Who will, and who should be allowed to, fund COP26’s zero-deforestation promises?

In case you didn’t notice, COP26 started on Monday in Glasgow. The big news on Tuesday was that world leaders who had gathered together for the summit promised to end deforestation by 2030. This was the first big headline announcement from the meeting, and, setting aside the natural scepticism that accompanies these grandiose statements, it is a hugely positive message for the conference to be sending out to the world. The UK’s Prime Minister said all the right things, speaking about how investing in nature is an opportunity rather than a problem, and David Attenborough, directly addressing the delegates, yet again emphasised the need to secure a healthy, functioning planet for the generations to come.

Finance for zero deforestation projects

This is all music to my ears, and to all of us at Carbon Tanzania. Our primary mission is to make nature genuinely valuable to the people who bear the bulk of the cost of protecting and managing it, and a critical outcome of our current projects is the prevention of deforestation. The long-term finance for this relies on the link between protecting high biodiversity value natural forests and the mitigation of climate impacts, measured in carbon credits that represent the avoidance of emissions that occur when forests are cleared or degraded. When the forests in question are managed by local communities who have secure tenure and management rights over their land, the socio-economic benefits enjoyed are significant, measurable and transformative, creating the kind of nature-based economy that the world is increasingly demanding.

Carbon credits

And so it was that a few weeks ago I published an article in response to a call by Amazon Watch and a group of over 170 organisations to “ban carbon offsets” on the basis that “offsets don’t stop climate change”. The statement from these erudite, often long-established and respected organisations is hard to argue against, and highlights how specifically nature-based offsets (those created through changes in land use and through forest conservation, restoration and planting practices) can lead to social and environmental injustice, the violation of tribal and indigenous peoples’ rights, and allow unethical financial profiteering by derivatives traders and speculators. Alongside these critiques of the carbon credits themselves is the accusation that allowing the primary producers of fossil fuels, big oil and gas companies, to purchase carbon credits as part of meeting much-publicised “net-zero” goals actually leads to more emissions being released into the atmosphere as these companies can then actively avoid decarbonising their business models.

But there are many carbon credit projects out there that are based on well implemented forest conservation activities that can currently be “verified” by international third party auditors against scientific standards as creating carbon credits. Most of these projects rely on recurring revenues from the sale of these carbon credits. Since right now the serious buyers coming to the table are often big oil and gas companies, the question arises as to who then should be “allowed” to fund effective forest conservation?

deforested hills

Should oil companies be allowed to pay for forest protection?

I for one would love to have the privilege and comfort to be able to reject such offers of long-term, robust revenues which generate funds for forest communities and allow them to improve their livelihoods, but until other sources of funds step forward this is often the only option for a carbon project developer and the communities who are protecting the forests on the ground. No one wants to see these companies, who have pumped millions of dollars into climate denialism, funded lobbyists and think tanks that have sown doubt about the science behind the problem for decades, and continue to run enormous PR campaigns designed to convince the public that they now have green credentials because they are investing less than 3% of their capital flows into renewable energy or nature-based projects, to be let off the hook for their critical part in creating the issue. There are economic means of sanction available to world leaders who really want to incentivise these companies to genuinely put in place plans to decarbonise their businesses, including ending fossil fuel subsidies and setting fair international trade rules that penalise carbon intense products.

We follow the simple principle that companies can purchase our offsets if they have 1) measured their emissions according to international standards, and have 2) practically begun to reduce these emissions throughout their business operations. In an imperfect world, this is our imperfect solution to creating value in nature conservation efforts.

So with the call to halt deforestation by 2030 ringing in our ears, the question remains of who will be allowed to pay for the successful actions that have already been developed and that are already preventing deforestation, conserving important biodiversity and creating genuine nature-based economies for communities across the world?

Written by Jo Anderson – Director of Finance and Sales


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