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REDD+ as an idea is a success but implementing it is fraught with challenges, new global study says
June 18, 2012: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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Implementation of a UN-backed scheme that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by protecting tropical forests is fraught with challenges but these can be overcome with technical solutions and increased political will, according to the authors of a new publication from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Analysing REDD+: Challenges and Choices, released today on the side-lines of the Rio +20 summit, reports on the current state of REDD+, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, as well as the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The study – drawing on three years of research across Asia, Africa and Latin America – offers fresh insights into the challenges faced by REDD+, and suggests new ways of addressing some of them.
“There are a lot of practical challenges, but this book shows there are workable, technical solutions to these, so the main problems are really the political ones,” says Arild Angelsen, an environmental economist with CIFOR and professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, and the book's main editor.
“You cannot address climate change without including REDD+.”
Seven years since the idea of reducing emissions through avoided deforestation was launched, the publication takes a critical look at REDD+, asking how it has changed, how it is unfolding in specific national policy arenas – and highlighting the choices for making REDD+ more effective, efficient, and equitable.
“REDD+ as an idea is a success story,” says Angelsen. “It was something genuinely new, and the new key element was that it was based on payments for performance or results. And it was also to be accompanied by big money.”
“We compare it to 'sustainable development' – a nice catch phrase and promising to do a lot. Both ideas have been an inspiration for policy makers and practitioners.”
But as REDD+ has moved from an idea into the real world, the difficulties have mounted. Those challenges are both practical and political. They range from how to measure and monitor the carbon emissions avoided by leaving a forest standing, to deciding who should get the money generated by REDD+, to achieving coordination among local, regional, national and international levels of governance.
“REDD+ design and implementation is extremely challenging,” says Angelsen. “The devil is in the detail – when you start to work out the specifics of REDD+ then there is more conflict.”
An emerging problem for REDD+ is how to develop reference levels, in order to provide a benchmark to measure the impact of the scheme in the form of reduced or avoided emissions.
To make payments based on results, REDD+ needs a standardised mechanism to measure how much carbon would have been released, had a forest been destroyed or degraded rather than protected. This is a difficult task – facing a lack of data, high uncertainty about predicting deforestation rates in the future, and strong incentives for biased estimates.
Analysing REDD+, which was published as part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+, presents a new, step-wise approach to developing reference levels at the national level, which would allow all countries to build these all-important reference levels, even if they have low levels of institutional capacity and ability to collect data.
The book also reveals some encouraging news regarding the location of REDD+ pilot projects. The success of REDD+ in actually reducing carbon emissions depends on interventions happening in areas of high deforestation. Analysing REDD+'s detailed study of project locations in Brazil and Indonesia finds that REDD+ projects are more likely to be established in areas with high deforestation rates and high forest carbon densities – suggesting the projects have the potential to make an impact.
In the book’s concluding chapter, Angelsen and CIFOR Director General Frances Seymour say there is much uncertainty about REDD+, but this should not lead to inaction. They say there exist 'no-regrets' actions that should be put in place immediately and that represent good public policy even if they do not eventually generate emissions reductions. These include clarifying land tenure, removing perverse subsidies, and improving access to forest-related data, as well as improving institutional capacity and law enforcement.
However, Angelsen says REDD+'s primary goal should still be the reduction of carbon emissions.
“There is a high risk of harmful climate change, and we should do something about that, and REDD+ is a key part of what we should do,” Angelsen says. “It's not simple, but still, REDD+ is easier and cheaper than a lot of other mitigation efforts. So I think there are still things to be excited about when it comes to REDD+.”
Click here to download a copy of Analysing REDD+: Challenges and Choices
The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) advances human wellbeing, environmental conservation and equity by conducting research to inform policies and practices that affect forests in developing countries. CIFOR helps ensure that decision-making that affects forests is based on solid science and principles of good governance, and reflects the perspectives of developing countries and forest-dependent people. CIFOR is one of 15 centres within the CGIAR.