Editor’s Preface: The following post is the second of several posts that will appear in ClimateEthics.org focused on deforestation, climate change, and ethics. See, Uncertainty and REDD: an Ethical Approach to this Nagging Problem. http://climateethics.org/?p=95 Because of the large contribution to climate change from deforestation activities, the Bali Road Map adopted at COP-13 in Bali Indonesia by the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) made deforestation an important element in the international community’s strategy to reduce climate change’s threat. It is widely believed that deforestation programs will be an important element in a new regime under the UNFCCC that will replace the Kyoto Protocol. Yet deforestation programs raise a host of ethical issues that ClimateEthics.org will explore in the months ahead.
The Bali roadmap recognizes “that reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries can produce co-benefits and may complement the aims of other objectives...” By focusing on slowing deforestation rates there is an opportunity to combine the goal of reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions with the goals of preserving biodiversity and, possibly, lessening poverty. However, the agenda also recognizes the complexity of realizing the opportunity for co-benefits, “[due to] different national circumstances and the multiple drivers of deforestation and forest degradation.”
The opportunity for coordinating goals and realizing co-benefits creates a difficult challenge for policymakers. As has been widely noted, if reduction of GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) is not ethically and intelligently implemented, these efforts might do more harm than good. As one commentator remarks, if REDD is well designed it may not only secure carbon, “but present a global opportunity to address some underlying causes of poverty and conflict in developing countries… If it is poorly devised it could make things worse.” Activists are warning that an unintended side effect of REDD could be to intensify injustices and human rights abuses among indigenous forest communities. In these brief remarks I will provide an ethical context for policymakers, focus on one aspect of REDD that could be the source of several ethical problems, and end with a perhaps naïve, but ethically sound, suggestion.
II. A Few Ethical Issues Raised By REDD
The ethical framework for these remarks begins with the notion of practical wisdom. The central idea behind practical wisdom is the ability to select morally worthy ends and to discern ethical and effective means to achieve them. It is not enough to identify good ends, such as keeping carbon sequestered in forests and preserving biodiversity, but to use ethical means to achieve those goals. Wisdom requires more than efficiency and expedience. The REDD proposal will require practical wisdom.
In studying REDD, the plan to use the criterion of “additonality” gives raise to several ethical questions. On the face of things this condition is merely common sense. It requires the inclusion of only forests that are targeted for deforestation, allowing developing countries to sell carbon credits gained by reducing their deforestation rates against a baseline deforestation rate (Richards and Jenkins). This insures that carbon payments are additional benefits by excluding forests that would store carbon without these payments. However, many critics and commentators note that this approach raises a number of ethical issues.
First, some suggest that basing credits on historical deforestation rates could create short-term increases in deforestation rates. The worry is countries and groups of people with low deforestation rates would see this as an incentive to increase deforestation in order to establish a higher baseline rate.
Second, using baseline deforestation rates rewards countries with high deforestation rates over those with low deforestation rates. Countries like Costa Rica that have relatively low rates of deforestation would receive fewer benefits than a country that is currently mismanaging its forests. It is possible that REDD would favor countries that practice unethical and unsustainable forestry. While this may provide an incentive to adopt better practices, this approach does raise ethical questions of fairness.
Third, in a similar way, it’s possible that REDD could advantage developers who are currently acting unethically. As has been pointed out, “the danger is that the main ‘winners’ could turn out to be would-be developers and degraders… rather than forest conserving communities (Richards and Jenkins).” Large developers who are currently violating existing laws could see carbon payments as an opportunity for profits. This creates a situation where people are getting paid for what they should be doing in the first place. Further, in some countries with high deforestation rates wealthy, questionable developers are well-placed to take advantage of poor REDD governance. It seems dubious to pay people to stop practices that are outlawed or unethical.
Finally, activists are concerned that locking up forests as carbon reserves could promote injustices by excluding poor groups from protected areas. The ethical concern is the goal of reducing deforestation for carbon storage will conflict with the goals of increasing the right of indigenous forest dwellers and reducing poverty among these groups. Some rights groups “fear that the [governments] will only increase control on forests at the expense of community forestry, notably by implementing stronger conservation principles that could exclude local population from fortress forests perceived as money-making carbon reserves (Karsenty, et al.)
Fixes to the above unintended consequences have been proposed through capacity building and stronger enforcement mechanisms, and might be largely avoided. However, these ethical issues are in some sense consequences of the criterion of additionality and establishing carbon credits by baseline deforestation rates. It may be naïve to suggest, but a more ethical approach would focus on just and sustainable forest management practices, rather than on historical deforestation rates. Rewarding sustainable forestry practices that promote carbon storage, biodiversity and just and effective forest governance would better coordinate these various goals. Forests embody a diversity of values. A practically wise course of action would be able to coordination these many values while minimizing conflicts.
Dane Scott, PhD
Director, Center For Ethics, University of Montana, Missoula
Associate Professor, Department of Society and Conservation
Karsenty, et al., “Summary of the Proceeding of the International Workshop, “The International Regime, Avoiding Deforestation and the Evolution of Public and Private Polices Towards Forests in Developing Countries,” The International Forestry Review, Vol. 10 (3), 2008.
Michael Richards and Michael Jenkins, “Potential and Challenges of Payments for Ecosystem Services from Tropical Forests,” Forestry Briefing 16, December 2007, Forest Policy and Environmental Programs
Michael Richards, “REDD, the Last Chance for Tropical Forests?”
Frances Seymour, "Forests, Climate Change, and Human Rights: Managing Risk and Trade-off" October 2008 Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia