Carbon finance protects forests by putting people first

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Jonathan Shopley

Posted 05 March 2012

Elephants in Wildlife Works' Kasigau Project

REDD+ BULL: Elephants stroll through protected
habitat in Wildlife Works' Kasigau project, Voi
province, Kenya (The CarbonNeutral
Company, December 2011)

In my recent blog on carbon finance and forestry, I noted that ’Carbon finance has not made an impact on forest ecosystem protection because forests have been given a bit-part in the market mechanisms of the UN’s Kyoto Protocol (KP)’. That fact has not gone unnoticed by the UN’s Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), and at its annual Conference of the Parties to the KP in 2007 in Bali, the concept of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) got its first real blast of oxygen. And since then, a number of international organisations (including the Global Canopy Project, the World Bank, Rights and Resources Initiative, and The Redd+ Partnership to name a few) have worked tirelessly to ensure that flow of oxygen is not cut off by byzantine administrative processes in the UN, in-fighting amongst nation states and NGOs with different views on how to do REDD, and a chronic lack of committed funding to get projects off the ground.

The final text to come out of Durban had quite a bit to say about REDD and many REDD supporters felt that Durban made tangible progress in recognising the importance of measuring and verifying climate benefits delivered by REDD projects, and in acknowledging the rights of indigenous peoples whose livelihoods depend crucially upon access to forests ecosystems.

Not enough paper to cover the cracks

However, the Durban Platform is far from a workable solution with funding adequate to the task of halting and reversing deforestation. And that despite the Stern Review tagging reducing deforestation as the “single largest opportunity for cost-effective and immediate reductions of carbon emissions”.

With all the focus on international negotiations, it is easy to overlook real progress being made in the non-regulated or voluntary carbon market, where organisations like the Verified Carbon Standard Association (VCSA) have provided mechanisms to generate tradable carbon credits from REDD projects, and the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) has developed a standard to evaluate social, environmental, and economic impacts to ensure an overall net positive benefit to climate, communities, and natural ecosystems – leading to the more rigorous definition of REDD+ projects.

Hitting the ground – and skies - to discover the true value of REDD+

One of the first organisations to combine the VCS and CCB standards in a working REDD+ project is Wildlife Works. Their Kasigau project is located in the corridor that routes the national road and railway line that connects Mombasa - Kenya’s most important port - with the capital Nairobi, and carves one of the world’s largest National Parks – Tsavo - into East and West sections.

Tsavo National Park is home to all of the African Savanah’s great mammals, from lion and elephant to rhino and wildebeest, and 500 species of birds. Elephant and wildebeest, in particular, use the Kasigau corridor to migrate between East and West sections of the park in their search for seasonal water and grazing.

The corridor is home to some tens of thousands of people in villages and community ranches in which cattle are grazed, cash crops are grown, and trees are felled for charcoal. Wildlife Works’ Kasigau project is focused on one ranch which has implemented a REDD+ programme to protect the forest ecosystem from unsustainable exploitation. They hope that success in this first project will lead to many other ranches joining the programme.

The CarbonNeutral Company was one of the first purchasers of carbon credits from the Kasigau project, and since our first purchase less than one year ago 16 clients have bought and retired these credits as part of their offset inclusive carbon management programmes. So, that is where I went after Durban to ‘ground truth’ the value of REDD+ projects.

Good REDD+ projects focus on peoples’ needs

All along the roadside from congested Mombasa to the project, local people sell large sacks of cooking charcoal to the traffic en route to Nairobi. The charcoal is made from the surrounding forests and is one of the major causes of deforestation in the area.

I arrived at the project mid-afternoon and with day one’s programme pretty much shot due to travel delays, project manager Rob Dodson wheeled out a gyrocopter – used as an effective way of inspecting over 200,000 hectares of project land - and we spent two hours flying over the Kasigau corridor, Tsavo Parks, and adjacent community ranches. We saw hundreds of elephants in the project area, along with giraffe, buffalo, and various antelope. Also three carcasses of poached elephants.

I was able to see water holes created by Wildlife Works to keep elephants away from the community’s crops and gardens, and sustainable charcoal wood-lots pump-primed by the project with saplings and fencing. Rob used the gyrocopter to take the GPS positions of people illegally collecting wood for charcoal kilns, and radioed foot patrols so that they could investigate.

We looked down upon the project HQ offices, the tree nurseries, experimental hot-houses, organic clothing factory, school, a well-equipped garage and mechanical workshop, and a training centre where guest volunteers stay. It is these activities which in aggregate give local communities access to sustainable incomes as an alternative to unsustainable harvesting of wood, clearing the forest for cash crop agriculture, and poaching elephants as a source of income.

It’s about people first, then the trees

On the second day, I was able to visit most of the things we’d seen from the air and meet the people involved in running the project. The lead ranger for Wildlife Works explained that the project does not arm its wardens, so villagers and poachers know that they do not pose a danger. That has helped enormously in establishing trust and respect. The people managing the tree nurseries told me about natural pesticides and herbicides they create from local organic ingredients making them independent of imported, expensive chemical alternatives.

I met local people and community leaders who work with Wildlife Works to direct carbon finance raised through the sale of REDD+ carbon credits to projects most likely to relieve human pressure on the forest and wildlife. I visited projects in which Wildlife Works is a contributing partner – such as a local school where classrooms built by Wildlife Works house computers provided by the Kenyan Government and HP.

My overall impression was of a REDD+ project that is likely to succeed because it uses income from carbon credits sales to develop alternative and sustainable livelihoods for affected communities - knowing that if that is done well, the trees will look after themselves.

Supporting REDD+ now will deliver a better regulated market in 2020

Across the world project developers like Wildlife Works are putting carbon finance to work on equally challenging and rewarding REDD+ projects, ahead of any regulatory requirements to do so. And our clients are choosing REDD+ carbon credits in their voluntary offsetting programmes – not just for their climate benefits, but because good REDD+ projects done well are an investment in significantly more than carbon reductions.

The UN process has a mammoth task to develop internationally applicable modalities for REDD. Even when those have been developed, and finance raised for the expansion of REDD across all key forest zones, there will be no substitute for on-the-ground experience, in-situ capacity and knowledge, and the learning from these pioneering initiatives that are leading the way.

To read more and see a video of the Wildlife Works’ Kasigau project, visit our carbon offset project page.


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Jonathan Shopley

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