Forests are one of the greatest “carbon sinks” we have. By storing carbon, trees help to mitigate climate change, as atmospheric CO2 concentration is reduced. 1 billion hectares of land are currently suitable for restoration and could sequester 140 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030 – that’s more than Japan emitted during the whole of 2017 (Alexander et al., 2011). Woodlands therefore provide a huge service to us, yet we don’t exactly treat them well – deforestation particularly in tropical regions has a huge impact on the lungs of the Earth, driven by mining, agricultural expansion, resource use and land conversion (Stand For Trees). And carbon stocks aren’t the only thing affected by deforestation – soil degradation, water pollution, biodiversity losses and a whole host of other nasties come when our trees are destroyed.
In 2008, The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) introduced a mechanism abbreviated as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) to combat deforestation. Originally, improving forest stocks was the main focus – but now REDD+ schemes have a variety of aims including improving biodiversity, community relationships and safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples (Alexander et al., 2011).
So how do REDD+ initiatives work?
The main purpose of REDD+ schemes is to incentivise and fund forest conservation in countries which have the best forest stocks. The REDD+ scheme puts a price on the carbon stored within each living tree, making it more profitable for forest managers to keep their forests alive than to deforest them.
For example, people in developed countries can purchase carbon credits, which are a measure of carbon which you wish to offset/save. These payments are then distributed through the REDD+ initiatives to landowners, upon verification that they have protected their woodland stocks. So when landowners can prove that they have improved the carbon stocks of their forests by preventing deforestation, they receive money.
“Funding rewards good forest management in developing countries and makes poor forest management, such as indiscriminate unenforced logging, less profitable than the sustainable alternative.” – International Institute for Environment and Development
By offering these funds, protecting forest stocks is in theory made more profitable than exploiting them (University of East Anglia Development School, 2018). And in some cases, REDD+ schemes have seen success – for example, Brazil has reduced it’s deforestation rate by 71% from 2004 levels, partly as a result of $1.1 billion funding from Norway through REDD+ schemes since 2008 (Jong, 2017). Brazil is not the only country benefiting from external funding to protect forests – there are now 47 participating developing countries located across the tropical areas of the world, in Africa, Latin America and Asia (Forest Carbon Partnership, 2018).
Using financial incentives in forest management has opened an avenue of conservation funding in many areas. But it has also promoted recentralisation of forest governance, meaning forested land has been taken under the control of the state, often displacing and excluding local inhabitants from decision making (Phelps et al, 2010).
REDD+ is an externally-driven program. Because of this, schemes can completely interfere and change the lives of local people, by causing job losses or restricting forest usage (University of East Anglia Development School, 2018), as they are not considered by external actors who focus solely on the “bigger picture”. Land ownership is a common example of this: when external actors are encouraged to safeguard forests, it can push out the people who live on the land, even though legally they don’t own it. Tenure transitions are therefore needed to ensure that local people responsible for forest maintenance are legally identified as having rights to the benefits associated with the REDD+ initiatives (Sunderlin et al, 2013). Research shows that giving local people autonomy for forest management often results in greater forest carbon storage and higher livelihood benefits (Chhatre & Agrawal , 2009). Unfortunately land tenure in many countries is uncertain.
“One of the biggest challenges for REDD+ recipients is to design reforestation or restoration projects and programs that are effective in sequestering carbon and promoting biodiversity conservation while also economically beneficial to communities and landowners” – Alexander et al., 2011
Alongside preventing deforestation, the aims of REDD+ now also encompass securing land tenure, improving biodiversity, improving fire regime and soil quality, and reducing degradation of land and water (Alexander et al., 2011). If these aims are met, schemes which offer funding to the poor communities which rely on woodlands could be hugely beneficial. An example from the Democratic Republic of Congo shows that since joining the REDD+ initiative in 2008, protection of forests has been achieved alongside the promotion of sustainable livelihoods. Local people are provided the education and tools necessary to grow wood and cocoa sustainability, to develop new technology to improve savanna soils and to even create new stoves for women which use less wood charcoal, reducing the need for deforesting (World Bank 2017). Alternative livelihoods such as beekeeping and anti-poaching patrols have also been successful in projects in Zimbabwe, since honey can be sold at a high price and provides a regular income away from chopping down trees (South Pole, 2013).
