Challenges mount as forest carbon payment approaches move from theory to practice

June 20, 2012

Rainforest in Indonesia
Rainforest in Indonesia.

The concept of paying tropical countries to reduce destruction of their forests is succeeding as an idea but suffering from implementation challenges, argues a new review by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), as the U.N.-backed initiative is known, gained momentum as a climate change mitigation approach in the mid-2000s. The concept was widely championed by a variety of stakeholders. But as REDD+ has moved from theory to real-world projects, complications have grown while enthusiasm has waned.

The new book from CIFOR examines this transformation, analyzing REDD+ design and early implementation. It identifies a number of challenges that need to be overcome to ensure REDD+ is equitable, cost effective, and actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s a reality check on what is happening on the ground,” says CIFOR's Arild Angelsen, an environmental economist and professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences who was the book's main editor.

"REDD+ as an idea is a success story," Angelsen continued. "It was something genuinely new, and the new key element was that it was based on payments for performance or results. And it was also accompanied by big money.”

“We compare it to ‘sustainable development’ – a nice catch phrase and promising to do a lot. Both ideas have been inspirational for policy makers and practitioners, but results so far are not what many hoped for."

The book notes that REDD+ is facing huge challenges, including powerful interests pushing business-as-usual approaches to forest use, difficulties in coordinating between different levels of government, concerns about activities that could jeopardize local people and wildlife, lack of land rights, benefits distribution local communities, sources of finance at a time of economic uncertainty, corruption, reliable monitoring, and credible processes for establishing reference levels.

"If you have a system of payments you could in theory make everybody winners – but in practice there are two challenges: firstly, we don’t have enough financing to change the fundamental equation and thereby make everyone winners, and secondly it’s very difficult to design a system that will make sure everyone wins,” Angelsen said.

“There are a lot of practical challenges, but this book shows there are workable, technical solutions to these, so the main problems are really the political ones."

Rainforest in Indonesia
Rainforest in Indonesia.

But REDD+ still has great potential, says the book.

"REDD+ requires – and can catalyze – transformational change: New economic incentives, new information and discourses, new actors and new policy coalitions have the potential to move domestic policies away from the business as usual trajectory," stated a briefing from CIFOR.

CIFOR says there is also an element of "no regret" with REDD+ policy in that steps needed to ensure the success of REDD+ are still beneficial even if REDD+ never gets off the ground.

"Despite uncertainty about the future of REDD+, stakeholders need to build political support and coalitions for change, invest in adequate information systems, and implement policies that can reduce deforestation and forest degradation, but are desirable regardless of climate objectives."

Analysing REDD+ Challenges and choices [PDF] has 66 authors and was released to coincide with CIFOR's Forest Day at the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil.

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mongabay.com (June 20, 2012).

Challenges mount as forest carbon payment approaches move from theory to practice.