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 By Chris Lang

2016-02-18-151642_1680x1026_scrotThe Mai N’dombe REDD project in the Democratic Republic of Congo covers about 300,000 hectares of forest. Project documents claim that without the project, the forest would be logged, and that communities in the area benefit from the project. A new article by Jutta Kill in the World Rainforest Movement Bulletin questions both of these claims.

This post takes a look at the claims that forest would have been logged without the REDD project. First, some background about the project.


2011: The Carbon Rights Agreement

In April 2011, a Canadian company called ERA Ecosystem Restoration Associates (ERA), signed a Carbon Rights Agreement on a former logging concession with the DRC government.

In March 2012, ERA and California-based Wildlife Works announced a joint venture agreement to complete the project.

In October 2013, ERA (by this time a subsidiary of Offsetters Climate Solutions Inc) sold its share of the joint venture to Wildlife Works.


2013: Sales of carbon credits start

In February 2013, ERA announced that it had made its first sale of 300,000 carbon credits to Forest Carbon Group, a Frankfurt-based company.

Forest Carbon Group sells the REDD credits to companies and individuals to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

URIMAT, a company that produces waterless urinals, bought 97 Mai Ndombe credits to offset its emissions for 2014. The city of Darmstadt bought 32 carbon credits to offset the emissions from its Christmas Market in 2012. One family offset the baptism of their daughter, another their wedding. A professor bought 25 carbon credits to offset his flights. Calpam, a company selling heating oil, makes the extraordinary claim that its oil is “climate neutral fuel”. Thanks to the carbon credits it bought from the Forest Carbon Group.

The project is also highlighted on the USAID-funded Stand for Trees website. For US$10 you can buy a carbon credit from the Mai Ndombe REDD project. Stand for Trees explains that,

When you offset your CO2 emissions by supporting the Congo Basin Rainforest Project, you simultaneously protect one of the world’s most important tropical habitats located in one of the world’s most impoverished countries. Without support for the project, the area would likely be leased to foreign logging and mining companies, resulting in destruction of this critical habitat.

The imminent threat of two logging concessions. That were cancelled in 2008

In its April 2011 press release about the Mai Ndombe project, ERA claimed that, “The IFM [Improved Forest Management] portion of the project will result in the cessation of active commercial logging activity.”

When it audited the Mai Ndombe project, Det Norske Veritas (DNV) accepted the claim that without the REDD project the forest would be logged. The majority of the Mai Ndombe carbon credits, Killwrites, are based on the claim that the logging activites were imminent in 2011.

In a December 2012 verification report, DNV wrote:

DNV is able to certify with a reasonable level of assurance that the emission reductions from the “The Mai Ndombe REDD Project” during the period 14 March, 2011 to 31 October, 2012 amount to 2 548 715 tonnes CO2 equivalent.

In total, over its 30 year project life, the Mai Ndombe REDD project will generate more than 100 million carbon credits.

In order to calculate the number of carbon credits, DNV needed a story about what would have happened without the REDD project. DNV’s story wasn’t based on what had happened in the past in the Mai Ndombe project area. Instead, DNV’s story is based on what happened to the Mayombe Forest in the Bas Congo District, about 600 kilometres southwest of Mai Ndombe.

DNV explains that they chose the Mayombe Forest,

Because it experienced planned commercial harvest similar to what would have occurred in the project accounting area in the baseline scenario. In particular, the logging company SOFORMA was granted a logging concession with boundaries identical to those of the reference area, harvested the merchantable trees, and enabled a cascade of degradation (carried out by secondary agents of deforestation) that led to nearly complete deforestation of the reference area.

Having established that SOFORMA logged Mayombe Forest, resulting in nearly complete deforestation, DNV leaps to the conclusion that the same fate awaits Mai Ndombe in the absence of the REDD project.

But the two logging licences in the Mai Ndombe project area were cancelled in 2008. And since 2004, DRC has had a moratorium on issuing new logging licences. Kill notes that,

[N]o new logging concessions have been issued anywhere in the country since 2011, and doing so would have breached a Presidential Decree.

The deforestation rate in Mai Ndombe between 2001 and the start of the REDD project was low. Official government figures between 2002 and 2006 record no timber production at all for the two logging concessions in the Mai Ndombe REDD project area.


Deforestation has increased since the REDD project started

Global Forest Watch’s tree cover data shows that deforestation in Mai Ndombe has increased since the REDD project started.

Here’s a map of the Mai Ndombe REDD project area. The project area is to the west of Lake Mai Ndombe:


And here’s a series of screenshots taken from Global Forest Watch showing the tree cover loss between 2003 and 2014:

Not too much happens for the first few years. The deforestation really kicks off in 2013, two years after the REDD project started.