The world may be close to clinching a deal to pay poor nations to preserve their forests, but the current plan lacks any monitoring to ensure billions of dollars are not lost to corruption, a new study released by the UK-based campaign group Global Witness warns.
If the scheme is adopted with no rules to ward off carbon crime, then it "will fail," said Rosalind Reeve, Global Witness forest campaign manager.
The forest text is expected to be finalized by the end of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in Copenhagen on Dec. 18. The chances of monitoring provisions getting in are 50:50, Reeve told SolveClimate in an interview.
Rather than accept the deal as is, it "would be better to agree on further talks to come up with an effective monitoring framework," she said.
Under the scheme on reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), rich countries would reward poor ones for not razing their carbon-absorbing forests.
However, most of the nations eligible for REDD money rank as some of the most corrupt on the planet, with forest law enforcement almost non existent.
"The elite will be creaming off the money and it will not get down to the local level," Reeve said.
Each year, the world's forests suck up billions of metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Deforestation is responsible for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN figures. As part of the Bali Action Plan in 2007, governments agreed to add forest preservation to a broader global warming treaty.
As climate talks have stuttered and sputtered over the past two years, forestry has long been seen as the silver lining in the dark cloud hovering over progress. In Copenhagen, a final REDD agreement is expected to be one of the few tangible outcomes to emerge.
The devil will be in the details, warned Reeve.
"We're seeing excitement in the media about forest protection in the climate treaty," she said. But "if the UN implements a treaty without the rules and monitoring needed ... REDD will be a disaster."
The Global Witness report, "Building Confidence in REDD: Monitoring Beyond Carbon," squarely blames the UNFCCC for failing to come up with effective monitoring.
Specifically, the report says the climate convention is lagging behind two other efforts that are likewise laying the groundwork for a workable way to save the forests but are doing a better job. These initiatives — the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and UN-REDD, a project of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the UNEP and the UNDP — are already adding monitoring rules to combat corruption in their respective country-level projects.
All three programs will have to work together one day for REDD to work. The UNFCCC is especially vital. It must deliver the legal framework under which the whole scheme can be implemented.
The concern now is that if the UNFCCC leaves out monitoring, then the World Bank and UN-REDD programs may follow suit. This would roll back progress in those two channels and sabotage forest protection overall, the report says.
A new attempt is also under way in Copenhagen to put all the institutions under UNFCCC control, a move frowned upon by Global Witness.
In a separate warning shot, forest and climate experts of the 10-group Ecosystems Climate Alliance (ECA) said on Monday that without enforcement, REDD "will threaten rather than preserve" the integrity of the world's remaining forests.
REDD negotiators have other flaws to contend with as well, ECA said, namely the "conversion safeguard."
Previous REDD drafts contained explicit language to prevent nations from razing natural forests to grow palm oil plantations in their place. The safeguard language was stuffed between square brackets. This means it was up for debate and could be sliced out at will, which is what happened on the last day of the Bangkok climate talks in September.
At the November climate talks in Barcelona, governments reinserted the safeguard but in a weaker form.
In Copenhagen, forest advocates will be sounding the alarm over the importance of improving the safeguard. The groups will also be getting vocal over the general lack of ambition in the world's climate pledges.
Bill Barclay of Rainforest Action Network, one of the NGOs that make up ECA, gave a preview: "REDD only works as part of a comprehensive climate deal."
"We must save forests to save the climate, but saving forests alone will not prevent dangerous climate change," he added.
"To be successful, REDD must actually save forests, which means strong safeguard language and an overall climate change treaty that avoids massive die-off of forests due to warming temperatures — a tipping point widely agreed to be probable if temperatures climb two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels."