In May 2021, Greenpeace Italy issued a report entitled “The Luangwa Community Forests Project (LCFP) in Zambia, A review of the biggest REDD+ project in Africa financed by the Italian oil and gas company ENI,” by Kelvin Mulungu. We read it and have some thoughts.
Our organization, Nature For Justice (N4J), and my orientation as an evaluator are focused on our mission to empower vulnerable communities most impacted by climate change. In reading this report from our perspective, the overall ratings for the report are:
Community Assessment, D-
Technical Assessment, A-
Explanation of these summary ratings are addressed below.
Community Assessment (D-)
It appears that Biocarbon Partners (BCP) did a decent job for a project that “is being implemented on communal land in 12 chiefdoms … including 69 village action groups in the chiefdoms and …are said to have given Free Prior Informed Consent.” The challenge of engaging with 12 chiefdoms sounds daunting but, apparently, they did it.
Their pursuit of Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) Certification is laudable and we don’t share Greenpeace’s pessimism on the potential for CCBA certification to validate fairness for the community. The report is publicly available.
The harsh rating of the Greenpeace report on the community piece is based upon three reasons:
1) Projects of this nature take a lot of time and effort to set up with minimal guarantee of success. Who paid for the upfront project development? How were the 12 chiefdoms selected and engaged? What sacrifices did the chiefdoms have to make to convince their communities and villages to move in this direction? N4J focuses on selecting organizations (e.g., chiefdoms, NGOs, businesses, communities of faith, etc.) that have existing trust networks (i.e., social capital) in place – that’s how you scale. It sounds like BCP did okay but Greenpeace never looked at it.
2) In the methodology section they spoke to “UNDP, Verra, CDP, and BCP.” Did they talk to any of the chiefdoms or village leaders? We see that as a real gap and missed opportunity. Maybe the project isn’t perfect but if the chiefdoms see benefits accruing to their people –isn’t that good? Greenpeace’s own web site states “We work directly with communities on the front line to protect the planet.” There’s no evidence of that here.
3) It describes some of the programs being tried (e.g., beekeeping) but what else? What is working? What not? It refers to the Theory of Change, okay, drop the theory and look at what is happening on the ground – is the forest actually being protected? The graphic on the drivers of deforestation is good but it’s missing the interventions and it fails to assess whether monitoring, evaluation, and adaptive management systems are in place for course correction. (See N4J’s Measure, Compare, Modify)
Although there is a robust discussion about the price of carbon, it was not clear what ENI was paying or projecting to pay for the credits it was purchasing. More importantly, if you step back and think about a large ambitious program like this, how much actual money – as a percent of the total – is actually getting to the people on the ground?
The communities most impacted by climate change and local organizations on the ground have historically received very little of the financial benefit of creating carbon assets. Greenpeace apparently does not consider this a primary consideration. For the price per ton paid to the developer, how much of that is actually getting to the 12 chiefdoms and on to the 69 villages? What was the process for “dividing the pie”? Did ENI offer a base price committing to pay it if the price of carbon fell below that? If the price of carbon dramatically increases, will the communities share in the upside? The report lacks many important details such as what I’ve laid out.
Our view is that the durability of a project is a direct function of the fairness of the deal. We expect the company to seek an adequate risk/return balance, but we also want the communities to have their own risk/return balance. The report is too superficial in this regard, and this represents a real missed opportunity to set an important precedent; by shining a light on a bad deal or holding it up as something that others should follow.
Technical Assessment (A-)
The report reads well and has several descriptions of technical issues that are excellent. Reports such as this providing insight into the intricacies of the carbon market are valuable.
The voluntary carbon credit markets offer a way to get funds into the hands of those most impacted by climate change. However, the specifics of each deal need to be properly structured.
Although reports of this nature by organizations like Greenpeace can be helpful to get companies to recognize the need for transparency and fairness, we think this report was too limited. It did not provide enough scope and depth to provide the basis for an adequate evaluation of the specific opportunity and hence our conclusion that, overall, the study was flawed.
It was a missed opportunity.