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LESSONS FROM REDD: PERMANENCE AND SOCIAL SAFEGUARDS

REDD+ projects face heightened contention due to the inherent challenge of safeguarding forests and of the delicate navigation of tensions of land usage with neighboring communities.

  1. Retaining oil in the ground is not susceptible to natural risks reversals and yields a more enduring positive impact on the climate.

2.   Unlike forests, local populations do not derive benefits from oil reserves, and leaving it                      untapped in the ground is often a favorable action on their behalf.

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ANTICIPATED BUT UNDERESTIMATED RISKS OF REVERSAL IN REDD+

Forest carbon durability, often referred to as permanence, is a crucial factor influencing the quality and effectiveness of REDD+ initiatives. It denotes a forest's capacity to maintain its carbon stocks over an extended period, and the success of REDD+ relies heavily on achieving this permanence. 

Indeed, the positive impact on climate can be compromised if a protected forest faces the risk of carbon release within a short time-frame. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the escalating frequency of disturbance events such as wildfires, pest infestations, storms, heat stress, and droughts, all of which are on the rise due to climate change.

To mitigate the risk of carbon stock reversal in forest carbon crediting projects, an insurance buffer pool is established. A predetermined percentage of verified reductions is set aside in this buffer pool. In case of a reversal during the project's lifespan, credits equivalent to the reversed amount are retired from the buffer pool, and the project is required to replenish them. Upon completion of the project's last crediting period, any remaining buffer pool credits are retired to cover potential future reversal risks.

 

This buffer is a loss of potential revenue and Haya et al. 2023 has shown that project developers tend to minimize the risk of reversal on all three distinct categories to sell more credits:

1.    Natural Risks: This includes factors such as fire, pests, extreme weather events, geological risks, and other natural challenges.

 

Project developers generally rated natural risks as very low, with a mean rating of 2% for all combined risks over a 100-year period, and 12% of projects reported no natural risks.​

2.     External Risks: Related to the human context of the project, encompassing aspects like land tenure, stakeholder engagement, and political risks.

 

While 72% of projects reported zero external risks, the remaining projects reported very low external risks, with an average rating of 2%. However, concerns persist regarding the accuracy of these ratings, especially considering the common challenges of political instability and land tenure in the regions where REDD+ projects are situated.

3.       Internal Risks: Pertaining to factors within the project's control, such as management, finances, and project duration.

 

One-third of the projects reported either no risk or mitigating ratings for internal risks. A notable contradiction arises between the reported low risk of reversal in buffer pool calculations and the reported deforestation baselines. These baselines indicate a high risk of deforestation unless proactive REDD+ measures are implemented. If projects assert durability over time with minimal risk of reversal, this suggests a parallel low risk of deforestation, challenging the credibility of credited avoided forest conversion.

To address this contradiction and encourage more conservative estimates to prompt project developers to exercise greater scrutiny when assessing risks associated with forest carbon permanence.

Moreover, it is essential to recognize that the lifetime of carbon storage in forests should not be equated with the lifetime of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. Therefore, using forest carbon storage as an equivalent offset for fossil fuel emissions is not scientifically sound.

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SOCIAL SAFEGUARDS MAY NOT FULLY PREVENT INHERENT LAND USAGE CONFLICTS

Social safeguards, comprising a framework of social and environmental standards, are designed to prevent harm to local and Indigenous communities and the surrounding ecosystem in project activities. While these measures aim to enhance the well-being of forest communities by introducing new revenue streams and supporting sustainable livelihoods, they also introduce notable risks.

One prevalent method employed by many projects involves restricting smallholders' access to forest resources. Unfortunately, this approach often disproportionately affects vulnerable and marginalized populations, who heavily depend on the forest for subsistence.

 

In extreme cases, REDD+ initiatives have resulted in forced evictions from forests and human rights violations. Complicating matters further, land tenure is frequently contested in tropical forest regions, and Indigenous customary land rights often lack recognition and protection.

 

Haya et al. 2023 analysis found that project descriptions and monitoring reports contained incomplete, outdated, or inaccurate information, and developers treated crucial requirements, such as consultations, as mere check-box activities, demonstrating a profound misunderstanding of the depth a consultation process should entail.

The pivotal role of independent auditors in ensuring developers adhere to safeguard policies and remain accountable is evident. However, evidence has shown that auditors often fail to ensure clear and accurate documentation of how developers meet basic safeguard requirements. 

The incentive structure within private carbon markets, coupled with the ostensibly independent third-party verification system, poses challenges to effective implementation. Regrettably, the incentives for independent auditors align more with the interests of external project developers and even the registry, creating a conflict where financial gains are tied to an increase in projects and credits.

To rectify these shortcomings, there is a pressing need for an independent accountability mechanism that is accessible, predictable, transparent, and aligned with rights, ensuring affected communities have a recourse avenue. Importantly, any project affecting forest communities should be collaboratively designed with or by these communities, respecting their right to self-determination and ensuring their control over decision-making processes.

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