By Andrew Millar
On May 27th, 2010, the Oslo Climate and Forest Conference concluded with Germany, France, Norway, the US, Britain, Australia and Japan pledging $4 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation in developing countries. Around fifty countries participated in the conference to establish a REDD+ partnership (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), an interim platform for the countries to pool resources to help developing countries.

“Measures to reduce deforestation are the quickest and least expensive way of achieving large emission cuts,” said Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg at the conference. “Forests are worth more dead than alive,” he lamented.  “Today we commit to change that equation.”

REDD+ has supported and contributed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and has promoted financial transparency in the new and existing international initiatives to reduce deforestation and degradation of tropical forests.  Of the many intended recipients of the money pledged at the Oslo conference, Guyana has received a majority of the attention.  Guyana has released two reports in hopes of satisfying “REDD+ enablers,” or criteria used to ensure the sound use of REDD+ resources.  Norway, the government spearheading the aid to Guyana, contracted US non-profit Rainforest Alliance to verify the accuracy of Guyana’s reports.

In October 2010, Guyana’s Office of Climate Change released a report of its compliance with REDD+ enablers.  In response, John Palmer, independent consultant to the UK government’s global forest research and planning, released an evaluation of Guyana’s self-assessment.  In his response, Palmer takes issue with many of Guyana’s claims, most notable among them being the plan’s Financial Mechanism, the Continuous Multi-Stakeholder Consultation Process, and the Monitoring, Reporting and Verification measures.

Regarding the financial mechanism outlined by the report, Palmer states that both “The high level and high volume of allegations of corruption and financial malpractice in Guyana” are a warning sign to Norway and the other countries that donate.  “The President’s opposition to the application of well-established World Bank safeguards and due diligence,” indicate a pattern of noncompliance with international standards.  Palmer also claims that the multi-stakeholder consultation process is bogged down with overlapping committees on climate change, all of which are dominated by the same small group of government agencies.  As a result, he states, this process suffers from partisan interests. And Palmer raises an eyebrow at the refusal of the Guyana Forestry Committee and the President to justify the need for such extensive effort and financial support.  He cites the government’s lack of prosecution for numerous alleged forest offences like illegal logging.

Palmer is not the only one with concerns about how REDD+ money will be handled.  Janette Bulkan, one the most respected voices in the environmental and forest preservation sphere, has been declared an enemy of the state by Guyana’s government for her similar critique of the October 2010 report. In March of 2011, an open letter signed by prominent leaders of the UK was sent to Norway’s current Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim asking him to reconsider their support.

In the end, Rainforest Alliance found similar concerns. Their report mirrored the critiques of Palmer and Bulkan, stating that Guyana’s reports still leave numerous questions unanswered.  Many of Rainforest Alliance’s categorical evaluations end with statements to the effect of “too little evidence exists to verify that Guyana’s program meets REDD+ standards.”

Since the REDD+ agreement was made in 2009, Guyana’s rate of deforestation has increased threefold.  Money alone, it seems, cannot cure environmental issues.  At the very least, this means delays in the pursuit of reversing deforestation, and a lag in our world’s attempts to curb greenhouse gasses.  At most, it could mean wasted money, effort and time without results in the fight against a growing global problem.

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