Seeing REDD, and believing

14 April 2009 | News story

Major reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions are necessary if we are to avoid disastrous climate change. An emerging approach—Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) can help achieve this goal and is gaining increasing attention in the international community.

Deforestation and forest degradation contribute up to 20% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. With climate change more serious than previously thought, there is growing recognition that REDD could offer a ‘bridge strategy’ to reduce short-term emissions while buying time to adapt to a low carbon future.

The world is currently negotiating what REDD will look like, how it will be translated on the ground, and how it will be incorporated into the post-2012 climate change regime. Offering financial incentives to developing countries to reduce deforestation is an innovative and potentially cost-effective way to tackle climate change. It also has clear links to biodiversity conservation and other areas of environmental protection. But there are serious concerns about how REDD will affect the welfare of the poor. Forest loss is exacerbated by weak governance and the marginalization of people who depend on forests for food and livelihood. As long as these challenges remain unresolved, the success of REDD is uncertain and some activities might even reinforce corruption, undermine human rights and threaten forest biodiversity.

It is important that REDD implementation does not repeat the mistakes of old and takes into account the hard learned lessons of the past 30 years of sustainable forest management. The most crucial of these is that the stakeholders living in forested landscapes must receive the benefits of forest conservation and management. With incentives going to the right people, REDD implementation could not only help to reduce carbon emissions, but also enhance biodiversity conservation and contribute to poverty reduction. Storing carbon should hence be seen as one of a range of forest goods and services that also include watershed protection and flood control that in turn enhances ecosystem resilience to climate change and helps local communities cope with the impacts of extreme weather.

With its extensive network of experts in forest governance and policy reform and its direct links to key decision makers in tropical forest countries, IUCN is central to the discussions about REDD. It is anxious to ensure that REDD is integrated into a broader strategy for greater cuts in carbon emissions, complements ongoing forest governance reforms that aim to secure the rights of forest-dependent communities, leads to the equitable sharing of benefits, promotes sustainable forest management and enhances biodiversity conservation. A key area of concern is making sure that marginalized local people have their say in the establishment and implementation of REDD.

“If no effective means exist to ensure that additional finance reaches local communities who depend on forests, then the prospects of changing things on the ground are greatly diminished. That is why IUCN invests heavily in supporting local processes to clarify community rights, strengthen institutional arrangements for fair benefit sharing and improve forest policies and governance,” says Stewart Maginnis, Director of IUCN’s Environment and Development Group.

IUCN is one of the joint leaders of The Forest Dialogue, a forum that brings together diverse interest groups, to develop a road map for the comprehensive treatment of forests within international post-2012 climate policies. It is working with the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (a voluntary arrangement among international organizations which have substantial programmes on forests), providing guidance on how REDD activities can be incorporated into sustainable forest management. And the Union is exploring, with the Poverty-Environment Partnership, institutional arrangements, financing mechanisms and guidelines for the ‘pro-poor’ implementation of REDD.

Much uncertainty remains over the ultimate design of international REDD mechanisms, making it hard to gauge their implications for the poor. The integration of REDD in carbon markets under a future international climate framework appears to have enormous potential income and growth benefits for developing countries. Under certain conditions, these benefits could be passed on to the poor. But the potential risks to the poor from REDD are also substantial and must be fully addressed.

The challenge is to make REDD a viable option by 2012. The negotiations, and the debate, are gaining momentum. The next six months will be critical in building consensus among all the stakeholders that REDD is a viable, and desirable tool in reaching our closely linked goals of tackling climate change, protecting the environment and reducing poverty.