4 December 2012 | Doha | Qatar | The Democratic Republic of Congo introduced its National REDD+ strategy at climate talks here today (see "DRC REDD Strategy", right), just weeks after heavily-armed insurgents surrounded and stormed the capital of the country’s North Kivu province, sending thousands fleeing into the countryside and putting even more pressure on the fragile ecosystem of the Virunga National Park.
It’s in the turbulent area around Goma that WWF Belgium is launching the Geographically Integrated EcoMakala REDD+ Pilot Project, which aims to protect forestland in part by providing clean cook stoves and planting a buffer of fast-growing trees so that locals can harvest them for charcoal (or “makala” in the local dialect) instead of chopping down the forest.
"We know that 80 percent of the charcoal comes illegally from the park," says Mone Van Geit, WWF Belgium's Project Manager, African Program. "So, if the charcoal from our [plantations] gets on the market, that is avoided deforestation."
It’s an innovative project testing new methods and, if successful, it could be replicated across Africa. Until those methods are tested and refined, however, private-sector investors are reticent about putting money on the line. That’s where the Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF) comes in.
Funded jointly by Norway and the United Kingdom, the CBFF aims to both alleviate poverty and address climate change by “reducing and eventually reversing the rate of deforestation in the Congo Basin forests.” It was established in the spring of 2008 with an endowment of £100 million – half from the UK and half from Norway. Fourteen percent of its portfolio currently goes to REDD projects, and the REDD+ phase of EcoMakala is being funded by a €2.5 million grant from the CBFF.
Administered jointly by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank and the United Nations, the CBFF is one of the few initiatives that is actually delivering on its promises, albeit slower than many had hoped, according to Forest Trends’ REDD+ Expenditures Tracking Project, which is tracking REDD+ commitments to 13 countries around the world.
For the AfDB, the REDD initiatives are a way to pilot both new REDD methodologies and new administrative procedures for overseeing them.
“The inclusion of REDD projects in the Bank’s portfolio will enable its technical staff to enhance their knowledge in new areas such as community forestry and REDD in moist dense forest,” reads an early AfDB assessment report.
Already, the program has yielded hard lessons on the challenge of administering community forestry programs, which is proving to be something like herding cats.
“(The Bank is) a big organization, and their processes are meant for projects worth $100 to $500 million," says Bruno Hugel, the first project manager for EcoMakala who now works as a Kinshasa-based Technical Advisor for DRC's REDD Coordination Nationale. "Applying those procedures to small projects is very difficult for them."
After initially stumbling, the Bank streamlined its procedures, but is now working through a backlog of more than 30 small forestry projects scattered across the country. EcoMakala, as a result, is more than a year behind schedule, and that means key milestones necessary to advance the project have not occurred. A biomass map and a system for identifying and tracking carbon stock, expected to be completed by the end of this year, have not yet started; an established and validated "base case" necessary for the eventual generation of carbon credits also missed its original 2012 deadline.
The CBFF, too, has faced challenges in administering so many small projects. Of the $103 million pounds pledged and funded to the CBFF, just $7 million had been disbursed as of July 2011.
The issue came to a head as far back as February 2011, when outside agents were brought in to advise the CBFF Secretariat on decisions about the fund portfolio. At the time a "fund management agent" –– comprised of both Pricewaterhouse Coopers and the Dutch Development Agency (SNV) –– was appointed with the approval of the UK and Norway, to assist the CBFF with the administration and oversight of projects under €2.5 million.
But as recently as August 2012 the CBFF conceded in a performance report that "...disbursement procedures are still tricky for some beneficiaries and something needs to be done in order to solve this issue." CBFF donors Norway and the UK have made a total of three visits to the CBFF's Tunis offices in the last two years to "...identify bottlenecks and solutions...to improve the performance of the CBFF portfolio," according to the fund’s performance report.
Both the CBFF and the Bank say they’ve learned from the early setbacks, and projects are moving forward.
“We hope the project will get started in the next couple of months,” says Van Geit, “but we're not sure exactly when yet.”
Goma lies along the border with Rwanda – a flashpoint in numerous insurgencies since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It is also DRC's most populous region and home to the 7800 square km Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and crown jewel in a vast tropical rainforest spanning 1.6 million square km of the Congo Basin. The park spans six countries, and is a last respite for numerous endemic species including the Mountain gorilla.
The Virunga rainforests are the planet's second largest remaining tropical rainforests after the Amazon, supporting at least 40 million people; the DRC accounts for over 60 percent of what's left. Protecting the Congo Basin rainforest has become both a local and international priority, as countries like the DRC work to develop REDD+ capacity and pilot projects on the ground.
EcoMakala is coming in two phases. The initial phase of the project began in 2007 with a vision of reducing deforestation in the Virunga Park by creating 1000 hectares of “micro-forest plantations” on private land outside of the park boundaries. Small plot farmers, organized by local farmer associations, were enlisted to grow super fast-growing perennial tree species like eucalyptus, which are ideal for making charcoal. Not only would the plantations create a self-sustaining market for charcoal, enriching the small farmers and protecting the park, but the project would also distribute 4000 clean-burning stoves serving at least 20,000 people.
