COPENHAGEN (9 December 2009)—An agreement at this week's UN Climate Change talks in Copenhagen to cut carbon emissions by paying developing countries to maintain their forests has the potential to reverse the decline in the world's forests, according to a comprehensive analysis of national policy options to reduce deforestation released today by CIFOR, the Center for International Forestry Research.
The 400-page report, which includes contributions from 59 researchers and policy experts from institutions in 19 countries is the most comprehensive analysis to date and follows the success of last year's Moving Ahead with REDD, which has been translated into five languages.
"Realising REDD+ goes one step further and considers what national policy changes are needed to implement a global mechanism to pay countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD)," says Frances Seymour, CIFOR's director general.
Climate change negotiators already recognise that forests matter in climate change policy. Deforestation and land use change accounts for up to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector. Climate change negotiators are currently debating the introduction of a REDD mechanism which could lead to the transfer of US$ 15-25 billion per year to forest-rich developing countries. The CIFOR report—Realising REDD+: National strategy and policy options—notes that implementing these schemes successfully will require countries to enact reforms in such areas as land tenure, forest monitoring, and governance.
The report cautions that past efforts to curb forest loss have failed more often than they have succeeded. More than 30 case studies describing projects and country policy efforts put valuable lessons on the table for REDD+ policy makers to use.
But the CIFOR analysis concludes that injecting performance-based financial incentives for forest protection in a REDD+ agreement could finally provide the all-important political will for meaningful action in developing countries, where for decades the forces of deforestation have dominated.
The report urges countries to look at REDD+ as a dynamic, multistage process, which can build on the promise of payments for environmental services (PES) schemes. The authors argue that critical reforms necessary to prepare for payment schemes will take time. These include clarifying who owns forested areas and the carbon stored in them, how to monitor carbon stocks, and establishing systems for the fair distribution of payments.
"PES schemes have many advantages—the incentives for forest users are strong. Those responsible for cutting emissions are compensated directly. But there are many opportunities to make rapid progress with the REDD+ agenda that don't depend on the long-term reforms required for PES programmes," says Arild Angelsen, a CIFOR scientist, professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, and the main editor of Realising REDD+.
Angelsen points to the considerable opportunities for progress in the short-term by looking outside the forestry sector to address broad causes of deforestation. One lesson from the past, according to the report, is that many forest reform efforts have focused on the forest sector in isolation from other sectors.
The agricultural sector puts pressure on forests. Angelsen quotes IPCC estimates that 75 percent of deforestation is due to forest clearing for agriculture, which means REDD+ must focus on replacing policies that encourage farmers to expand into sparsely settled forested areas with policies that shift production to more intensively cultivated lands near urban areas.
Opportunities exist for relatively rapid progress through energy policy adjustments, says Angelsen, such as subsidies for cheap, fuel-efficient stoves that reduce the demand for fuel wood, another major driver of forest carbon loss.
The book's authors suggest that past lessons and recent national efforts to implement REDD+ strategies can help governments choose strategies that are most likely to protect forests in the near term and further the goals established in Copenhagen. For example:
Angelsen says that after Copenhagen, while all forest-related efforts will likely march under the REDD+ banner, "most of what will be undertaken at the national and local levels has in fact been attempted before. We can learn a lot by looking at what has worked and, equally important, what has not."
REDD+ at the national level
The report makes it clear that while this week the focus is on an international REDD+ pact, in reality the bulk of the process already has moved to the national level where governments in some 40 countries are developing strategies, policies and demonstration projects in anticipation that forests will be incorporated into a climate change agreement.
The CIFOR study reviews several countries that have taken early action to implement REDD+ actions:
Better REDD imperfect than REDD unrealised
While the CIFOR report exhaustively explores the many challenges to using the REDD+ process to transform management of the endangered forests of the developing world, the report argues that action is needed despite the various uncertainties.
"We must balance the risk of taking action in less than perfect conditions against the risk of lost opportunities if we are too cautious," says Seymour. "Designed appropriately, REDD+ has the potential to catalyze needed reforms, while protecting vulnerable communities. In a world facing catastrophic climate change, the risk of doing nothing is too great."