A recent report by Norway’s Office of the Auditor General had some tough criticisms for the country’s International Forests and Climate Initiative (NICFI), one of the chief funders of REDD+ initiatives around the world.
Over the last 10 years, NICFI has granted a total of 23.5 billion Norwegian krone (about $2.9 billion) to projects aimed at conserving tropical forests and reducing associated greenhouse gas emissions in several developing countries. Norway even paid three countries directly to protect their forests and draw down emissions: Brazil, in particular, has been a major recipient of funds from Norway, receiving 7.4 billion krone (more than $900 million), while Indonesia and Guyana have each received 1.1 billion krone (about $134 million).
Germany and the UK are also among the top three donors of funds to protect tropical forests in developing nations. But in a statement, the Office of the Auditor General noted that Norwegian contributions from 2008-2016 made up 51 percent of the total funds paid out by those three countries.
“The prerequisite for increased support from other countries has not been met, and Norwegian contributions make up a larger proportion than anticipated,” Per-Kristian Foss, Norway’s Auditor General, said.
That was far from the harshest criticism in the report, however. The Office of the Auditor General said that its investigation found “that progress and results are delayed, that current measures have uncertain feasibility and effect, and that the risk of fraud is not well-managed.” The report identifies some key challenges that are preventing successful implementation of conservation measures, such as conflicts of interest between sectors, lack of capacity, and shifting policy priorities in countries receiving funds.
“International efforts to preserve tropical forest have not found solutions to address these global challenges,” Foss said. “There is therefore uncertainty about further implementation and if the measures give lasting effect.”
According to the report, Norwegian authorities do not sufficiently account for the risk of fraud, nor are there adequate mechanisms in place for measuring and reporting on outcomes such as protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, poverty alleviation, and conservation of natural forests.
Foss summed up the report’s findings by saying that “There is a need to ensure better control of the use and results of these funds.”
Responding to the report, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Ola Elvestuen, said that it provided some useful insights and that its recommendations would be followed up on. However, Elvestuen said he disagreed with many of the conclusions reached by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG).
“It is always useful to have the OAG’s view on the management of money granted by our parliament (Stortinget),” Elvestuen said in a statement. “The remarks from OAG point to issues we are already aware of and are closely following up on. We will continue our efforts to promote permanent conservation of rainforest, we will strive to be even better at following up on results and lessons learned, and we will ensure active follow-up relating to the risk for financial fraud.”
Elvestuen noted that he wants to strengthen efforts to measure, report, and verify results on the ground, as well as to combat international forest crime. He strongly disagreed with the OAG’s conclusion that the administration has not complied with its own guidelines to prevent abuse of Norwegian funds, however.
“We have good systems in place to ensure that Norwegian money transactions are channeled appropriately and used as intended. However, it is obvious that the risk of fraud and corruption is far greater for this type of international aid management, than for example, national subsidy management,” he said. “We have zero tolerance for corruption.” He added that the number of corruption cases “has been very limited” given that over 20 billion krone has been disbursed to date.
Elvestuen also objected to what he characterizes as misrepresentations the OAG makes about “the amazing results in reducing Amazon deforestation in Brazil,” and said that the report only examines parts of the NICFI, which led the OAG to make overly broad conclusions based on a limited audit. “Thus, many very important results are overlooked,” Elvestuen added. “The main challenge, a global mobilization to prevent climate change, cannot be solved with Norwegian money alone. But we have come a long way given the circumstances, and we have reason to be very content about what Norway together with our partners have achieved in this area.”
He points specifically to the partnerships NICFI has established with some of the world’s most important rainforest countries. “The work is challenging, and political priorities change over time. However, several partnerships have shown impressive progress. Brazil has reduced emissions corresponding to 70 years of Norwegian emissions, and we feel that the OAG rendering of this story is incomplete. Important advances in Indonesia and Colombia have also not been assessed by the Office of the Auditor General.”
It’s unclear what, if any, impact the report might have on initiatives in countries like Brazil and Indonesia that rely on Norwegian funds channeled through the UN’s program for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, known as REDD+. Combating deforestation is so critical to efforts to halt global warming that REDD+ was enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement as a standalone article.
Florian Eisele, a spokesman for the UN-REDD Programme, declined to comment on the specifics of the report but said that efforts to combat global deforestation are moving in the right direction. Eisele noted that 6.3 gigatons of REDD+ emission reductions have already been reported under the UNFCCC by a number of countries, and that there continues to be “strong interest from forested countries” in creating REDD+ programs.
“We have seen that reducing emissions from forests is possible, and can be done with great sustainable development benefits, protecting the interests of some of the most vulnerable people,” Eisele told Mongabay. He noted that halting deforestation is not only crucial to mitigating global climate change but also to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on poverty, health, gender, water, and land use.
“While admittedly the progress is not as fast as everyone hoped ten years ago, we currently have an opportunity to help countries to achieve transformative change, supported by political commitment through the Paris Agreement and SDGs,” Eisele said. “Ensuring environmental and social safeguards will continue to be central to the success of REDD+.”
Not everyone is convinced that REDD+ is a viable solution, however, and the Norwegian Office of the Auditor General report is likely to fuel further criticism. For instance, Saskia Ozinga, a co-founder and campaigns coordinator for the NGO FERN, told Mongabay that the theory of change behind REDD+ has proven to be wrong. She appears to be skeptical that the reforms called for in the Auditor General’s report could make REDD+ work the way it was intended.
“REDD+ was based on the idea there would be, by now, a large forest carbon market paying for REDD+ projects. As this large market does not exist, REDD+ is now just one source of development aid money for forests,” she told Mongabay. “This money is needed but must be focused on addressing the causes of deforestation and forest degradation, including lack of good governance and unclear tenure rights (and reducing consumption). Carbon monitoring, reporting and verification is costly, often disempowering for local communities and does not address causes of deforestation and REDD+ funding for these type of activities is therefore not helpful.”
This piece was originally posted on the Mongabay website and was written by Mike Gaworecki.