But many hardcore nature-lovers might be thinking – isn’t putting a price on nature morally ambiguous? In some ways, REDD+ promotes commodification of natural resources (Corbera et al, 2012). This is a “selling nature to save it” approach which has a role in communicating the importance of conservation to policy makers, but implies nature should be profitable in order for people to care. Not only does this approach ignore the intrinsic value of ecosystems, but assessing value according to ecosystem services which are constantly changing is inappropriate. But many would argue that the capitalist system in which we operate demands that money be assigned to nature, to make its value known in a tangible and understandable way.
A number of challenges still remain for REDD+ schemes. From the very set up of such initiatives, simple questions arise which could greatly affect a project. For example, how will forests be monitored to ensure that they are in fact being protected as agreed (Alexander et al., 2011)? Which actions are going to be most effective at deterring deforestation – increasing monocultures? Mixed-planting? And most importantly, how can REDD+ schemes ensure that income goes to the local communities and workers in the informal economy, responsible for the forests (Alexander et al., 2011)?
REDD+ schemes can be hugely effective in improving forest protections and providing for local communities. However, they are not without problems. Many conservationists are against the idea of putting a price on nature, as REDD+ schemes do, by assigning an economic value to the carbon stored in trees. But without such an incentive, governments will instead prioritise money-making schemes which destroy a “worthless” environment, such as huge infrastructure projects, which can both negatively affect woodlands. While not a perfect solution, REDD+ initiatives may yet provide an effective way to secure the funding necessary for this world wide conservation.
This post was written as a collaborative post with Beth from Green Ambition – check out her stuff here!
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Alexander, S., Nelson, C.R., Aronson, J., Lamb, D., Cliquet, A., Erwin, K.L., Finlayson, C.M., De Groot, R.S., Harris, J.A., Higgs, E.S. & Hobbs, R.J. (2011) Opportunities and challenges for ecological restoration within REDD+. Restoration Ecology, 19(6), pp.683-689
Chhatre, A. & Agrawal, A. (2009) Trade-offs and synergies between carbon storage and livelihood benefits from forest commons. PNAS, 106 (42) pp.17667-17670
Corbera, E. (2012) Problematizing REDD+ as an experiment in payments for ecosystem services. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 4, pp.612–619
Forest Carbon Partnership (n.d.) REDD+ Country Participants. [online] Available at: https://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/countries (07/09/2020)
International Institute for Environment and Development (n.d.) REDD: Protecting climate, forests and livelihoods. [online] Available at: https://www.iied.org/redd-protecting-climate-forests-livelihoods (Accessed: 07/09/2020)
Jong, H.N (2017) Indonesia tries to learn from Brazil’s success in REDD+. [online] Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2017/11/indonesia-tries-to-learn-from-brazils-success-in-redd/ (Accessed: 07/09/2020)
Phelps, J., Webb, E. & Agrawal, A. (2010) Does REDD+ Threaten to
Recentralize Forest Governance? Science, 328, pp.312-313
South Pole (2013) Kariba REDD+ in Zimbabwe. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rsg5KXroL0o (Accessed: 07/09/2020)
Stand For Trees (n.d.) Stand for trees: how it works. [online] Available at: https://standfortrees.org/how-it-works/ (Accessed: 07/09/2020)
Sunderlin, W., Larson, A., Duchelle, A., Resosudarmo, I., Huynh, T., Awono, A. & Dokken, T. (2013) How are REDD+ Proponents Addressing Tenure Problems? Evidence from Brazil, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia, and Vietnam. World Development. 55, pp. 37-52
University of East Anglia Development School (2018) REDD+ in the spotlight. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjNPwpI3X0k (Accessed: 07/09/2020)
World Bank (2017) REDD+ Republic of Congo: Engaging Communities in Sustainable Forest Management Brings Benefits. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtzdL60giZE (Accessed: 07/09/2020)