Feature: REDD+ five years in the making

By Tierney Smith
RTCC in Durban

REDD+ will be a vital component to remaining on the two degree pathway

Discussions over REDD+ have taken up a major part of the climate talks over the past five years. The implementation of the project would go a long way to ensuring COP17 in Durban is remembered as a success. With the future of REDD+ in the balance, it’s worth reviewing the last five years, and asking where could the project go after Durban.

One of the most complex but fundamentally essential elements to the climate process, REDD+ aims at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

With as much as a fifth of global emissions estimated to have come from the destruction of forests, halving the level of deforestation is seen as a major step towards keeping the world on the pathway to two degrees which scientists say is so vital.

The REDD+ negotiations in Durban appear to be on track, with some delegates suggesting that issues could be discussed over the next two weeks which were expected to be looked at later in the year.

As talks have progressed many parties highlighted the need for flexibility on financing source – observing that what could work for one party may not necessarily work for another. Meanwhile parties such as Bolivia stressed the importance of alternative mechanisms in place which will consider the multiple values of forests.

The Bolivian delegation also want to ensure the equal distribution of funds to relevant stakes holders – making sure forest communities also feel the benefits of any settlement.

There has also been a call for clarification over the links between REDD+ finance and the Green Climate Fund – which is another issue under intense debate this week.

So while REDD+ is hailed as a simple solution with huge potential (we all know how not to cut trees down)  it has a long way to go.

The corridors at the International Conference Centre in Durban are filled with delegates and experts keen to stress the potential of REDD+. One is Louis Verchot, scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research.

“One of the major constraints is just coming up with a vision,” he told me. “Is it going to be just a payment for environmental services where developed countries pay developing countries and then developing countries set themselves on a more sustainable pathway which has lower deforestation rates for example?”

“Or is it about sort of a market mechanism that helps folks with emission reduction requirements do it more cheaply and avoid some of the more expensive and harder cuts in emissions to make.”

Verchot points towards three sticking points which could become the make or break of the scheme at Durban.

1 – Monitoring progress

One of the key factors towards the success of REDD+ understands how to monitor the carbon savings. While easy to measure the savings in carbon by doing something different, it is not so easy to measure the carbon savings of not doing something.

Clarification on this topic will require two things; a baseline scenario of which to work off and understanding and the capacity of different countries and communities.

“An awful lot of investment going into capacity building without an awful lot of knowledge of what capacity is needed where,” said Verchot.

He stressed that while satellite technologies could be a huge benefit to measuring the carbon stored within different forests, the scheme first needs to establish what technologies are suitable in different regions.

Capacity building is central to the first stage of REDD+ and Verchot said this was not only about building up the abilities within the different countries but will be about understanding what is and is not possible in different countries.

2 – Safeguards for local communities

One of the biggest concerns over the REDD+ scheme is the possibility for corruption within the scheme. Whenever land becomes more profitable there is the risk of forced land grabs and the risk of the money not reaching the communities that it is intended.

Verchot said that issues including land tenure need to be enforced. Meanwhile countries including Bolivia have spoken out about the scheme in its entirety because they believe it does not take into account the other vital services for forests.

Many of these communities rely on the forests for their foods and their livelihoods and Verchot says this should not be ignored.

He said: “It’s a role for community empowerment, it is a role for law enforcement, it’s a role for governments to improve their governance practices. It’s a major problem but it would be a problem if it were REDD it would be a problem is cereal prices were to sky rocket and would become lucrative.”

3 – The issue of finance

Finally for countries to feel confident to involve themselves in the scheme, they need to understand the financial incentives. With sectors including agriculture and biofuels extremely profitable for the communities in forest areas, the scheme needs to ensure that there is a clear and secure structure to the finance.

Verchot says these communities must know how much money they can expect from the scheme and where that money will come from. He also said that while the public sector will remain vital for the time-being for the first ‘readiness’ stage of the scheme, private finance will be needed to secure the future of REDD+ long term.

He said: “The private sector cannot take the types of risks that the public sector can take in these areas to get these first steps done. Having said that I think the only way we are going to get the magnitude of resources for the long term that will actually make REDD a success is to engage the private sector and there I think that is where market mechanisms are going to be essential.”

Five years into REDD+ many lessons have been learnt, but there is still a long way to go before the scheme will be fully operational. These are the sorts of questions which need to be asked and answered over the next two weeks, said Verchot.

“How do we balance all these competing interests and make sure it is done in equitable manner? It’s not a foregone conclusion that it can be done but it is not a foregone conclusion that it can’t be done either.”

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