New study says REDD payment mechanisms could halve forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon, but significant amounts of cash to conserve forests could go to wealthiest landholders

Research by CIFOR and partners concludes that confusion in status of land tenure represents the single largest impediment to REDD in Brazil


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (19 May 2010) Owners of larger tracts of land, thought to be responsible for 80 per cent of current deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, would benefit most financially if direct payments are used to curb climate emissions from forests, according to a new study by researchers with CIFOR (the Center for International Forestry Research) and their partners, recently published in the journal Ecological Economics.

The report’s authors suggest that if an estimated US$6 billion was invested in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD, this could halve the forest loss projected between 2008 and 2019 in the Brazilian Amazon at current per tonne carbon prices. This could conserve about 12.5 million hectares, an area roughly half the size of the United Kingdom.

Yet the authors also note that, to the extent that direct payments to landowners are implemented with REDD funds, a large share would go to large (greater than 100 hectares), presumably wealthy landholders, who have been responsible for much of the deforestation in the region. However this is by no means certain. Funds might also be used for related issues such as straightening out ambiguous land tenure and enforcing conservation in already protected areas.

‘When four-fifths of a major environmental problem is caused by large landholders, then any solution will have to provide some compensation to this group for their losses,’ says Sven Wunder, CIFOR scientist and co-author of ‘Direct conservation payments in the Brazilian Amazon: Scope and equity implications’. ‘And if that achieves the desired emission reductions, perhaps this is a necessary evil.’

Wunder and his colleagues suggest that REDD payments would be particularly effective in curbing forest conversion to cattle pastures and ‘slash-and-burn’ agriculture, as these land uses earn relatively little return.

Worldwide, at least 40 per cent of rainforests have been destroyed in the last 30 years. The Brazilian Amazon is a principal candidate for REDD because most of the globe’s largest remaining rainforest lies in a country with the world’s largest absolute forest loss every year. This is important for climate change because up to one-fifth of annual global carbon emissions come from land use change such as clearing forests for agriculture.

According to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), between 2000 and 2005 roughly 13 million hectares of Brazilian Amazon forest were felled. Reducing the carbon emissions associated with continuing deforestation of this kind may secure important co-benefits such as conserving biodiversity, cultural values, and regional climate regulation, according to the authors.

But the study notes that around two-thirds of future deforestation will take place in areas that have ill-defined or insecure tenure, mainly on unclassified public lands or private land without clear boundaries. Another quarter of future deforestation is projected to occur in strictly protected areas, indigenous territories, sustainable use areas, and land reform settlements.

‘The way the Brazilian government has devised payment schemes for environmental services, payment cannot be used to stop deforestation on illegally appropriated lands, nor on lands where private tenure is disputed,’ says Jan Börner, CIFOR scientist and a co-author of the study. ‘Land-tenure confusion represents the single largest impediment for using on the ground payments to implement REDD in Brazil on a large scale.’

In December, when the world gathers for climate change talks in Cancún, Mexico, a significant part of the debate will focus on further developing REDD+. As currently envisioned, this could eventually transfer US$15–25 billion a year from developed to forest-rich developing countries. These funds would be used to implement policies to control the drivers of deforestation and degradation and to compensate forest owners for foregoing income available from converting forests to other uses.

‘This research tells us that the primary obstacles facing REDD are not technical or economic but institutional and governance related,’ says Frances Seymour, Director General of CIFOR. ‘In situations where land tenure is unclear and law enforcement is uneven, we cannot expect market mechanisms alone to promote outcomes that are effective, efficient and equitable.’

The research was largely funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment with additional support from the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), NORAD, the European Union, and the Centrum für Internationale Migration und Entwicklung (CIM).

Direct conservation payments in the Brazilian Amazon: Scope and equity implications. Jan Börner, Sven Wunder, Sheila Wertz-Kanounnikoff, Marcos Rügnitz Tito, Ligia Pereira, Nathalia Nascimento. Ecological Economics 69 (2010) 1272–1282.

About the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
CIFOR advances human wellbeing, environmental conservation and equity by conducting research to inform policies and practices that affect forests in developing counties. 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 Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. For more information, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
James Clarke at or