A newspaper article was recently brought to my attention. It is a well-researched critique of a conservation project in Kenya that threatens the forced eviction of 15,000 indigenous people from their ancestral forested homeland – the Sengwer of the Cherangy Hills. If you know anything about Carbon Tanzania you would know that the mention of “indigenous people” and “forested homeland” makes us sit up and take notice.

The article describes a forest conservation programme that represents the “flawed approach to conservation” of international agencies. The programme is funded by the World Bank’s Natural Resource Management Programme, and uses a mechanism known as REDD to achieve its goals. The article further goes on to identify this mechanism as promoting large-scale “carbon grabs” by foreign governments and investors, citing another report from the Rights and Resources Institute. The final nail is driven home as the article states that, while REDD is meant to provide a way for companies in the developed world to invest in reducing emissions caused by deforestation through the purchase of carbon credits, the reality is that REDD schemes simply allow companies to accelerate pollution while acquiring land in the developing world at bargain prices.

Since Carbon Tanzania’s projects, and our overarching approach to forest conservation, are based on the REDD mechanism, this is a pretty serious charge card to answer, but one that I want to explore in this blog.

REDD stands for “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” and has been included in the recent Paris Agreement as a way for forest nations to contribute to reducing carbon emissions. It is not owned by anyone or any organisation, nor is it an organisation in or of itself. It is not a legal instrument, nor does it have globally agreed, consistent guidelines or methodologies. It is not a United Nations invented programme, although the United Nations have their own REDD programme which may one day become a global standard.

REDD is simply an approach to forest conservation that links the protection of forest resources to the reduction of carbon emissions. It requires the assessment of forests for their carbon stocks, and demands that the amount of carbon emissions prevented thanks to REDD activities be paid for proportionally by companies and individuals who are responsible for adding carbon emissions to the global account in their lives and business operations.

As such it is only a system, in the same way that democracy is a system, owned by no one, designed by no one state or organization, but used by various governments and people. And as such it can be deployed in many different ways, sometimes effectively, fairly and to the benefit of all, sometimes poorly, inequitably and with scant regard for human rights.

Carbon Tanzania implements REDD projects in a way that ensures all the criticisms leveled in the article are fully addressed.

  1. “REDD is a flawed approach to conservation”. It is when community rights are not placed at the centre of the project and its activities. Our projects are only possible when the forest resources that we aim to protect are owned wholly by the community with whom we work.
  2. “REDD promotes “carbon grabs” by foreign governments and investors”. When local communities own the land on which forest conservation activities are planned, no alienation is possible, either by investors or governments.
  3. “REDD carbon credits simply provide a way for companies to pay to pollute”. They can, unless the project developer takes the time to engage with its buyers to ensure that the company or individual buying the credits goes through a process of analyzing their emissions, measuring them, reducing them where possible and internalizing carbon reduction in their operations. Also all genuine carbon offsets are certified by an internationally recognized, scientifically founded verifying organization who ensure that the offsets are real, measurable and deliver genuine livelihood benefits to the participating communities.

If you want to tell whether carbon credits are genuine or not, a recent article in Eco-Business summarises the issue neatly.

Written by Carbon Tanzania Co-founder Jo Anderson