‘REDD+’ Progress and Potential: More Financial Incentives Needed

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Despite the promise to greatly reduce tropical deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions with modest funding, concerns persist over whether ‘REDD+’ can sustain support.

In addition to supporting the livelihoods of people and of animals relying on their bounty for food and shelter, forests can help reduce the contribution of deforestation to climate change.

Globally, deforestation accounts for about 12 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. The set of policies known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), one of the United Nations climate change mitigation strategies, is designed to help stop the destruction of the world’s forests through economic incentives.

But five years after the launch of the program, REDD+ is now at a critical juncture. Conservation International recently warned that “the failure to increase the demand for REDD+ credits could result in the collapse of a number of high profile REDD+ projects while limiting the success of many others [PDF].”

Redd+ Projects Aplenty…but not Financial Incentives

Inaction on REDD+ is speaking louder than words. Projects abound, but financial incentives to keep them going are lacking. Additionally, communication problems of REDD+ projects — how beneficiaries play a role, effects on forest-dependent indigenous peoples, and regulatory frameworks — also stand in the way of further progress.

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As Conservation International’s report indicates, failure by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to act on REDD+ by 2015 will “undermine trust” in a REDD+ program of the future, and threaten current forest conservation efforts. In 2011, REDD+ projects actively protected more than 14 million hectares of endangered forest.

San Francisco-based Wildlife Works, a REDD+ project development and management company, has been one of the first to generate and market REDD+ credits to global companies voluntarily buying credits to offset their emissions. The group’s leading project involves 174,000 hectares of protected land in the Kasigau corridor in eastern Kenya between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. The project employs some 300 Kenyans. Wildlife Works’ clients purchase voluntary emissions reductions (VERs) and include some of the world’s leading companies, such as Microsoft, Barclays Bank, Allianz, Marks & Spencer, BNP Paribas, and Kering (Gucci, YSL, Volcom, and Puma).

Mike Korchinsky, founder and president of Wildlife Works, says he understands and accepts the long-term timeline for REDD+ projects. “Nobody said saving the world’s forests and delivering the most comprehensive and effective mechanism for climate change mitigation was going to be fast or easy. But for those of us who have been working hard to make REDD+ a reality for forests, communities and wildlife, we believe that REDD+ is now making significant leaps forward.”

Redd+ Compliance and Voluntary Markets

REDD+ projects are supported in two ways: through compliance markets and through voluntary markets. Compliance markets are those in which countries pledge to take action on climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Several countries have pledged to “comply” with lowering the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. The European Union has regulated emissions since 2005, and California just launched its own regulatory framework for companies in the state. Similar legislation exists in Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and Canada.

A voluntary market includes businesses, individuals, and municipalities that are not mandated to regulate their greenhouse gas emissions.

The voluntary markets generally are doing well, but compliance markets are being adopted slowly, causing concern.

Looking to California for Boost in U.S.

One potential boost in the compliance market in the United States is in California’s emission reduction law, AB 32, which could spur a market for purchasing REDD+ credits. A science advisory panel, called the REDD Offsets Working Group, recently provided guidance to California on how to implement REDD as part of AB 32. Wildlife Works’ Korchinsky says that California’s law demonstrates a thoughtful consensus among a range of stakeholders that REDD+ should be a part of large-scale climate change mechanisms to reduce emissions globally.

Still, uncertainty exists globally. Gustavo Silva-Chavez, a forests and climate change expert, formerly with the Environmental Defense Fund, says he fears that enthusiasm by NGOs, businesses, and local stakeholders could begin to wane. “A lot of people have engaged in getting ready for REDD+, and we are 95 percent there in terms of agreeing on policies, but much of this was supposed to be implemented by 2013,” he said. “A global deal needs to happen in Paris in 2015.”

Rewarding Good Forest Stewardship

Ideology and communication troubles have strained forward movement in the compliance market. “There are people who think REDD+ involves putting a price on nature, which it doesn’t. It involves providing a reward for good stewardship, but that’s not like buying nature,” said Steve Zwick, of EcoSystems Marketplace.

“On the communicative side, policymakers believed there was confusion about the basics, [such as] how to measure the amount of carbon captured in trees, how to determine what is and what is not an endangered rainforest, and how to determine which human actions can be credited with saving endangered forest.”

Zwick said that some of the communication obstacles have been legitimate, but that in the more than 15 years since the Kyoto Protocol took effect, project managers have become more accurate about the measurements of carbon captured in forests. “The trouble is that it’s not that cheap. You have to send people out to measure samples that are large and well-placed enough to be representative, and you have to then work on making sure those measurements match up with what the satellites are seeing,” he said.

Ultimately, developing countries need a reason to make those investments, Zwick said, adding that Forest Trends and Ecosystem Marketplace is addressing this issue through in a new REDDX initiative, which tracks funding of REDD projects.

A recent project in Peru brought in $3.5 million when Disney made a commitment to reduce its carbon emissions. The initiative is a project of The Carbon Fund, in collaboration with Conservation International, the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, and the Conservation Stewards Program.

The Peru project helps reduce slash-and-burn agriculture practices in the region, and helps improve agricultural practices of the 235 families living the region. Conservation International’s first REDD+ project in a protected area, the effort has reduced emissions by 2.5 million metric tons, the equivalent to taking 500,000 autos off the road for a year.

Lisa Palmer

Lisa Palmer is a Maryland-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Yale Forum. (E-mail: lisa@yaleclimatemediaforum.org, Twitter: @Lisa_Palmer)
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