27 November 2009 | The run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference that kicks off next week in Copenhagen has been anything but smooth – underscoring enduring North-South and transatlantic divides, especially regarding emission-reduction commitments.
Most observers, however, expect Copenhagen to yield some degree of agreement on how best to account for carbon offsets generated through reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) after a series of tedious talks over the past six months. Yet even while REDD advances, some discussion participants continue to raise serious concerns about the social, environmental and equity impacts of a global REDD agenda.
At Copenhagen, CARE International and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) hope to answer these concerns head-on when they present the REDD + Social and Environmental Standards (REDD + SE) at a side event hosted by the government of Nepal. REDD + SE aims to help governments institute equitable REDD programs on a national level.
Begun just this year, the joint CARE/CCBA initiative has also been consulting with a few national governments on testing the standards on a national scale and aims to finalize the new standards in March, 2010.
The REDD + SE Standards build from – and, in fact, resemble – the CCBA's flagship Climate, Community and Biodiversity Project Design Standards (CCB Standards), whose purpose is to secure positive co-benefits for conservation projects.
As REDD scales up, however, governments need guidance on how to equitably conserve forests and other conservation settings on a magnitude for which CCB is not tailored. REDD + SE will try to fill in this gap.
At the same time, conservationists and investors interested in REDD projects have not waited for the national vagaries to be resolved. In fact, REDD advocates have broken ground on many projects since the 2007 Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, and the follow-up 2008 Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland opened the door to REDD credits.
Many believe that that the success or failure of REDD projects will turn on how the co-benefits are addressed, and the CCB Standards are the preeminent measure for these aspects.
The CCB Standards were designed to measure the social and biodiversity impacts of conservation projects with the same vigor that earlier standards set out to measure carbon sequestration. Today, they serve as the template for working social and equity concerns into land-based carbon mitigation projects. In fact, a recent survey
of carbon market buyers and investors indicates that these participants have greater confidence and interest in forest carbon projects that have a CCB label matched with another carbon-focused certificate.
The standards have attracted much attention since Bali, because they can be so readily applied to REDD projects.
"In the last two years, we've seen a rapid uptake of the CCB Standards," says conservation biologist and CCBA director Joanna Durbin, whose conservation experience includes almost 20 years of community conservation and sustainable development in Madagascar.
The CCBA launched the first edition of CCB in 2005, and now it has more than 100 projects in the pipeline. Durbin says more than half of these are REDD-based – although just 13 projects have been fully validated so far, and just three of these are REDD projects.
"Project developers, buyers, and investors use the CCB Standards to demonstrate a high-quality project," she explains. "They haven't just patched together an emissions-reduction project, but have put together a project based on deep knowledge of people and place, ecological knowledge, and strong relationships and partnerships to create a win-win situation that will bring a sustained flow of real benefits."
Sydney, Australia-based investor Brer Adams agrees with Durbin.
He works on carbon-related investments for Macquarie Capital's Utilities and Climate Change Team, and his interest in REDD was spurred on by the creation of the Bali Action Plan, which he feels has boosted the prospect of an eventual compliance market for forest carbon. He says that his investment group's teaming up with the conservation NGO Fauna and Flora International and their joint work bringing CCB Standards into REDD projects has helped quite a bit in appraising REDD investments.
"We bring a due diligence process to understand the drivers of deforestation and what could be achieved to displace these drivers," he says. "CCB Standards are a key part of that due diligence process, right from the start, as they helped us to understand community support for a project."
Adams lists three major reasons why utilizing CCB Standards and certification are so helpful:
"First, it is important to have a good framework for the design of forest-carbon projects right from the start to make sure community and biodiversity impacts are front and center," he says. "Second, as we move to compliance markets for carbon, it makes sense to design projects to meet high international standards in anticipation of what may be required in future markets. Third, we believe that markets will favor projects that have co-benefits, which the CCB process highlights."
The CCB accreditation process is a hefty, multi-step process. Beginning with a project developer's identifying land and coming up with an idea for emissions reductions potential, the CCB process then entails a feasibility study, followed by project design informed by CCB Standards with their specification of climate, community, and biodiversity measuring criteria.
The next step is contracting a CCBA-approved independent auditor, which will then entail community outreach, the auditor's field visit, and then a comment period for the auditor's report. A period of corrections or redesign then occurs, followed by the final CCB statement on conformance. A very important part of the process occurs right before the field visit by the auditor, and that is the requirement for notifying the public for input and comment. For this step, the onus is on the project developer, and Durbin makes clear that the "the CCB Standards require the project developer to publicize the project documents to the local communities and to facilitate their submission of comments to the CCBA and the auditor."
The Juma Sustainable Development Reserve Project in Amazonas, Brazil, is a very vivid example of a CCB REDD-validated project with co-benefits as a design priority. Awarded the CCB Standards highest accreditation, the Gold Rating in 2008, the Juma project will prevent deforestation on approximately 366,000 hectares of tropical rainforest, with an expected mitigation of 3.6 million tons of CO2 emissions from 2006 to 2016, the first crediting period.
