How REDD+ can help protect forests and biodiversity while slowing climate change (Q&A)

Rainforest

Not only do tropical forests house much of the world’s biodiversity, but they also function as large carbon sinks, helping to store CO2 emitted by man-made and natural activities. Deforestation is one of the leading causes of climate change because these trees can no longer store CO2. Programs such as REDD have been created to help address the growing issue of deforestation.

REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, is designed to provide market and financial incentives for countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions from deforestation. REDD+ further extends REDD by including the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks. REDD+ is a complex program, and we asked our friends at The Nature Conservancy if they could help us explain REDD+.

Rane Cortez, a forest carbon policy advisor for The Nature Conservancy, has helped us demystify REDD+ and how and why it could help protect the world’s forests and help mitigate climate change. Our Q&A is below:

How does REDD+ work?

The basic idea of REDD+ is fairly straightforward:

  • Trees are made of carbon.
  • Cutting and burning trees releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.
  • If tropical forest countries can slow down their rate of forest destruction, they can receive payments from international programs that seek to reduce this carbon pollution.
  • Those countries can then invest that money in programs to help conserve the forests and create a diverse set of economic opportunities and jobs for local people.

Is REDD+ an effective way of preserving forests and combating climate change?

REDD+ is a relatively new concept and there are very few existing examples of large-scale implementation of REDD+ programs around the world. Nevertheless, initial, smaller-scale pilot projects have shown that the technology exists to accurately measure and monitor reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that result from the effective implementation of strategies to reduce deforestation. REDD+ can work.

The job now is to significantly scale up these initial efforts to state and national scales. REDD+ represents an unprecedented opportunity to provide the levels of financial resources needed to developing countries to truly address the issue of deforestation at a grand scale. REDD+ has the potential to transform the way that land-use decisions are made in developing countries by creating an economic value for keeping forests standing. Many developing countries have already begun laying the groundwork for successful REDD+ programs and seeing results. For example, Brazil has created a national fund for reducing deforestation, established a national plan for reducing deforestation, and, as a result, was able to reduce deforestation by an incredible 60 percent from 2005 to 2010.

What are the main obstacles in getting REDD+ implemented around the world?

The main obstacles in getting REDD+ implemented around the world include:

  • Lack of a comprehensive international agreement on climate change within the UNFCCC. Such an agreement is needed to set the rules for how to implement REDD+ and to create demand from developed countries for the purchase of emissions reductions from developing countries.
  • Lack of U.S. climate legislation. The U.S. has the opportunity to be a leader on REDD+ and has made some good initial commitments to financing REDD+ in developing countries. But by passing comprehensive climate legislation that includes strong REDD+ provisions, the U.S. can ensure a positive outcome for the climate, the world’s forests, and forest-dependent communities, while taking advantage of one of the most cost-effective ways to mitigate climate change.
  • Lack of up-front financing to get REDD+ programs off the ground due to regulatory uncertainty.
  • Lack of capacity for developed countries to efficiently disburse funding that has already been committed and lack of capacity in developing countries to absorb significant resources.
  • Challenges in ensuring the full and effective participation of all relevant stakeholders and difficulty in channeling benefits effectively to people on the ground.

REDD+ and the ideas behind it have been around for several years. What’s the latest with REDD+?

Just a few months ago, at the UNFCCC conference in Cancun, a REDD+ agreement was decided on. This agreement established a set of guiding principles for REDD+, defined some social and environmental safeguards for REDD+ and affirmed a global goal to slow, halt, and reverse forest cover and carbon loss. It was a major milestone for REDD+ and provides developing countries a formal basis to move forward in establishing REDD+ programs. The text of the agreement is available here (PDF) (page 10 and Annexes I and II). This year, countries will be working hard to finalize some additional crucial details about how REDD+ will work, including how to set baseline levels of emission rates, rules for measuring and monitoring results, and a decision on whether financing for REDD+ will come only from public sources, or if the carbon markets can also play a role.

Concerns about the financial market aspect of REDD+ have been raised, particularly that the whims of the financial market could decide which forests are protected and which species are protected.  Are these concerns valid? If so, how do we mitigate these issues?

