Thanks for your very thoughtful comments, Johannes.
Please note that we do not have the bandwidth to respond in detail here to each of the 10 points you lay out in your comment (nor to all Forum comments on our reports), but we will do our best to respond to those we find most critical to the conversation and would love to find a time to further discuss these and your remaining points over separate correspondence.
With regard to the Bayesian mindset to which you allude (“what should we believe, given the evidence?), we agree with this approach. Of course, the evidence in the space of climate economics and policy is vast, so we hope we can agree that this approach is a significant undertaking that would benefit from coordination and collaboration across relevant orgs in EA. Given the vastness and complexity of various climate-relevant literatures, we believe that there is a real risk of jumping to conclusions too hastily, hence our interest in introducing some form of time-efficient peer review process among the major EA climate research organizations.
Our aim in this project was to summarize and discuss the best evidence we could find on the (cost-)effectiveness of REDD+ over about 8 weeks of two full-time researchers’ time, and to draw reasonable conclusions about the interventions’ potential impact and CE. We do not claim that this research is fully comprehensive and we caveat that it was undertaken early in 2022 (e.g., before the recent presidential election in Brazil or the 30x30 agreement, the implications of which we have not researched in any depth).
That said, we do hope that the EA community can use the research as a starting point for coming to a consensus on the CE of REDD+ as a climate intervention. We aim to be quite clear about our main uncertainties in the report and provide some suggestions for how researchers could usefully spend more time. After finding little in the way of comparable estimates in the EA climate literature, we concluded that it would be quite difficult to confidently claim that REDD+ was a relatively cost-effective intervention relative to other climate interventions, and even more difficult when broadening the comparison to global health and development interventions.
It is very possible that there is more consensus (using a comparably rigorous research approach, with comparable outcome measures) than we are aware of regarding the cost-effectiveness and potential impact of the myriad climate interventions that could plausibly “pass” an ITN shallow review, and that this EA consensus would be compatible with broader climate expert consensus. However, many of the EA-recommended climate charities we came across were related to climate advocacy, where cost-effectiveness estimates are understandably difficult to pin down given extreme sensitivity to modeler assumptions and relatively short-term political contexts, making direct comparison or ranking quite difficult.
We hope to discuss how to improve intervention comparability with you and others in the EA climate space in the near future! If there is indeed such consensus and comparability, perhaps we could collaborate to compile this information for ease of comparison, and we will update our report accordingly.
On the subject of neglectedness, the Bezos Earth Fund is indeed focused on natural climate solutions, though they have committed (i) “only” $10B over 10 years (where we anticipate RFMF an order of magnitude larger — and annually — over the next ten years for REDD+), and (ii) not specifically to the REDD+ framework, to our knowledge.
Regarding your point about historic REDD+ not having achieved additionality and permanence, we refer you to the report, where we largely agree with this perspective and hence recommend a focus on jurisdictional REDD+ programs that are gaining significant momentum, as well as continuous results-based payments for the entire duration of the desired avoided emissions. We also touch on reasons we expect additionality and permanence concerns to diminish going forward.
Finally, we have recently begun to consider whether it may make sense to recommend various options for different “types” of potential donors in the climate space (also for risk diversification). As you suggest, it is possible that a whole lot of potential philanthropic dollars are not being allocated (or are being allocated to other causes) due to donors’ preferences for near-term / more certain vs. long-term / more risky solutions, or for carbon savings alone vs. perhaps lower carbon savings with significant (human, gender, biodiversity, other) co-benefits, etc. Unless those potential philanthropic funds otherwise get allocated toward other high-impact charities (i.e. not “the cat shelter next door”, which seems plausible for individuals desiring near-term, tangible impact), neglecting to provide donation recommendations that align with donor preferences represents a missed opportunity for impact.
We have written some additional (and generally more specific) responses to some of your points, which we look forward to discussing with you in separate correspondence. Thanks again, and looking forward to continuing the conversation!
Thanks, Sanjay. Generalizability is indeed crucial, and we discuss the conditions for success of jurisdictional REDD+ (JR+ hereafter), including things like effective political incentives to avoid issues around property rights and corruption (see subsection “Political leaders need incentives to follow through”), as well as the need for effective MRV (see section “REDD+ measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) standards are thorough but not yet sufficient to adequately account for forest degradation”), though we acknowledge that there is much additional research that could be done to understand these issues across various contexts. We (like the experts with whom we spoke) see reason for optimism in the recent advances toward JR+, technological advances in improving data collection and improving MRV, and improvements in certification in light of the very issues you mention. We also suggest that funding toward programs that aim to improve the likelihood of JR+ success along these dimensions could be worth researching, though we did not ourselves explore any such programs.
As mentioned in the response to Johannes, we conducted most of this research in the beginning of 2022 (i.e. many months before the Brazilian election). However, the lowest-cost opportunities according to the WEF and McKinsey (2021) report, on which we rely heavily for our CE estimates, are not in Brazil, so we imagine the change in the political landscape would not substantively change our general stance that JR+ appears cost-effective and there is RFMF to get it off the ground. The return of Lula may actually improve the prospects for JR+, given the difficulty of achieving its ends without political buy-in.
Indeed, we also make the point that efforts to expand the coverage of JR+ are crucial for preventing leakage. And we did not come across much in the way of countries threatening to abandon REDD+ due to lack of prompt payment in our research, though we would definitely be interested to hear more about this if you have some sources you could share, and we agree that Lula’s recent election will likely change the political rhetoric in the Brazilian context.
Indeed, we were more pessimistic about REDD+ when we started the research for many of the reasons that you and others have expressed skepticism, and rightfully. We hope the report adequately justifies our own stance. And of course, we are very open to comparing CE models and outcomes - please reach out if you do build such a CEA!