Whatever Happened to the REDD+ Partnership?

By David Ritter - 01 March 2012

Back in May 2009, HRH Prince Charles acting in his capacity as a normative leader on environmental issues hosted a meeting of world leaders in St James’s Palace in London.  The express purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness of the need for emergency action to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in tropical rainforests ('REDD'). 

The meeting was well attended, with high profile participants including Hillary Clinton, Nicholas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Kevin Rudd, Taro Aso, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jens Stoltenberg, Jose Manuel Barroso and Robert Zoellick.  The list of participants gave a clear indication of the urgency that was being attached to the issue of global deforestation rates. According to the official account ‘[a]t the meeting, international leaders agreed that emergency interim financing is needed to stop the destruction of the world’s rainforests to help prevent climate change.’

As a consequence of the meeting a new multilateral initiative was eventually established, the REDD+ Partnership to serve ‘as an interim platform for its partner countries to scale up actions and finance for initiatives to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) in developing countries.’ 
The finance in question – though paling next to the staggering bank bailouts of recent years – is not insubstantial.  According to the REDD+ Partnership, reported bilateral REDD funding arrangements now total US $4.17 billion, while country to multilateral institution funding has reached US $3.81 billion.

The Partnership aims “to take immediate action, including improving the effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and coordination of REDD+ initiatives and financial instruments, to facilitate among other things knowledge transfer, capacity enhancement, mitigation actions and technology development and transfer”, but its functionality has not always been assured.  However, if this week’s REDD+ Partnership meeting in London is any guide, the forum has rapidly settled in to a fairly cosy mode of operations.

Little things can be telling: the co-chairmen of this week's meeting were only ever introduced by their first names, and delegates were likewise only referred to by their first names.  One delegate described the feeling of the gathering as ‘like a family’.  Another privately cautioned on saying or asking anything too critical ‘because this is a partnership, it is meant to be friendly’. Politics, it seemed, was ostensibly to be left outside so REDD could be reduced to a seemingly technocratic and harmonious discussion among family and friends.

There is little reason to doubt the earnest good intentions according to their lights, of the great majority of those in the room.  But sadly absent is the level of political heft combined with the sense of dire urgency that was envisaged in May 2009.

The particular theme of the meeting - which was formatted like a conference with panels of specialist speakers - was to explore ‘financing for REDD+ activities’, including building a more detailed understanding of both market and non-market based financing models for REDD+.  A variety of guest speakers from the private and public sector were invited to make short presentations.  The idea of REDD+ has always fitted snugly with the ideals of liberal market ideology, and an uncritical application of the kind of hyper-liberal-environmentalism that accompanies advocacy of 'market solutions' for every environmental problem was plain in many of the presentations.  ‘A quiet revolution is going on among visionary business leaders’, said one presenter.  ‘REDD has a great story to tell’ said another.

One of the speakers was a representative from the global consultancy firm McKinsey&Co.  As readers of this blog will recall (here and here), McKinsey’s approach to REDD has been the subject of withering criticism from Greenpeace, the Rainforest Foundation and others, while Benoit Bosquet – coordinator of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility at the World Bank – has described McKinsey’s lack of data transparency as ‘a problem for everybody’. At the end of last year McKinsey were dumped from advising on REDD in Papua New Guinea.

So far, McKinsey have not offered any substantive public response to the litany of criticism, so the REDD+ Partnership meeting looked like a good opportunity to find out whether the firm was going to improve their performance.  Dissapointingly though, the man from McKinsey failed to address the question marks hanging over his firm, and the structure of the program presented no opportunity to ask questions directly to the panel in which he participated.

Whether McKinsey will get their house in order on REDD+ remains as much of a mystery as the data and assumptions behind their modelling.

David Ritter was away and ill throughout February so no blogs.  You can follow David on Twitter here.

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