Sunday, 31 January 2010

Is REDD really “green”, or are we just colour-blind?

Is REDD really “green”, or are we just colour-blind?

REDD stands for Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation, and is set to come into force in 2012. The concept was first introduced at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP11) in December 2005 by the governments of Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica. The aim is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide realised from the destruction of the world’s forests, which amounted to approximately 20% of annual global emissions in the 1990s (IPCC 2009). More recently, the REDD+ scheme has been introduced, to reward countries for the conservation of standing stocks of carbon, forest restoration and reforestation (see underlined text below). REDD+ rewards countries that have preserved their carbon stocks by giving money to High Forest, Low Deforestation (HFLD) countries. It stems from article 1 b) (iii) of the Bali Action Plan (2007), which states that there should be enhanced consideration of:

“Policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.”

REDD+ has received a great deal of international attention, and the forest negotiation track at Copenhagen was one of the most successful. However, this promising piece of policy has a number of problems that undermine its environmental integrity.

Additionality and Leakage are two ugly beasts that raise their heads when the green virtue of REDD is discussed. The problem of additionality refers to the risk that payments will go to areas that were not threatened by deforestation, i.e. additional forest protection will not be achieved. One solution suggested is the use of Global Regional Averages of deforestation; records that can be used to assess the additional benefit from investment in certain areas. The term leakage is being replaced by displacement, which more accurately describes the problem; preventing forest loss in one area may displace logging to a previously unthreatened site. If this occurs, there will be no net reduction in deforestation. It has been suggested that forest loss should be monitored at a national level to overcome this problem. However, this will not prevent ‘international leakage’ where loggers move out of one country and into another with fewer regulations.

Integral to these issues are the challenges of monitoring, making changes in deforestation Measurable, Reportable and Verifiable (MRV) and establishing appropriate reference levels for deforestation. Without the ability to determine relative changes in deforestation, REDD+ will fail to have a positive environmental impact. The resources and expertise available to monitor deforestation varies greatly between countries, although with sufficient investment it would be possible to establish effective remote-sensing techniques. Brazil, for example has an effective system run by the National Space Research Institute (EDF 2009). The bigger challenges involve establishing consistent methods that are comparable across the globe, and whether monitoring organisations should be internal or external to any particular state. This last issue is particularly politically sensitive; even though independent monitoring is theoretically preferable, no country likes the idea of being spied on. The different reference levels being discussed can also be pretty controversial. The big debate is over the use of historical rates of deforestation or a projection of likely deforestation given the developmental status of a country. The socio-economic assumptions integral to the latter option, and the lack of data for much of the world, mean that it could end up being little more than sophisticated guesswork.

Another issue that will affect the effectiveness of REDD+ is the scope of the scheme. This refers to the breath of focus that REDD+ will take, and which aspects should be prioritised. Even if the primary focus is carbon, decisions need to made about the importance of rewards for changes in deforestation, forest degradation, reforestation or forest enhancement. There is also a concern that we should look beyond the carbon paradigm and that other ‘co-benefits’ are considered, including biodiversity , ecosystem services, land rights and poverty alleviation. Tackling these problems will be critical to the success of REDD+. A forest will not survive without the ecosystem functions supported by biodiversity, and the defined access rights dependent on land tenure. Safeguards are needed to ensure that these essential issues are addressed. However, trying to make REDD+ a panacea for all the world’s problems will surely make it weaker.

The financing of REDD+ is the one of the trickiest problems to resolve. It remains unclear exactly where the money will come from, how payments will be calculated, and who the recipients will be. At Copenhagen, it was announced that a total of $3.5 billion would be given by 6 countries. However, this falls far short of the estimate that $6 billion will be needed for 2010 – 2012, made by the Informal Working Group on Interim Finance for REDD. It is also unclear whether this money is additional, or redirected from other environmental and aid projects. The debate also continues over the efficacy of different payment mechanisms. A stocks approach to financing could be a much better approach than the flows approach currently being advocated. The ‘stocks’ approach would focus on paying countries for the quantity of trees they have standing, and would get around the challenges associated with calculating deforestation rates and reference levels. Payments would be made from a global fund, with contributions made by each country based on the per capita GDP. The system would therefore benefit the poorest countries the most, giving the countries with the highest opportunity cost the greatest reward for protecting their forests. However, the equitable distribution of funds within each country will require strategies for dealing with corruption and improvements in forest governance.

There clearly remain many unsolved problems that affect the positive impact that REDD+ might have. REDD+ is still an immature piece of policy and many countries lack the infrastructure and political willpower to make it a success. However, there are many potential solutions to the issues discussed above and progress is still being made at an international level. The continuing negotiations over the next few months and years will determine exactly how "green" REDD+ can be.

Thanks to everyone involved in the REDD policy workshop that brought up these issues, and specifically to Wouter Langhout for ace inspiration for the title and Tim Hodgetts for introducing us to the idea that we should just count trees and pay people for them. -Claudia Gray.


IPCC (2009). Fact sheet: Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: approaches to stimulate action. Read this!.

Bali Action Plan (2007). Read this!

Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) (2009). Brazil national and state REDD report. Read this!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Claud, it's great to have an idea of what you guys got up to in the REDD workshop, and what's going on in the world!