The Green Belt Movement, a grassroots NGO from Kenya, sent staff in November to the 17th U.N. climate change summit (COP17) in Durban, South Africa. We wanted to share our experiences using carbon offset funding with rural communities to plant trees that restore habitat. Our mixed experience highlights some real problems faced when converting policy to practice.
Green Belt has a project financed by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a carbon offset program set up under the Kyoto Protocol. But ours is one of the few CDM tree-planting projects worldwide that has focused on grassroots engagement, indigenous tree species, and locations chosen to restore critical watersheds. The mechanism’s criteria do not distinguish between such projects and monoculture commercial plantations of non-native species. The challenges our project faced, including the lack of encouragement for locally appropriate plantings, will, if not addressed, be replicated by the new Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation process, which is backed by the World Bank. While the Norwegian government and others have said that the reducing emissions process is one of the few areas that showed progress at Durban, effective criteria to ensure the success of the process are not yet in place.
Like many NGOs, the Green Belt Movement condemned the Durban talks’ final outcome as too little, too late to stop catastrophic climate change. The planet is still on track to increase in temperature up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit this century—which will be catastrophic, especially for much of Africa.