Save an elephant, Trade REDD+ Credits

As corporations are seeking more ways to enhance their sustainability efforts, REDD+ solves multiple problems.

For local impoverished communities, the driving factor is ensuring enough money to survive in difficult conditions. One of those drivers has been burning wood for charcoal, and poaching large animals.  According to the New York Times, twenty years ago a wildlife corridor in southern Kenya was in jeopardy due to hunting wild giraffe and antelope for meat, and chopping down trees to make charcoal. With fewer trees, desertification loomed. Water was so precious that local cattle herders lit fires at water holes to keep giraffes and zebras from drinking. As Mercy Ngaruiya, a community leader in the village of Itinyi said. “People used to come with buckets of meat,” she said. “Everyone was killing animals. People were cutting trees for charcoal. They said, ‘What else are we going to do for money?’”

The way that REDD+ credits work is that individuals and companies purchase credits that guarantee that a set amount of forest will not be destroyed. The money goes to local communities. Since 2011, Wildlife Works, a nonprofit specializing in carbon credits, has earned millions of dollars which are shared by landowners, investors, Wildlife Works and the local community. Money for the community finances schools, scholarships, water pipes, reservoirs and other public works that serve 150,000 people.

Early Concerns

Although REDD+ has been around for ten years, when it was introduced some feared fraud, worrying that money would be spent on credits for forests that were never preserved, or carbon reductions that didn’t happen. WildlifeWorks saw winning over farmers and poachers as an essential step to real verification. Knowing that poor countries needed financial incentives to preserve forests, the organization began a campaign to win over those most affected by carbon credit efforts. At first, locals were skeptical.

Ms. Ngaruiya recalled that when people first heard about REDD+ they said, “‘How do we get money from trees?  The air? These people are cheating us.’ It was really complicated.” The process of education was essential, because REDD+ uses international social auditors to enforce a requirement for informed consent from communities. After extensive meetings over many months, Wildlife Works made progress.  

“People were so desperate,” said Rob Dodson, vice president of African operations. “They had nothing to lose. They said, ‘It sounds mad, but let’s give it a go.’”

REDD+ Successes

Against the odds, things have changed. Through the investors of REDD+ credits, illegal tree cutting and poaching have fallen significantly. In 1998 there were no elephants on the 75,000 acres of Rukinga Sanctuary where Wildlife Works is based, said Mr. Dodson. Now wildlife has returned. One recent evening, a herd of elephants, including babies, gathered at a water hole during a tranquil sunset. As many as 2,000 elephants live in the corridor, depending on the season; so do zebra, giraffe, buffalo, warthogs and several kinds of antelope, from slender dik-diks to impala. Lions had vanished from the area; now there are about 40, including two males seen lounging by a water hole on a hot Friday afternoon.

A Tana Kantor photoAlthough the success isn’t perfect, illegal poaching for elephants ivory does continue, as does burning trees to produce charcoal. But forest and wildlife in the Kasigau Corridor have been visibly revitalized by conservation efforts. Critically, the expansion won support for conservation from local elders and villagers, and the organization is now their county’s third-largest employer. Preserving this swath of forest in the Kasigau Corridor avoids emitting more than 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year for the next 30 years.

For those who want to be able to see animals roaming free – or want credits to offset operations or travel – REDD+ credits are a win-win for all.