a number of groups of Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation – Paraguay is one of the few countries in the world where peoples in voluntary isolation can still be found. By far the main driver of this environmental disaster is large-scale meat production for export markets, followed by soy production to feed European and Chinese pigs and chickens. Look at you plate today and you will probably see a dish of burned forests.

And please note the majority of deforestation takes place with explicit permission of the Paraguayan State, which continues to hand-out generous licenses for forest conversion accompanied with an environmental impact certificate stating that the impacts are not significant enough to deny a license to burn. Meanwhile, a proposal for a modest tax on soy exports was once again turned down by Paraguayan legislators last week, many of whom are cattle ranchers and/or soy producers themselves.

In the midst of this reality of continuing deforestation with full blessing of the authorities, the Paraguayan government has received a generous 4.7 million USD grant from UN-REDD to make itself ‘ready’ for REDD, an assumed system of payments to ‘compensate’ countries, communities and/or individuals for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Who or what will actually provide the payments is as yet unknown. If (and it is a big if) an agreement on REDD financing is reached, it would be incorporated into the new protocol or other ‘legal outcome’ Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are currently negotiating. The deadline to agree on this outcome is 2015 (but UNFCCC has not exactly build up a great tradition in respecting deadlines) and in the best case scenario that agreement would be ratified and in force by 2020.

As part of the process of becoming ‘ready’ for REDD, Paraguay has to design a so-called ‘Safeguard Information System’ and a ‘conflict resolutions mechanism’. To this aim, a broad range of stakeholders and rightsholders was invited to a 4-day workshop in the capital Asuncion.

The workshop turned out to be more interesting than expected, mainly due to the fact that most participants squarely ignored the official agenda and used the opportunity to talk about the reality of deforestation and Indigenous rights in Paraguay. Many of the invited experts emphasized real life issues in their presentations as well. Victor Illescas from Guatemala for example, who currently serves as Latin American NGO observer to UN-REDD, emphasized during his presentation that real participation meant that people can talk about the issues that really worry them, rather than sticking to the technical issues and terms imposed by UN-REDD. “We see too many workshops in which technicians talk and nobody understands them and they do not even understand the national reality.” He also deplored that there has been a tendency to focus on the financial expectations for REDD, which has caused a lot of tensions, as many people and institutions try to conquer their share of the money.

Happily, during the working groups that followed the presentations, Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants did talk about the national reality in Paraguay. They spoke a language that was different from the technical language used in the presentations and UN-REDD documents. Literally, as the organizers had provided expensive full-time English translation for the two non-Spanish speaking experts that contributed to the workshop, but no translation into the second language of Paraguay, Guarani, which is the first language of most Indigenous and other rural communities. So in Guarani, people explained how their ka’aguy (forest) and y (water) was destroyed by soy plantations and cattle ranching. They talked about the health impacts of climate change, the loss of medicinal plants, traditional knowledge and hunting grounds and the massive land grabbing that is taking place in the country. Even the State itself is involved in land grabbing – despite laws that prohibit the sale of indigenous territories, the National Indigenous Institute has recently been accused of selling away a significant piece of recognized Indigenous territory.

It was pointed out that the famous REDD safeguards are already part of existing laws, but these laws are not respected. There is a culture of lawlessness, impunity and legal insecurity in many parts of the country and the judicial system is totally biased against Indigenous people and small farmers. Under REDD, indigenous people are expected to conserve their forest, but authorities turn a blind eye to the (often foreign) cattle ranchers that destroy massive amounts of forest. The government itself is a cause of many conflicts in the country, they sometimes they declare an area as a natural reserve while at the very same time handing out a license to deforest that area. It was also pointed out that things have gone further backwards since coup d’ etat that was committed in June 2012. Many environmental laws are no longer implemented, or have been replaced by weaker environmental laws (for example in the area of agrochemicals). Several of the processes that had been established by the former Government to ensure improved policy coherence and allow participation of Indigenous Peoples and other rights- and stakeholders in policy-making have been abolished as well.

People pointed out that REDD cannot provide a solution to these structural problems. There has been a tendency, especially amongst Northern institutions and NGOs, to engage in theoretical exercises to invent beautiful standards, safeguards and safeguard information systems for REDD. But most of these norms are already binding law in Paraguay, and those laws are not complied with. Safeguard Information Systems have very little to contribute to a situation in which astonishing corruption scandals and other law violations can be found on the front page of the main newspapers on a daily basis. Likewise, a large number of institutions have responsibilities in the field of conflict resolution, but complaints by Indigenous peoples and small farmers tend to be ignored, and Indigenous Peoples themselves seldom have the capacity to defend their case, There is no need for new mechanisms, but rather for a structural reform of existing mechanisms. Many of these structural problems are rooted in a conflict of cosmovisions. Indigenous people complained that they are constantly visited by technical experts from the capital, or even from abroad, who do not understand the realities they live in, and do not even speak their language. They emphasized that technicians should respect the knowledge and culture of Indigenous Peoples when they consult them.

This gap between UNREDD and reality does not necessarily mean that the 4.7 million destined for REDD readiness in Paraguay has to be wasted. If there would be enough political will, some badly needed reforms and processes could be integrated into the readiness process. For example, as part of the forest inventory process that is mandated by the readiness program, a badly needed Indigenous census and mapping of Indigenous territories could be executed. Existing conflict resolution mechanisms could be reformed and made more accessible for Indigenous and other rural communities, not just in the area of forest policy, but in general. Money could be destined to improve the implementation of existing safeguards through existing mechanisms. But the point is that these reforms should happen now, not when the country is declared “ready” for REDD. A country like Paraguay cannot wait for another 8 years until funding to reduce emissions from deforestation starts to arrive from some miraculous source. And it does not have to wait, as the most important actions to be taken can be financed from the money it has already received.

There are less than 14 million hectares of forest left in the Paraguayan Chaco. If we have to wait until 2020 before action can be undertaken, an estimated 4,8 million hectares of this remaining forest will be lost, while people continue to fiddle about safeguard information systems and conflict resolution mechanisms. Anyone who still believes REDD itself will save Paraguay’s forests, should go back to school and learn basic mathematics…..

Simone Lovera, Sobrevivencia/Friends of the Earth-Paraguay and Global Forest Coalition