Carbon market could fund rainforest conservation, fight climate change:
Interview with Tracy Johns, REDD policy expert at WHRC
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
May 19, 2008




A mechanism to fund forest conservation through the carbon market could significantly reduce greenhouse emissions, help preserve biodiversity, and improve rural livelihoods, says a policy expert with the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) in Massachusetts.

In an interview with mongabay.com, WHRC Policy Advisor and Research Associate Tracy Johns says that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), a proposed policy mechanism for combating climate change by safeguarding forests and the carbon they store, offers great potential for protecting tropical rainforests.

"Past efforts to save tropical forests have relied on voluntary funding, and this simply has not been enough to properly value all of the benefits tropical forest provide, or to make their protection a competitive option compared to their destruction," Johns explains. "REDD offers us the chance to put a monetary value on standing forests, and could give developing countries a way to contribute more substantially to the goals of global emissions reduction, while at the same time protecting their forest resources and investing in forest-related sustainable development for their forest-dependent communities.


Tracy Johns
While REDD has attracted a lot of interest among policymakers, environmentalists, indigenous rights' groups, and the investment community, Johns says that implementation still faces a number of challenges including the "readiness" of developing countries and the commitment of developed governments.

"Many of the developing countries most likely to join a REDD regime currently have limited capacity to monitor and account for changes in deforestation rates and emissions, and many also do not have processes in place to support a participatory process that will incorporate the many stakeholders impacted by a REDD program," she said. "Creating the infrastructure to support REDD programs long-term and to address the rights and roles of all relevant stakeholders impacted by a REDD program is a huge challenge, and can only be met through significant commitments by both developed and developing countries; developed countries must provide financial support, technology transfer, and knowledge and experience transfer, while developing countries will need to commit through sustained political will to address issues of land tenure and traditional rights, as well as incorporate REDD into long-term planning."

Johns is one of a number of WHRC researchers working on REDD. Daniel Nepstad, a tropical forest ecologist who leads the Center's Amazon program, has been examining the potential for REDD in the Brazilian Amazon, while Josef Kellndorfer, a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist, has been working on the monitoring capacities of remote sensing technologies. Both have previously conducted interviews with mongabay.com.

AN INTERVIEW WITH TRACY JOHNS


Mongabay: What is your role at the Woods Hole Research Institute?


Net opportunity cost of forest protection in the Brazilian Amazon. Calculated as maximum net present value of soy or cattle production minus NPV of timber. The value was then divided by forest carbon stocks. Red represents high opportunity costs for foregoing land-use activities. Courtesy of WHRC and appearing at How much would it cost to end Amazon deforestation?
Tracy Johns: I am a Policy Advisor and Research Associate at WHRC. My role is to work with our scientific staff to link our scientific work on climate change, land use, and deforestation with relevant domestic and international policy processes. In the context of the UNFCCC we bring our scientific and economic expertise to support developing countries with the design of policies and activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. I work with scientists from our Africa and Amazon programs to combine our scientific efforts with capacity building in these regions and also to support the development of sound regional and national policies on forests and climate. Additionally I work with other NGO partners to provide input and support for strong federal climate policy in the U.S. that also supports reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.


Mongabay: What is your background?

Tracy Johns: I studied biology in my undergraduate degree, and my master's work was in forest ecology and environmental policy.


Mongabay: How did you become interested in forestry policy issues?

Tracy Johns: During my master's degree work, I became interested in the intersection of science and policy — how science impacts and interacts with policy processes. The UNFCCC is perhaps one of the best examples of an international political process that relies on science to frame and guide its work; and within the UNFCCC, forests and land use are among the more science-driven issues. I saw this intersection as a way to pursue both my interest in forest ecology and policy.


Mongabay: Do you have any advice for a student wanting to pursue a career in forest-related policy?

Tracy Johns: I think that it is a big advantage for a student if she/he can gain technical proficiency in the science that drives and supports sound forest policy and forest management - forest ecological processes, the terrestrial carbon cycle, and also in key policy areas such as ecosystem services, land tenure issues, and economic drivers of land use change. Additionally, an internship that will provide exposure to forest policy is one of the best ways to get an idea of the opportunities for a future career.


REDD


Mongabay: What do you see as the biggest policy issues in REDD discussions?


Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center are actively involved in the development of policy mechanisms focused on compensating rainforest nations for slowing deforestation, thereby reducing their emissions from heat-trapping greenhouse gases. As part of this effort, Dr. Josef Kellndorfer and his colleagues are investigating the latest spaceborne remote sensing technologies for monitoring tropical deforestation, including a new Japanese radar sensor, the Phased Array L-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR), carried on board the Advanced Land Observing Satellite. Using data from the ALOS/PALSAR. Credit: Josef Kellndorfer/Wayne Walker, The Woods Hole Research Center (whrc.org)
Tracy Johns: Countries are debating the potential role of sub-national activities and whether and how they should be included in REDD as a stepping stone to national level programs. Additionally, the issue of financing looms in the discussions. Many countries support the use of market mechanisms to fund REDD activities, while others propose the use of voluntary funds. Options such as committing a portion of proceeds from emissions trading to fund REDD activities are also under discussion.

Additionally the issue of indigenous and forest community rights has surfaced as a major topic in the REDD debate. A well-designed REDD framework could support the recognition of the role of indigenous peoples and forest communities in forest protection, but this goal must be incorporated in the design of national REDD programs, to insure that REDD does not provide an incentive to bypass the rights of these traditional forest stewards.


Mongabay: What's holding REDD back?

Tracy Johns: One of the first challenges that may limit opportunities for REDD implementation is the level of "readiness" in developing countries to establish transparent, equitable programs to implement and monitor REDD activities. Many of the developing countries most likely to join a REDD regime currently have limited capacity to monitor and account for changes in deforestation rates and emissions, and many also do not have processes in place to support a participatory process that will incorporate the many stakeholders impacted by a REDD program. While issues of monitoring and accounting can be more readily addressed through increased financing and capacity building, creating the infrastructure to support REDD programs long-term and to address the rights and roles of all relevant stakeholders impacted by a REDD program is a huge challenge, and can only be met through significant commitments by both developed and developing countries; developed countries must provide financial support, technology transfer, and knowledge and experience transfer, while developing countries will need to commit through sustained political will to address issues of land tenure and traditional rights, as well as incorporate REDD into long-term planning.


Mongabay: What's your outlook for REDD? When are we likely to see REDD credits in established (i.e. non-voluntary) markets?


Carbon fluxes from Africa, 1900-2000
Tracy Johns: Despite the many challenges that still lie before us, my outlook for REDD is optimistic. Scientific understanding of the role of tropical forests in climate change has greatly improved, as well as the technical capacity to monitor forests remotely. There is a common realization that success in the REDD process is vital to meeting the challenge of climate change. REDD has the potential to significantly reduce global emissions, to protect biodiversity and water and soil resources, to drive progress in land tenure issues and protect the rights of indigenous and forest communities, and to reduce the overall cost of meeting the climate change challenge. We simply cannot miss this opportunity, and I believe there is growing recognition of the absolute imperative to include REDD in our global strategy to avoid dangerous climate change.


Mongabay: Do you see REDD clearing a path for other ecosystem payments like water?

Tracy Johns: The lessons we learn in the REDD process have great potential to transfer to future initiatives such as designing market mechanisms to value and protect resources like water. The REDD process is already breaking new ground, and the more familiarity that stakeholders gain with these concepts, and the more experience gained in designing and implementing them, the better we will become as a community at designing innovative approaches to value other important ecosystem services.


Mongabay: Are you hopeful that REDD can be implemented on the kind of scale that would be needed to save tropical forests? Will REDD alone offer the kind of returns that will make it viable relative to other forms of land use?

Tropical deforestation rates from 2000-2005, ranked in decending order by the highest amount of average annual forest loss for 25 countries based on data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Image by Rhett A. Butler, click to enlarge
Tracy Johns: The REDD process offers the potential to significantly reduce global emissions and protect tropical forests. What makes REDD different is the potential link to the resources of the carbon market. Past efforts to save tropical forests have relied on voluntary funding, and this simply has not been enough to properly value all of the benefits tropical forest provide, or to make their protection a competitive option compared to their destruction. REDD offers us the chance to put a monetary value on standing forests, and could give developing countries a way to contribute more substantially to the goals of global emissions reduction, while at the same time protecting their forest resources and investing in forest-related sustainable development for their forest-dependent communities.


Woods Hole Research Center






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CITATION:
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (May 19, 2008).

Carbon market could fund rainforest conservation, fight climate change.

http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0519-interview_johns.html