Historical background of REDD
June 29, 2009: A New Idea to Save Tropical Forests Takes Flight and then in 2005, a small group of countries changed everything. Papua New Guinea teamed up with Costa Rica and a handful of other countries to make a formal plea to the United Nations.
Their request was simple—if developing countries can credibly reduce rates of deforestation and the associated CO2 emissions, the countries should get paid. This band of countries, organized as the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, was even more specific. They asserted that tropical nations should get lucrative carbon credits for each ton of CO2 that otherwise would have been emitted because of deforestation. The global market for carbon credits was worth tens of billions of dollars, so tying rainforest protection to carbon finance would raise vast new sums to conserve tropical forests. Since almost 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are from tropical land-use change, and with growing concern about global warming, other countries began to listen.
Since 2005, the concept of paying countries to conserve their forests and reduce global warming has been dubbed by diplomats as reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries, or REDD. REDD is a bold and evolving plan to radically slow the pace of CO2 emissions by offering hefty incentives for developing countries to stem deforestation. Instead of a couple hundred million dollars per year in conservation charity, billions of dollars in carbon credits could be spent to curtail logging, stop agriculture expansion, or in other ways prevent forests from getting knocked down or set on fire.
REDD is also an incredibly risky gamble. The whole plan relies on resolving gaping problems in forest tenure and governance, technological capacities, and regulatory oversight. In many countries it is not obvious who has rights over a forest. And nowhere in the world are there clear answers to the trickier question of who has rights to the carbon stored in the trees. Another key challenge is the need for a new, uniform way of “interlocking” satellite data with tree measurements taken from forests around the world. We can tell reasonably well from space where and when forests are cleared. Not so well understood is how much carbon is stored in a particular forest and how much is oxidized upon deforestation. In addition to issues of rights and technologies, new global institutions are needed to make this REDD plan work. And even with all these pieces in place, REDD assumes that appropriate price signals for saving trees will make a real difference on the ground in forest communities. This is a huge leap of faith, given that many developing countries currently deforesting have only loose control over vast areas of their land. There are also huge political differences about the ideal way to design a new REDD system of forest conservation payments.
What is amazing is that, despite these challenges, some of the brightest conservation minds on the planet, and most governments, now believe that this so-called REDD plan is the best shot for saving millions of acres of tropical forests. REDD has inspired a whole new cadre of optimistic, creative, and determined people who are self-organizing to stop tropical deforestation. Non-profits, forest communities, governors, presidents, consultants, and scientists are working to usher in this ground-breaking plan for saving rainforests. Others are equally determined to prevent a REDD fiasco, citing the problems already noted with particular concerns about REDD’s impact on indigenous peoples and on the global price of emitting carbon dioxide.
But for now, the overwhelming momentum points to several new policy mechanisms that would pay developing countries that can demonstrate credible drops in deforestation rates and carbon emissions. The idea of using carbon finance to pay for reductions in deforestation has been introduced in United States legislation (in a bill that passed the House of Representatives as well as in earlier Senate bills) and in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In other words, REDD proposals are moving ahead in the two mega-forums that matter when it comes to climate change policy. What is left to decide now are the details. As in all things, the details will make a huge difference as to whether REDD will succeed or fail.