Muhammed Magassy writes that Norway's environmental efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, have been flawed in their delivery, and must be reassessed if they are to start having any meaningful impact. 

When most people think of Norway, they probably think of a beautiful, serene, and sophisticated country, dedicated to spending its enormous wealth to bring peace and understanding to the rest of the planet. But I come from one part of that 'rest of the planet' and what I see coming from Norway is a little bit more complicated, and sometimes very disappointing.

The same country that spends billions of dollars to stop and reverse deforestation abroad, in places like West Africa that I am from and that I formally represent, made its money from oil drilled in the pristine and vulnerable Arctic. It is frustrating that a country that grew wealthy exploiting the environment feels it has the right to lecture the developing world on its ecological impacts.

The other concern is that Norway does not seem to know, or care, if its massive financial investments are bringing about any serious and sustainable environmental change. As it turns out, in some instances its investments have accomplished almost nothing.

Consider deforestation, which Norway banned in 2016. Deforestation speeds up global warming, therefore banning it was, of course, the right move. That move was later followed up by the announcement of a $200 million fund to stop deforestation abroad, to be distributed over five years by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

This $200 million will offer financial subsidies to almost forty organisations that make up Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI).

To put this into context, Norway has already spent over $300 million – per year, in fact – to protect rainforests. All that investment, however, cannot match the pace and force of deforestation. Last year, the tropics lost over four million hectares of primary forests. After more than a decade of dedicated investment, it is fair to ask: what explains the failure to make a meaningful dent in deforestation?

Part of the answer is data, or maybe the absence of data. Norway disburses funds based on commitments to slowing and stopping deforestation, not any actual evidence of success.

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Norway recently awarded the African country of Gabon $17 million through the Central African Forest Initiative, or CAFI. These were results-based payments for Gabon's efforts to reduce deforestation. In theory, of course, there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, there is much that is superficially right with this.

Africa cannot fight deforestation without Western help. But Africa also cannot fight deforestation if the West isn't collecting the right kind of data, data that will help us understand what is driving deforestation and what actually works at slowing it down. For example, the $17 million Gabon received was for CAFI's measurement of tree loss.

However, Global Forest Watch found that in 2016 and 2017, Gabon actually lost forest at high rates. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world deforestation has actually declined; that includes Southeast Asia, where governments have implemented national certifications and sustainability standards for key agricultural commodities, like palm oil.

As a case in point, Malaysia mandates what is called Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil, a sustainability scheme that has since become law. With the strong commitment of its government, Malaysia has seen deforestation rates rapidly decrease over the last four years. Due to the fact there are real consequences for failing to meet national sustainability standards, Malaysia's palm oil producers have come along in huge numbers, with implementation and certification reaching around 90 per cent. This is the kind of initiative Norway would be wiser to recognise and to find ways to advance.

Regrettably, Norway funds initiatives that fail to tackle the root causes of deforestation, let alone curb deforestation. In one particularly instance, Norway's funds were almost entirely wasted; Norway paid some $1.2 billion to stop deforestation in Brazil, all of which went up in smoke (literally) when Jair Bolsonaro changed the country's approach.

Brazil's soy and beef industries drive illegal deforestation; it should go without saying that they are not sustainable. If this money had been used more thoughtfully and strategically, it could have gone a very long way in stopping deforestation and helping to slow global warming, but it was not.

Still, a country can learn from its mistakes. Norway, especially, which has grown wealthy off harmful fossil fuel extraction, and continues to expand lucrative and dangerous Arctic drilling, has a special responsibility to admit its mistakes, however well-intentioned, and make a concerted effort to change course.

Writing from a part of the world that does not have the wealth or resources to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, I must underscore how urgent action is in this moment. I must also point out that, despite our disappointment in West Africa at these double standards, we are still open to and eager for real forms of sustainable environmental cooperation.

We cannot save the planet without working together. It is as simple and urgent as that.

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