This phase was funded with €2.4 million from the EU, including multiple smaller contributions from WWF Belgium and others, and a second infusion of €1.9 million from the International Fertilizer Development Centre and the Dutch Cooperation Agency. Between 2007 and 2012, this combined funding allowed EcoMakala to realize 5000 hectares of new plantations.
The second phase is the one the CBFF is funding, and it's a more formalized REDD+ initiative that involves extensive education campaigns to educate people on the value of the forest and the concept of ecosystem services, and the creation of a detailed measurement of carbon stocks, as well as the testing of other methodologies that could be part of a carbon offset program in the future.
Both Norway and the UK have input into how the CBFF operates: the CBFF is managed by a Secretariat at the African Development Bank, with support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). A Governing Council includes representatives from DRC civil society, the Convergence Plan of the Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC) and both the UK and Norwegian governments.
Funds will flow from the CBFF to the African Development Bank, to be transferred to a bank account accessible by the DRC's Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation & Tourism. The money will then be directly transferred to the project participants.
The Norwegian funds that reach the CBFF originate from the Government of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI).
In December 2007 Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg launched the NICFI, which pledged up to $500 million US per year to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.
In addition to pledging billions to forests in Brazil, Indonesia and Guyana, the NICFI is providing funds supporting REDD methodology development and pilot projects to multilateral institutions like the UN-REDD Programme, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the Forest Investment Program and the Congo Basin Forest Fund.
A spokesperson for the Norwegian Ministry of Environment told Ecosystem Marketplace that REDD+ pilot projects supported by Norway are "mainly supported" through the Congo Basin Forest Fund, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad)'s Climate and Forest Funding Scheme for Civil Society, and the Norwegian embassy in Tanzania.
The UK's support for Congo Basin forests dates back to at least March 2007, when the government pledged 50 million pounds for “sustainable management” in the Congo Basin to a special fund that would be officially launched as the CBFF in 2008.
This initial pledge came from a UK government fund that evolved into the International Climate Fund (ICF) in 2011, which is now the primary channel of UK climate change finance. It has been created to help developing nations adapt to climate change, tackle deforestation and kick start low carbon growth.
The ICF's latest implementation plan shows a commitment to disburse 2.9 billion pounds of "official development assistance" to the ICF for the period 2011/12-2014/15. Funding for "forest finance" – 100 million pounds – will originate from the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
"REDD+ is one of the priorities for the ICF, so a significant portion of the ICF is expected to be made available to support REDD+ activity in forest nations," reads a July 2011 UK government-commissioned review of the country's current and future REDD funding efforts.
In addition to funding projects through the CBFF, the UK currently supports the REDD+ process in DRC through the World Bank-administered Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and the Forest Investment Program.
In addition to government and non-government projects funded through the CBFF, Hugel says there are also DRC REDD projects developed and led by conservation NGOs and the private sector, although the government has been cautious with such projects.
"We need to develop the framework where we can control the kind of project developers and projects selected, because if bad developers mess up, this can endanger the whole international process and credibility of REDD+."
To weed out the bad players and address concerns about corruption and money laundering – two issues that are very real in the DRC – a National REDD+ registry will be online by mid-2013. The registry will post the details of project approvals, and will eventually include on-the-ground info from approved carbon offset projects. "We have a strict understanding that a project that has not been validated or approved by government with all info provided, will not be allowed to get carbon credits in DRC."
Some say much more fundamental issues need to be addressed before DRC can ponder the sale of carbon offsets from REDD+. Baudouin Michel, Director of the University of Kinshasa's ERAIFT (a postgraduate tropical forest management program launched by UNESCO), says the DRC has virtually no policies to support rural development or agriculture for poor farmers. The DRC currently invests just one percent of its budget on agriculture and rural development, and it needs to address this deficiency before anything else.
"If you're putting only one percent of your total budget into supporting 80 percent of the national population, that's not a clear commitment from government," says Michel. "Without clear policy supporting the small rural [farmers] in the field, you will never have the impact of REDD on deforestation going down. It's impossible."
As the insurgency continues, Van Geit and her WWF Belgium colleagues are busy working on a project design document for EcoMakala, and will apply for carbon finance through the afforestation/reforestation Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol.
Meanwhile in the northeast of DRC, the rebel group known as M-23 continues to hold Goma in defiance of both the international community and DRC government forces.
Hugel, who started the EcoMakala project, says the first phase has gotten remarkable results in spite of repeated insurgencies over the last five years. As the project leader based in Goma from 2006 to 2010, he had to evacuate the city three separate times, including one instance when a different rebel group encircled Goma (on this occasion, they did not attack).
EcoMakala has continued to function, he says, because the conflicts are often isolated to specific areas, while the project is dispersed across a wide area – the thousands of plantations average just one square hectare in size, so even if fighting limits access in one area, the project continues elsewhere.
"It's been very important to spread our activities and spread the risk," he says. "We were still able to have thousands of planters and over 4000 hectares of tree plantations, all with a very strong monitoring system, which is impressive in this context of conflict."