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Research into Mai Ndombe REDD+ Programme Shows How Forest Carbon Offsets Fail to Reduce Deforestation and Come at a Human Cost

16 December 2020

A new study published today by Action pour la promotion et protection des peoples et espèces menacées (APEM) and the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) finds that one of the world’s highest profile emissions reductions programmes is failing to uphold social safeguards, deliver local benefits, or prevent deforestation.

The Mai Ndombe jurisdictional REDD+ programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been heralded as an exemplar of forest protection, attracting well over 90 million USD of investment over the past decade. It aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation mainly by encouraging subsistence farmers to adopt ‘forest-friendly’ livelihoods, including through results-based payments and generating carbon offsets.

However, a participatory research project into local perceptions of the programme found that it is performing well below expectations in terms of benefit-sharing, consultation, treatment of land rights and the application of REDD+ safeguards.

Bolukluki (meaning ‘to search’ in Lingala) is a team of trained local civil society observers who over the course of two years visited 26 villages and surveyed over 400 individuals inside two of Mai Ndombe’s highest profile projects: the PIREDD Plateau managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the private Wildlife Works Carbon (WWC) REDD+ concession. The results, compiled in the report ‘REDD Minus: The Rhetoric and Reality of the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Programme’, show that:

  • The projects did not obtain the free, prior and informed consent of local people.
  • There is a shockingly low level of inclusion and ownership in communities supposed to be implementing REDD+ activities, particularly among women.
  • Most of the promised benefits have either still not been delivered or communities are dissatisfied with their implementation.
  • There is insufficient effort to clarify and strengthen land tenure security of local communities, leaving them vulnerable to land speculation and migration.
  • There is no functioning grievance mechanism in place.
  • The interventions appear to have little impact on reducing deforestation and degradation, and in some cases even catalysed forest loss.

The findings come at a pivotal moment in global efforts to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies next year with the post-2020 global biodiversity framework set to be agreed and countries expected to ramp up their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Climate Accord in the run up to COP 26 in Glasgow next year.

Yet there is a growing disconnect between the scepticism of those with first-hand experience of such REDD+ programmes on the ground and the enthusiasm of international institutions and corporations for REDD+ and other so-called nature-based solutions, including to count towards their net-zero carbon commitments.

The World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility has now signed Emission Reductions Payment Agreements, including for Mai Ndombe, totalling over 450 million USD with governments in eight countries and is seeking to supply carbon offsets to the aviation industry’s offsetting scheme (CORSIA). Oil and gas firms are lining up to announce their own nature-based offset schemes.

Joe Eisen, RFUK Executive Director, said, “The sobering findings from Mai Ndombe sound an ominous warning of the risks that poorly designed offset projects pose for the climate and forest-dependent peoples. Unless policy makers urgently review the suitability of these schemes to deliver low-cost, socially equitable and verifiable emissions reductions, we risk losing another decade of action on forests and climate that we can ill afford.”

To view the study, click here.

The French version will be available shortly.

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