The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) promotes the rights of Indigenous Peoples across the world’s rainforests. They believe the most effective way to curb deforestation is by empowering the people whose survival is intricately tied to the forests. For these communities, not only are forests their home, they are the source of their sustenance, their livelihoods, and the root of their identity. Having inhabited tropical forests for millennia, no group is better equipped to manage and protect these valuable ecosystems.
Yet over the past decade, a different trend has emerged as the solution to deforestation — offset schemes. The basic reasoning behind offsets is that wealthy nations or corporations can reduce their own carbon emissions by funding projects to reduce deforestation in tropical countries. While this may sound plausible in theory, in reality these kinds of offset schemes are rarely tied to actual reductions in deforestation.
Projects often inflate baselines to increase the number of ‘hot air’ carbon credits to be sold and forest loss can be displaced elsewhere (‘leakage’) or just resume whenever the project is finished (‘permanence’). Such offset schemes often result in harmful impacts on Indigenous Peoples as well.
Projects are routinely imposed on communities without their consent, whose access to forests is then restricted or who are displaced to make way for tree plantations. Faced with constraining resources and ambiguity surrounding the project, serious inter-communal conflict can ensue.
Despite such evident drawbacks, forest offset schemes continue to proliferate. Powerful multi-lateral institutions, governments eager to fund a quick fix to climate change, and large environmental organisations exploiting a new funding stream have all diluted the global dialogue surrounding offsets.
However, over the past two years, RFUK has been able to push back against this current and have become a leading voice on the dangers of offsets. By recruiting a dedicated forest and climate campaigner, they have been able to effect change at different levels. Locally, RFUK developed tools to amplify the voices of disenfranchised communities impacted by the world’s largest jurisdictional REDD+ programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo, leading the World Bank to commit to reforming the programme.
Regionally and globally, their research, advocacy and coalition building challenged the prevailing discourse and sparked introspection among some of the leading institutions funding forest offsets. For example, RFUK’s report on the Green Climate Fund, the world’s foremost fund for supporting climate change adaptation and mitigation in the global south, prompted the fund to approach RFUK to jointly develop new due diligence guidelines to verify that its investments in tropical forests are socially just, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable.
As the UK government gears up to host next years’ global summit on climate change in Glasgow, COP26, a new era of forest financing – nature based solutions – is on the rise and RFUK is at the centre of deliberations. Much needs to be done to ensure that nature based solutions do not come at the expense of urgent climate action needed in the global north or undermine the rights of forest communities. Internally, RFUK are working with DFID to elevate the role of forest communities in the climate negotiations. Externally, their collaboration with George Monbiot’s initiative on natural climate solutions has resulted in a charter to fortify the stance of environmental NGOs that offsets should not be included as solutions.
Today, RFUK is engaged on multiple fronts to ensure that actions taken at COP26 will finally put forest communities at the heart of reducing deforestation.
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