WATCH THIS! NGO Newsletter #7: Golden landscapes?

The Gold Standard Foundation (GFS) is expanding its project scope to land use and forestry projects. This raises many questions even if we assume that this standard may ensure a high social integrity and provides funding for development and preservation of local ecosystems. There is a severe risk that this development opens the box of the Pandora and stipulates the inclusion of land based activities into more regional or even international compliance markets if not communicated carefully.

The widely accepted GFS was set up 10 years ago by several NGOs led by WWF in order to enhance and certify high quality carbon offset projects. The certification was only given to energy projects as too many risks were associated with crediting forestry or other land based activities 10 years back.

This summer, GSF expanded its scope and is now offering a ‘land-use and forestry Gold Standard’. Afforestation/ Reforestation projects including mangroves can now generate Verified Emission Reductions (VER) for voluntary offsets. Schemes for Climate Smart Agriculture and Improved Forest Management are under development.

Climate Constraints

What sounds like a good idea holds potential for many pitfalls and risks. First of all, fossil fuels need to remain under the surface while preserving ecosystems at the same time. As the window of opportunity to reduce global warming to below two degrees is getting smaller and smaller, accounting one with the other is just not helpful. Moreover, complex biological processes in soils and biomass make it difficult to obtain reliable soil and ecosystem carbon measurements – these, however, would be essential for the quantification of sequestered CO2 and the generation of corresponding VERs.

Paving the way toward the compliance market?

Land-based offsetting projects may not be too problematic if the standard would remain in the voluntary market.

But how to explain to negotiators, business and public that offsetting fossil fuel emissions with land based activities does not work if NGOs around the world are selling credits from these sectors with a formula: like “you drive a car, we plant a tree”?

There is a severe risk that this development paves the way forward for an inclusion of land based activities into international compliance markets or into more national and regional carbon markets.

History has shown that activities that reduce emissions from land use have led to a criminalization of marginalized farmers and indigenous communities. Moreover,  these activities have been responsible for land displacement and have limited the access to natural resources that livelihood systems depend upon.

Funding agriculture via carbon markets would benefit large-scale farming and companies who are able to bear the high upfront costs to negotiate with buyers of credits and to monitor activities. This could provide incentives for an expansion of large-scale agriculture and lead to further “land grab deals”. Furthermore, carbon market ‘readiness’ projects will surely divert institutional, human and monetary resources away from other development efforts, as a large part of costs is likely to be met by Official Development Assistance (ODA). Funds from carbon markets may furthermore support practices that ensure highest carbon sequestration measures and “the absolute easiest to measure” techniques, rather than the most appropriate support needed by a farmer.

Political will from governments is needed to achieve “Golden landscapes”. Best practices, however are necessary in order to make this happen. GSF can therefore still play a role in supporting real solutions if communication strategy would include the above constraints. But until now, the question, if GS supports an inclusion into the compliance market or not remains open.

For further reading and references see:

MISEREOR 2012: “Climate-smart agriculture – A useful development paradigm?”
MISEREOR 2012: “Carbon markets in Agriculture – Benefitting the Poor and the Climate?”

By Anika Schroeder, Desk Officer for Climate Change and Development, Misereor

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WATCH THIS! NGO Newsletter #7: Golden landscapes?

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