World Bank: avoiding deforestation but violating rights?

2 July 2007

versión en español

Alarm bells are being rung about ‘avoided deforestation’, the World Bank’s latest tool in the fight against climate change, while a Greenpeace report has heavily criticised the Bank’s failure to bring the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) logging industry under control.

Deforestation is estimated to account for 20 per cent of global carbon emissions. In June, the Bank got G8 support of $250 million for an investment fund to reward countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Congo for ‘avoided deforestation’ (AD). Private investors have reserved judgement over the fund: under the Kyoto Protocol, saving existing trees doesn’t qualify as a means of generating emissions credits on the international carbon market.

A new report by UK-based NGO Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) cautions that the World Bank’s proposed ‘avoided deforestation’ model has been developed without meaningful engagement with southern NGOs, indigenous peoples or southern governments. Despite references to “community forest management”, it may result in the perpetuation of discredited Bank models of forest “development”, such as large-scale plantation forestry (see Update 46). It would also have important implications for forest management, particularly for the livelihoods and cultures of millions of indigenous people and other forest-dependent communities. In exploring World Bank proposals, which include the Global Forest Alliance and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, FPP fears that rapid expansion of AD schemes risks:

  • support for forest conservation models which lead to evictions and expropriation;
  • unjust targeting of indigenous and marginal peoples as the drivers of deforestation;
  • violations of customary land and territorial rights; and
  • increasing inequality and potential conflict between recipients and non-recipients of AD funds.

Greenpeace released a report in April, Carving up the Congo, which documents the social and environmental damage wrought by international logging companies in the DRC. Greenpeace criticised the failing efforts of the World Bank to bring the country’s logging industry under control “while the rainforest is being sold off under the illusion that logging alleviates poverty”. The report calls on the Bank to urgently act to stop the expansion of the logging industry in the country, and for the cancellation of logging titles issued since May 2002 which were signed in spite of a national moratorium on new concessions.

Some of the key issues presented in the report include: negligible payments, such as bags of salt and beer, made to community leaders in return for lucrative logging rights worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; the destruction of habitats critical to the survival of the Congo’s indigenous forest communities; rampant corruption in the issuance of logging contracts; and the tremendous release of greenhouse gases caused by deforestation.

The Bank is the Congo’s most influential donor, encouraging investment in the country’s natural resources, and since 2001 has lent more than $2 billion to the country.

At the Bank’s spring meetings in April, Greenpeace was joined by NGOs Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and Rainforest Foundation in revealing that mining and logging in the DRC are out of control, with devastating consequences for local communities and the environment. An international appeal, signed by over 100 organisations, was delivered to the World Bank demanding the renegotiation of mining contracts in the DRC (see Update 54). NGOs urged the Bank to ensure that its advice and lending do not facilitate private plunder of the country’s resources.