Forests, particularly tropical forests, are economically valuable for their biodiversity and, especially relevant for climate change, their ability to store carbon within their vegetation and soil. Alternately, destruction of forests releases carbon into the atmosphere. Deforestation and forest degradation account for 12-20% of GHG emissions. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a strategy to place financial value on the carbon stored in the forests, thus allowing carbon-emitting nations to compensate developing nations for keeping their forests standing through the purchase of carbon offsets.
The expanded REDD+ mission, which also includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks, was a persistent topic of discussion in Cancun at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP-16). Although the talks have excited some activity on the ground, the questions that a multi-billion dollar, international carbon market hinges on were not answered.
On the surface, REDD+ appears to be one of the more feasible options for climate change mitigation – stop cutting down trees and have rich nations invest in sustainable development. Besides an initial UN seed fund, however, long-term funding for this program is uncertain. Meanwhile, logging and clearing land for cash crops are profitable practices in countries where economic development is still a priority. Implementation is also complicated. Measuring, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems are necessary to obtain accurate numbers on carbon stocks and flows. Concerns exist beyond carbon measurements regarding transparency in governance, corruption, and the rights of indigenous communities to access resources or benefit from the funding. According to the UN, the livelihoods of over 1.6 billion people depend on forests, 300 million of which actually live in the forests. How these people will fit into the REDD+ equation is yet to be determined.
Despite these initial challenges, REDD+ will have additional benefits that are not accounted for, but may be significant in the future global economy. Healthy forests play a valuable role as carbon sinks, areas of high biodiversity, and providers of ecosystem services, such as food, water, and stabilization of nutrient cycles.
At the COP-16 talks, some forest nations spoke earnestly of their positioning and readiness to benefit from REDD+, while a minority expressed concern for forest-dependent communities. Governor Liyel Imoke of the Cross Rivers State of Nigeria reminded the delegates that his state has over 50% of the remaining forests in Nigeria and one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hot spots. In contrast, one of the most vocal opponents of REDD+, the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, said, “We are not here to convert nature into a commodity. We have not come here to revitalize capitalism with carbon markets.”
Nonetheless, REDD+ received general approval in Cancun as a climate change mitigation strategy. A framework was not determined, however, on how to value the carbon in global forests, how to measure this carbon, and how to regulate and fund the program. In the meantime, governments are being encouraged to explore options before the next conference in Durban. Some countries are starting to prepare in anticipation of an international legal agreement in the near future.
The national REDD Task Force in Tanzania is soliciting regional and international input on a draft REDD+ strategy. A final document is expected to be ready by April 2011. Their plans might have increased chances of success because they align with existing national conservation and development policies. In a separate project, a consortium including the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Google, the government of Finland, environmental NGOs, and the private sector are doing an inventory of Tanzania’s forests. Multi-stakeholder participation is key to an infant REDD+ and various partners keep emerging. In Pakistan, the Organization of Islamic Conference, offered technical and financial support for REDD+ training for capacity building of forest officers.
Other nations will have obstacles to initial implementation due to institutional challenges. Sri Lanka has begun measuring its carbon stocks in anticipation of post-2012 REDD+. Forest management in this country, however, requires coordination between several ministries, creating uncertainty and slowing the rate of turnaround. Similarly, one of the biggest obstacles to land use management in Indonesia has been the legal confusion caused by the overlapping authority of various governing bodies, contradictory laws, and corruption. Without the necessary credibility, Indonesia will struggle to develop a national MRV system. The potential of REDD+ in Indonesia has been of particular interest since the country has surpassed Brazil as the largest deforester. In May of last year, Norway pledged $1 billion to support REDD+ in Indonesia. As of yet, Indonesia has no clear framework or national strategy to meet Norway’s expectations. Some progress has been made, such as the creation of a taskforce to develop an agency for national REDD+ coordination, but it has been criticized for its slowness to show results. Another recent development was the selection of the pilot province for REDD+: Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, which has both extensive forests and peatlands and a strongly committed governor.
The most recent benchmark of success has been the multi-million dollar, first ever sale of carbon credits for REDD from Kenya’s Kasigua Corridor. The NGO Wildlife Works sold 1.16 million Voluntary Carbon Units under the Voluntary Carbon Standard, the most widely used carbon accounting standard in the voluntary market, to South Africa’s Nedbank Group, which also provided much of the early support for the project. Wildlife Works expects to reduce over 6 million tons of CO2 equivalent over the next 30 years. The second phase has already begun in another section of the Kasigua Corridor, aided by a $50 million investment by the French bank, BNP Paribus. Reliable MRV and a trusted carbon accounting system, such as the Voluntary Carbon Standard, are necessary to attracting private investment in forest preservation.
The UNFCCC’s encouragement to begin experimenting with REDD+ implementation has increased nation-sized efforts. Understandably, more intentions to proceed have been displayed than actual changes. Without collective action, benefits seem unclear or unreliable for many. The global community has yet to determine whether financing should come from a fund, a carbon market, or some sort of combination. Other than the $4.1 billion UN seed fund, the source of long-term funding for REDD+ (estimated at $100 billion over the next two decades) has not been defined. The issue of how to preserve rights of indigenous groups still has to be addressed. Allowing forest value to be determined by unstable markets is also an ethical concern. With all these obstacles yet to be resolved, perhaps these smaller-scale undertakings are necessary to inform the process for the next Conference of Parties in Durban in 2011.