Many developing countries with significant forest cover are waiting with bated breath for the climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December. They will be trying to push for the inclusion of the REDD (Reduction of Emissions of Deforestation and Degradation) scheme into the new climate framework. This would mean that developed countries will pay them for ‘avoided deforesation’ and in exchange will be entitled to forest carbon credits to offset their emissions at home. Tropical forests are saved, global emissions fall, emission targets are met and guilt consciences assuaged. Everyone is a winner. Or so it seems…

A major spanner is this dream sequence is Brazil, the ‘Saudi Arabia of green assets’. Its President Lula, has announced an ambitious commitment to reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 70% over a 10 year period (2006-2017). To pay for this, Brazil has set up the Amazon Fund, which seeks funding to the tune of $ 21 billion from developed countries. So what’s new, you ask? Well the big difference is that unlike REDD schemes, donors to the Amazon Fund WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE for carbon credits from ‘avoided deforestation’. The message is clear; “If you are so concerned about deforestation in the Amazon, be prepared to pay for its role as  global carbon lifeline instead of a cheap source of carbon credits. An expert summed it up nicely, “Brazil is not interested in giving industrialized countries cheap carbon credits from protecting the Amazon if they are not going to stop building coal-fired power plants”. In short, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Brazil’s offer is not to be taken lightly. If it does manage to meet its 10 year commitment, it would reduce emissions equivalent to that of Canada and E.U (annual emissions) combined. The Amazon Fund also takes us back to pre-climate change enlightened times, when people were prepared to pay to protect forests without any payback in the form of emissions reductions. Must forests only be viewed through the narrow lens of carbon capture/finance providers?

Rocket launchers are expensive, especially when taxpayers are not footing the bill. It has now been revealed that the Taliban is paying for its killing hardware with timber from the Swat and Dir provinces through its ‘government approved’ occupation of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. It now joins the list of conflict timber beneficiaries such as the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, Charles Taylor of Liberia, the Burmese Junta and other dogs of war for whom sustainable forest management meant converting timber depots to ammunition depots.

Timber has always been a much favoured currency among the lawless kind as it is a high demand product that is very difficult and expensive to trace. So are forest carbon credits if you ask me. A World Bank administered Forest Carbon Partnership Facility worth over $200 million is in place for funding REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) schemes in developing countries as felling and burning forests accounts for up to 20% of global CO2 emissions. With potential income from carbon credit schemes through ‘avoided deforestation’, terrorists, rebels and mercenaries could hold forests to ransom in return for a cut  from developed countries. Developing countries, alarmed at the prospect of  ‘leakage’ of their forest carbon would strike dodgy ceasefire deals with terrorists in return for leaving their forests alone.

Worst-case-scenarios aside, control of forests translates to control over the 1.2 billion people who depend on them for livelihoods. Countries with State controlled forests could deny access to forest dependent communities as they would have mortgaged their national forests for some carbon scheme. Indigenous peoples are not happy and have protested against the exclusion of the word ‘rights’ from the Draft Declaration Text on REDD at the climate change meeting in Poznan in December 2008. There is also growing concern about the World Bank positioning itself as a broker for forest carbon credits. In short, there is great scope for abuse of forest carbon financing schemes by vested interests. These vested interests could be your government, greedy carbon speculators, polluting countries, lending institutions or your not-so-friendly neighbourhood terrorist.