The Congo Basin forest is the second largest in the world after the Amazon. It accounts for one quarter of the world’s remaining tropical forest and covers an area of 1.8 million square kilometres. Clearly, whatever comes out of Copenhagen on REDD has to work in the Congo Basin.

Two new reports take a critical look at REDD in the Congo Basin. The first, “Global Climate Politics in the Congo Basin: Unprecedented Opportunity or High-risk Gamble?” is written by Korinna Horta of International Finance, Development and Environment, and published by Heinrich Böll Stiftung. The second, “Why Congo Basin countries stand to lose out from a market based REDD“, is written by Kate Dooley of FERN.


Korinna Horta points out that “REDD opens up political space to address questions of governance, corruption, land tenure, and the rights of indigenous peoples.” But it is essential that REDD actually addresses these problems if it to stand any chance of succeeding.

Horta’s report highlights the role of illegal logging in the Congo Basin:

In the Congo Basin, industrial-scale logging – much of it illegal – and mining operations, often run by rogue groups, are also central to the political and economic structure of several countries and tackling them is a complex social and political task. Weak governance and inefficient institutions combine to ensure that benefits are reaped by small elites and their patrimonial networks. As difficult as it may be, these are the realities REDD will have to face if it is to help protect Congo Basin forests.

The role of the World Bank, through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility is of particular concern, given the Bank’s record in forests and the Democratic Republic of Congo:

A poor World Bank record

The World Bank’s poor record in forest-related lending activities deserves closer examination. An internal evaluation report published in 2007 concluded that the Bank’s current incentive structure, which is targeted at the fast, low-cost processing of projects, does not fit well for forestry projects.[21] Furthermore, the Inspection Panel, a semi-independent accountability structure within the World Bank, investigated World Bank forest-related investments in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2007. Its report concluded that Bank lending had focused on industrial timber production and had largely ignored environmental and socioeconomic issues, including the approximately 40 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who rely on forest resources for their subsistence.[22]

It is unclear what lessons the World Bank is drawing from these critical findings, but learning from previous experiences would obviously be of great benefit to ensuring the effectiveness of REDD. The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. However, the problems encountered in the initial document presented by the Democratic Republic of Congo may not be unique. An analysis carried out by the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC, and the Instituto Centro de Vida in Brazil found that initial REDD documents of individual countries paid little attention to who would benefit from REDD payments and to possible mechanisms to ensure that payments reach intended beneficiaries.[23]

[21] The World Bank, Mid-Term Review of 2002 Forest Strategy, Washington, DC, 2007, p. 50.
[22] The Inspection Panel, Investigation of Forest Sector Operations in DRC, Report No. 40746-ZR, Washington, DC, August 31, 2007.
[23] World Resources Institute and Instituto Centro da Vida, A Review of the First Round of Readiness Plan Idea Notes (R-PINs) From the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, Washington, DC, October 2008.

Last week, the The Rainforest Foundation, Global Witness and Greenpeace wrote to the World Bank criticising its role in the forest sector reform in the Congo.

In her report, FERN’s Kate Dooley looks at the problems associated with setting a baseline for deforestation. In order to sell forest carbon credits, countries have to be able to measure the reduction in emissions and prove that the reductions are greater than would have happened anyway. One way of doing this is to take an average of the previous 10 year’s deforestation. When emissions from forests are below this average, forest carbon credits can be issued. (Deforestation can continue and may even increase year on year – as long as the rate of deforestation is lower than the historical rate, forest carbon credits can be issued).

But what if a country’s deforestation rate is historically low? The Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC) supports using something called a “development adjustment factor” (DAF). COMIFAC (which includes Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo) sees DAF as a way of increasing the baseline so that “forest exploitation development needs can be met in countries with low emissions per capita and low economic development.” Countries will be able to increase deforestation and still receive credits.

“Through the course of the negotiations, countries such as the DRC and Guyana have revealed that their interests in REDD lie in being able to continue to increase logging, with the DRC stating that they will need to use their forest resources for economic development, unless the agreement contains adequate financial compensation. There is huge concern from civil society in Central Africa that REDD will work in favour of industrial logging, resulting in further negative impacts on communities. To avoid this, it will be necessary to design a mechanism flexible enough to protect intact forests in some countries, while reducing deforestation in others – something that trading in emissions reduction credits cannot deliver.”

Dooley points out another problem for COMIFAC countries if REDD is a mechanism financed by carbon trading: risk. Only two per cent of all clean development mechanism investments have gone to Africa and most of that went to South Africa, Dooley notes. If the carbon market funds REDD, the money may simply end up going somewhere else.

“Many of the historical barriers to private sector investment on the African continent remain unchanged. The promise of money from carbon trading may therefore lock many COMIFAC countries into focusing scarce resources into technical measuring and monitoring activities, with the aim of achieving verifiable emission reduction credits. These activities do not directly contribute to forest protection, development goals or an improved investment climate within the country. Improving the investment climate and reducing deforestation both require a focus on improving local and national institutional capacity, which can be defined as transparent and enforceable laws and stakeholder involvement in decision-making processes.”

Which brings us back to Korinna Horta’s point about the need to address questions of governance, corruption, land tenure, and the rights of indigenous peoples. “Unless governments in the region commit to effective reforms,” Horta writes,

“the risks represented by an implementation of REDD include massive land speculation, eviction of indigenous and other forest-dependent populations, loss of traditional knowledge systems, and outright fraud and corruption as vested interests seek to cash in on lucrative carbon deals. Last but not least, there would be further increases in CO2 emissions, as ill-conceived schemes to protect forests are likely to fail.