The Nature Conservancy believes that both public funding and finance from the carbon markets is necessary to reach the scale of funding needed to truly address the global deforestation problem. Achieving sustainable, sufficient, and predictable levels of funding through public funding alone will be difficult given the current global economic situation and the consistent difficulty in securing public funding for overseas investment. Pilot activities has shown that emissions reductions achieved through REDD+ are credible and accurate enough to be included in the carbon markets. Allowing REDD+ to be partially financed through carbon markets frees-up scarce public funding sources that can then be used for crucial investments in adaptation (which are not well-suited to market financing). Finally, including REDD+ in carbon markets can help lower the overall cost of mitigating climate change and therefore allow the world as a whole to achieve more reductions than would otherwise be possible.

There are some valid concerns about including REDD+ in carbon markets. For example, carbon finance is well-suited to provide funding for areas facing high historic threats, but is not well-suited to providing financing to areas with high forest cover, but low historic threats. Some of those areas could be large forest blocks that provide critical habitat or ecosystem services. This issue can be mitigated by designing the system in a way that uses some of the revenues generated from reducing emissions in high threat areas for investments in maintaining standing forests in low-threat areas. This system is called stock-flow (PDF) and is under debate in international negotiations.

REDD+ involves a lot of partners, people and moving parts. What is done or needs to be done to ensure that the local people in these areas are consulted and compensated?

REDD+ programs will not be successful if actors on the ground are not fully involved or do not feel tangible benefits from the program. Therefore, full and effective participation of all relevant stakeholders is a critical component throughout the design, development, and implementation of REDD+ programs. The recent COP decision on REDD+ from Cancun recognizes the need for such participation and also acknowledges the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires free, prior, and informed consent by indigenous communities before any activities are undertaken that will affect them or their territories. This is another critical component of REDD+ programs. In addition to effective participation, equitable, efficient, and transparent benefit sharing systems are important for ensuring that benefits from REDD+ reach local communities. These benefits could take many forms, including new job opportunities, technical assistance to build new skills, provision of materials such as monitoring equipment or tree seedlings, improved tenure security, or investments in health or education facilities.

The Nature Conservancy has been supporting an effort led by the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance and CARE International to develop Social and Environmental standards for state or national-scale REDD+ programs that promote these important aspects of REDD+ Implementation. Several countries have agreed to pilot the standards, and we hope that they can serve as an example for other countries developing large-scale REDD+ programs.

Why should people in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere care about deforestation that is happening in other parts of the world?

Climate change is a global issue. A ton of carbon dioxide released from a forest in Indonesia affects the climate the same as a ton of carbon dioxide released from a coal plant in the U.S. So if we want to address climate change, we need a global solution that addresses all major sources of emissions. And deforestation is a major source of emissions – it contributes more emissions than all the cars, trains, planes, and boats in the world! Additionally, tropical forests provide all sort of other benefits that people all over the world rely on. Many different medicines are created from plants found in tropical forests. Other important products, such as nuts, oils, and fruits come from tropical forests. Tropical forests play a major role in regulating rainfall and providing water to millions of people around the world. Even if all of those values do not convince you, think about this: addressing deforestation is one of the most cost-effective ways to address climate change. If the U.S. and Europe and other developed countries help developing countries reduce emissions, the world achieves more with less money.

What role do forests play in combating climate change?

Forests play a dual role in climate change. When forests are destroyed, carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. But when forests are planted or allowed to regenerate naturally, the trees pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks and branches as they grow. This is an important service that trees provide to mitigate climate change. By planting new forests and restoring degraded forests, we can actually pull significant amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, while also providing critical habitat for important species and ecosystem services that people rely on.

Not only are these forests important for climate change, but they also house a lot of biodiversity. How does REDD+ help protect biodiversity?

REDD+ represents an unprecedented opportunity to channel significant resources to forest conservation and restoration. This will mean huge benefits for forest biodiversity. Additionally, by applying standards, like the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity standards, that require specific consideration of the biodiversity impacts of REDD+, the biodiversity benefits can be further amplified. Those standards require that REDD+ projects generate net positive biodiversity impacts and enhance of maintain High Conservation Values in the project area. Additionally, the standards require any negative off-site impacts to be mitigated and a comprehensive monitoring plan be put in place.