Durban blog: Fraud and the forests

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Jane Burston of Carbon Retirement hears how corruption is limiting forest protection and monitoring activities

REDD, the mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, has been one of the areas in which considerable progress has been made over the past two years. In 2010 alone, Norway committed US$21.7m of bilateral funds to Indonesia for forest protection, and at COP16 in Cancun, parties officially agreed to establish the REDD+ mechanism.

Today at COP17, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Global Witness gave delegates an insight into how these funds and agreements were translating into progress on the ground.

Both agencies claim that corruption is affecting forest protection and monitoring activities on a grand scale.

Illegal logging activities is regularly signed off by local government officials and enforcement agencies tasked with monitoring of REDD activity. When the Peruvian government investigated the reality behind forest monitoring documents, they found that every single document reviewed had been falsified.

Andrea Johnson, Director of Forest Campaigns at the EIA, said, "Law enforcement and anti corruption activities are essential to successful and equitable efforts to reduce deforestation and degradation. [Enforcement and anti-corruption] institutions and activities have not been included sufficiently in REDD governance and readiness discussions."

This throws up huge questions about the process for funding, monitoring and generating carbon credits from REDD activity. REDD financing operates within ‘the application of the existing legal framework'. But what happens if there isn't one, or if it isn't being effectively applied?

Concerns about REDD are shared by international enforcement and crime agencies. As the mechanism was coming to the fore late in 2009, Peter Younger, Environmental Crime Specialist at Interpol, said that, "Alarm bells are ringing. [REDD] is simply too big to monitor. The potential for criminality is vast and has not been taken into account by the people who set it up."

A new report from Global Witness, an NGO which highlights the links between environmental exploitation and human rights abuses, suggests starting with the basics.

The report, ‘Forest Carbon, Cash and Crime', recommends installing, "clear and effective safeguards to ensure transparent financial flows...and for donors to provide financial and technical support to recipient countries to improve governance as preparation for REDD+."

Other actions necessary to stop land grabs from and human rights abuses of communities living in and around forests include land tenure reform, support for communities making legal claims to land and providing independent support for conflict resolution between different stakeholders.

Whether these issues will be acknowledged in the negotiations is an open question. There is a fine balance between addressing the real issues and seeming to accuse developing countries of endorsing corporate corruption and being - at best - ineffective at law enforcement.

Supporting developing countries to implement democratic and effective governance practices is surely a no brainer. It can only be beneficial for societies and future generations, regardless of the outcomes for REDD.

Jane Burston is founder and director of offsetting company Carbon Retirement

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