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REDD+ Forest Project in Congo Harms Locals, Feeds ‘Carbon Profiteers’

International organizations are calling on the World Bank to suspend new investment in a climate finance project aimed at preserving the world’s second-largest tropical forest, after concluding that a lack of governance and regulation in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Mai-Ndombe Province makes the project a benefit for warlords and carbon profiteers—not the Indigenous communities whose land is at stake.

“Increasingly, forests and the people who live in them are being recognized as vital to addressing climate change,” Climate News Network reports. Initiatives like the UN-supported REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) are supposed to support grassroot, sustainable stewardship of the land.

But recent research by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) found “significant flaws in conservation projects” throughout Mai-Ndombe, which is home to some 73,000 Indigenous people. “The people of Mai-Ndombe—whose median income is only US$0.24 per day—are largely to thank for keeping the world’s second-largest tropical forest intact,” said RRI’s Solange Bandiasky-Badji. “But their success has made the province a magnet for carbon profiteers.”

“Our findings show that the DRC is not yet ready for [further] REDD+ investment”, RRI Coordinator Andy White told Climate News Net. “The evidence from other countries shows that REDD+ and similar payment schemes will work only if governments recognize and support community land rights.”

Without that recognition and support, White added, “channeling more investment into the area for REDD+ programs would only worsen conflict while failing to protect the forests.”

Alain Frechette, RRI’s director of strategic analysis and global engagement, agreed that “strong Indigenous and community land rights and a clear understanding of who owns forest carbon are vital prerequisites for climate finance to succeed.”

That the Mai-Ndombe project is failing so badly is no surprise to Chouchouna Losale, of the DRC’s Coalition of Women for the Environment and Sustainable Development, who pointed out to Climate News Net that “these projects were developed in Kinshasa,” the country’s capital and largest city. Details were shared with the communities after the fact, rather than being developed with community leadership.

Also sending up red flags is a second RRI study which found that out of “24 of the 50 developing countries preparing to participate in the global market” for forest carbon credits, only five “have established national legal frameworks to regulate their trade in carbon.” Not one of them “has set up a system for sharing the benefits earned on the carbon market with local forest communities, despite evidence that they are the forests’ best guardians.”