In Cancun, REDD talks needs to address corruption

The United Nations climate change conference opened in Cancun last week to modest expectations. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon; EU commissioner for climate action, Connie Hedegaard; and Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres have all said that they do not expect a binding deal this year on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

But there is one issue which has been billed to have the potential for making significant progress in Cancun: the REDD initiative for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation.

REDD proposes the use of funding from developed countries to reduce deforestation in developing countries. Pilot programs have already started, and developed countries have pledged US$ 4 billion towards REDD. With deforestation responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, REDD could have enormous potential as part of a global climate change strategy.

However, corruption risks in the forest sector will significantly affect the chances of an effective REDD mechanism if nothing is done to improve forest governance systems. Forestry licensing processes are a case in point. Licenses and concessions – essentially contracts extended to companies for the use and cutting of forests – govern approximately 90 per cent of the industrial wood harvested worldwide. Such contracts concentrate power in the hands of those who award them and are highly lucrative to the companies that win them. This situation leads to a high risk of corruption.

A recent TI working paper has found that systematic bribes paid by companies to forestry officials for the issuance of logging permits have been reported all over the Asia Pacific region, including Malaysia, Laos and Indonesia. A study conducted by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in Indonesia earlier this year found irregularities in the issuance of forest concessions of 79 forest concession holders in Riau. It also found indications that about one-third of the 2.3 million hectares of forest areas granted for plantation use were not used in accordance with the permits.

In addition, corruption that begins in timber licensing also becomes very corrosive to other sectors, as it breaks down the web of processes, laws and regulations overseeing the forestry sector and beyond.

As Cancun and REDD talks are underway, it is imperative to address corruption issues.

On the plus side, one of the seven ‘safeguards’ that are in the REDD negotiating text does mention corruption. Yet it does risk being sidelined (as do all the safeguards) if the pressure is not maintained and corruption risks that could seriously impact REDD effectiveness are not highlighted. Such measures must take into account the political dimensions and seek out collaborative approaches to the problem.

Not acting on corruption risks does not just mean non-compliance with global commitments. It means the risk of damaging the world’s forests and undermining international efforts to combat climate change.

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