FAO’s REDD+ project in PNG limps to a halt

FAO’s five year, US$4.3 million-dollar Papua New Guinea REDD+ project has drawn to a close, with very little achieved. Despite the services of dozens of international experts, the challenge of how to track and sell carbon credits generated by PNG’s forests has proven insurmountable.

The over-riding objective of this project was to “ensure that by 2013, PNG has an operational Measurement, Reporting and Verification system that enables the country’s participation in international REDD+ systems to protect its environmental resources and contribute to sustainable livelihood practices of rural communities.” There is no indication that this objective has been achieved.

A recent article in the Post-Courier quotes consultant Nelson Gapare, who was engaged to evaluate the project. Although the comments reported comments from Mr Gapare are largely positive, it is clear that PNG does not have an operational MRV system, and likely never will.

In fact, despite the FAO project’s objective to have one in place by 2013, four years later PNG representatives have only just received training on how to design an MRV system. According to an article posted on UNREDD.net, in December 2016, 26 participants from Pacific nations took part in a donor-funded short-course in MRV for REDD+ purposes at the University of Melbourne. According to PNG participant Alfred Rungol, as a result of the course “we now have a national roadmap to guide the continued development of our national MRV processes in PNG.” 

PNG is not alone in its inability to make any meaningful progress on establishment of a viable REDD+ system. REDD+ is, as has been pointed out by this newsletter in the past, a flawed and unworkable initiative. The scheme relies on a country’s ability to know how much carbon is stored in its forests, how much of that carbon would be emitted in the absence of REDD+ activities, and how many tonnes of carbon emissions are avoided. The avoided emissions are then recognised as carbon credits that can be sold to polluting industries in rich countries. This is another fatal flaw; there exists no functioning international market for carbon credits, so even if PNG were able to monitor, evaluate and report supposed emissions avoided, there is no-one to buy the resulting carbon credits.

PNG has been trying to implement REDD+ for twelve years now. A quick review reveals the following funding for UNDP and FAO REDD projects in PNG: US$3.4 million; US$6.4 million;  US$3.8 million; and US$4.3 million. So after spending at least US$17.9 million – plus additional spending on items such as the month-long study trip to the University of Melbourne –  PNG appears no closer to “REDD-readiness” than it was twelve years ago. As pointed out in an article on forests.news: “Papua New Guinea is still in the first phase of REDD+ readiness, despite being one of the first countries to propose REDD back in 2005.”

The most recent report from PNG’s REDD+ initiative – “Mid-term Review and Request for Additional Funding” –  includes a request for an additional US$1.65 million, and still there is no hint of a workable REDD+ system, just further proposed working groups, strategy documents and project management.

It is to be hoped that international donors will eventually tire of shovelling money into these initiatives, as it now seems clear that the REDD+ scheme is unworkable in PNG, and most likely everywhere else as well.

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