Without Law Enforcement, Forests Lose Out: Why Corruption and Impunity threaten REDD+ Goals
Law enforcement and anti-corruption activities are essential to successful and equitable efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. REDD+ depends on the idea that governments, whether national or subnational, can create legal frameworks and plans to reduce deforestation and degradation, and put those laws and plans into practice. In countries where basic law enforcement remains an issue, we run the risk of creating reference levels in which illegality is assumed. This could lead to the perversity of defining additionality as merely an application of the existing legal framework.
The institutions and activities related to law enforcement and anti-corruption have not been adequately included within REDD+ forest governance or readiness discussions. On the one hand, voices from the enforcement community must be part of planning processes and inter-governmental coordination in order to assess the governance gaps and develop workable solutions. In multiple countries, actors such as environmental prosecutors or oversight bodies are left out. Judges, police, comptrollers or ombudsmen, money laundering units, anti-corruption task forces and customs departments are other possible entities that should be involved depending on national circumstances. On the other hand, these institutions can also be part of the problem – military and police involvement in illegal logging or clearing has been documented in countries around the world - and thus their reform must be contemplated for effective REDD+.
Arguably these elements of “REDD+ readiness” are more difficult to discuss than others, because they speak to the basic political economy in place – the power relations that truly govern decisions about natural resources. Structural issues including impunity for powerful economic actors, the silencing of poor peoples’ complaints, and cultures of institutionalised corruption are not easy things to acknowledge, much less meaningfully address, in diplomatic or official processes. It is critical to focus enforcement attention on “greed-based” and not “need-based” illegalities.
Fair and robust enforcement is a good investment. Conditions like inadequate training, poor working conditions, low salaries, and lack of equipment or budgets for field actions, debilitate the morale of enforcement personnel and create the conditions for illegality and corruption. In the Peruvian region of Loreto, for example – an area half as big as Europe, where natural resources are the primary source of illegality and conflict – there are two environmental prosecutors for the whole province.
Moreover, the lack of rule of law or a functional justice system is a problem that goes far beyond the forest sector. These are structural problems, and therefore investment in improving them as part of climate readiness efforts will have benefits for all aspects of social and economic development – even though it may seem daunting to those of us who want to see quick or silver bullet solutions.
Corruption in the forest sector has until now been overwhelmingly linked to logging, which in many countries has led to significant depletion of valuable tropical forests. But new incentive mechanisms developed under REDD+, and the finance it will generate, is beginning to change the face of corruption in the forest sector. The potential for future REDD+ earnings is bringing about new corrupt practices, starting with cases of land grabs. REDD+ is also likely to lead to new forms of corruption not previously seen, such as questionable carbon accounting and manipulation of forest carbon measurements. The recognition of ‘carbon’ as a commodity to be measured and paid for creates a number of new opportunities for corrupt activities, since forest “carbon” is an intangible asset that is difficult to measure and relies on complex calculations that can be manipulated.
Governance is key to the effective implementation and delivery of the intended outcomes of REDD+ – from international to grass roots level. A well-designed governance system is also needed to address the substantial risks of corruption and criminal involvement that are posed by REDD+. REDD+ Readiness should incorporate indicators around the enforcement and anti-corruption aspects of governance. Fundamentally, these indicators should get at questions such as these: “Do enforcement, oversight and anti-corruption institutions exist? Are they independent, effective and fair? Are they involved in REDD processes?”
International entities should be part of REDD+ negotiations and planning too. REDD+ countries must also implement mechanisms to ensure transparent financial flows, improvements to governance throughout national REDD+ processes, with support from donors who can provide financial and technical support to improve governance. Immediate and sustained investment is needed in building governance capacity while law enforcement agencies, both national and international, should be encouraged to contribute their expertise to the design and implementation of REDD+ programmes.
Implementation of REDD+ will require significant sums of money to flow and ensure that the economic incentives to deforest are superseded by greater economic gains for keeping forests standing.
But funds cannot, on their own, stop deforestation or prevent forest degradation. Experience has proven that deforestation and forest degradation are often a result of poor forest governance and weak law enforcement. The main drivers of deforestation, such as agricultural expansion, logging, roads and other infrastructure developments, are often symptoms of a larger failure of governance. Many forest-rich countries do not have strong institutions or the processes necessary to value and protect forests or protect the people who live in or around the forests and depend on them.
Corruption and illegality in REDD+ may lead to the over exploitation of forests. If law enforcement issues are not addressed adequately, thereby allowing criminals to gain control of REDD+, there is a serious risk that the ultimate losers will be the communities that rely upon the forests for their livelihoods. Of equal concern is that this may lead to conflict and social unrest that would undermine the effectiveness of REDD+. REDD+ cannot be removed from this broader governance context. Without effective governance, money distributed through REDD+ is unlikely to help combat climate change and could lead to perverse outcomes. Whether in traditional commodity markets or on the REDD frontier, we ignore the need to build and encourage law enforcement and anti-corruption efforts at our peril.