According to conservation biologist and Juma project director Gabriel Ribenboim, the Juma Project "has a strong component of local involvement and this is the primary element for the project success." He adds that the CCB Standards have greatly facilitated the project, and the CCB Standards set was chosen "because of its strong focus on quantifying the co-benefits of socio-economic and biodiversity factors."
Administered by the State of Amazonas-supported Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS) and receiving a mix of public and private financial support, the Juma REDD project secures avoided deforestation, carbon mitigation gains, and co-benefits by means of the Bolsa Floresta ecosystem services payment program, a state wide program. In the Juma project, Bolsa Floresta distributes ecosystem services financial payments at the family, association, income, and social level.
The Bolsa Floresta Program offers "a practical way to reward traditional communities for their commitment to zero deforestation and for their roles in the conservation of the flora and fauna, river, lakes and creeks," says Ribenboim. "In each type, there is a beneficiary, a value, a form of payment, and a resource use."
So, for example with the "association" focus, the Balsa Floresta program for the Juma project supports association work on the sustainable marketing of nuts, oils, fish, and seeds from the area. In the social area, the Juma project has led to the purchase or construction of school and teacher housing, health and communication centers, four commercial boats and two saw mills.
With the clear attractions of focusing on REDD co-benefits at the project level, it didn't take long to start looking at these aspects on a national level. In fact it was necessary. Many had deep reservations about the risks of a large scale REDD program, with concerns that a few good projects would not prevent systematic abuse and iniquities as to land use. Even environmental organizations had serious differences as to whether to endorse REDD in the UNFCCC process.
Given all this, the CCBA Alliance joined with CARE International to initiate REDD + SE to help governments set up equitable REDD programs on the national scale. Coming from her experience with the CCB Standards, the CCBA's Durbin, also co-leads the REDD + SE initiative with CARE's Phil Franks.
"We thought it helpful for governments to have a mechanism to help them show that their national level REDD program is following best practices for consultation for forest carbon," Durbin explains. She adds that throughout this REDD + SE process, CCBA and CARE have been very diligent to make the process transparent and bring in many civil society representatives, including from indigenous and local peoples groups and social and environmental NGOS, who have a stake in REDD.
Similar in structure to the CCB Standards, the REDD + SE Standards first lays down overarching principles, followed with more specified directives. The current Draft REDD + Social & Environmental Standards has eight principles, such as "Rights to land, territories, and resources are recognized and respected" (Principle One) and "Biodiversity and ecosystem services are maintained and enhanced"(Principle Five). Each principle is complemented by instructive criteria, and a specific "Framework for indicators" which offers methods for a principle's adherence.
Since its first workshop in Copenhagen in May 2009, the joint CCBA/CARE led initiative has issued two sets of draft principles for comment (with one comment period ending November 30, 2009),and held consultations in Ecuador, Nepal and Tanzania, the countries who will be test cases for the standards on a nationwide basis. After their presentation in Copenhagen on Wednesday December 9, the CCBA/CARE initiative will offer the REDD + SE standards for another comment period. Also, the CCBA/CARE initiative is exploring the possibility of adding two more pilot countries before the standards are finalized, with current finalization goal being March 2010.
While clearly non-binding, the REDD + SE Standards may turn out to be very influential in how nations tailor their REDD programs. "At the moment these are formulated as standards that will be adopted voluntarily by the REDD country," Durbin points out. "At some point they could be adopted or used to inform a regulatory framework."
The REDD + SE Standards and the CCB standards pertain to different scales, and they cover different gaps within the REDD agenda. Certainly with the CCB standards, investors and project developers have already expressed confidence that these standards play an important role in generating the diverse returns that they hope to get from REDD. Similarly, the possibility of carbon mitigating REDD projects undercut by festering problems on the national level points to a crucial role for the REDD + SE Standards.
Although different in scale, the CCB and REDD + SE Standards should intersect in the future as national contexts and individual project fit together. Early on, it is likely that the two standards would synergize attractions, especially for investments. The two standards already independently carry extra promise for securing financing. For example for the REDD + SE Standards, Durbin says that by fostering transparency, attention to rights, and delivering co-benefits, the REDD + SE Standards could attract "international support that might encourage preferential access to funds, premiums for REDD credits that also deliver co-benefits, and even co-financing for the co-benefits."
On the project level, Adams points to the parallel experience of the CDM market.
"What we do know from the CDM market is that the market can be discretionary in what it pays in the carbon market," explains Brer. " We believe that in many cases there will be a bias for projects with additional benefits. As investors in forest carbon, we believe that social and environmental benefits can command a premium."
Beyond the question of premiums, it is clear if there is progress on the national and international questions that pertain to REDD, REDD projects and programs with secure co-benefits look to have a good future. For example, Ribenboim points out that the Bolsa Floresta program has a goal to operate in over 20 protected areas by 2012 with direct benefits for approximately 10,000 families.
"We are committed to show the world that REDD projects are real, measurable and verifiable and fully capable to generate co- benefits for the local community and the environment." Similarly, Adams reflects that "Until now there hasn't been an economic incentive to reduce deforestation. We think that is about to change." Bringing in some in some cross-sector sentiments, Adams adds, after all, "forests are the eco-infrastructure of our planet."
Richard Blaustein is a free-lance journalist based in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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