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The need to jump-start REDD to save forests is partnering with the Skoll Foundation ahead of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship to bring a series of perspectives that aim to answer the question: how do we feed the world and still address the drivers of deforestation?

Soy, cattle, rice, palm oil, and logging are the principal drivers of deforestation. As global population increases from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2040, and as more and more people around the world rise out of poverty into the middle class, the demand for these commodities and practices will continue to rise with them. To address these issues, and in advance of the World Forests Summit hosted by the Economist in March, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship partnered with the Stanford Institute for the Environment and Mongabay News to surface the latest insights and innovations at the intersection of deforestation and sustainability. This debate will also set the stage for a larger discussion on deforestation at this year’s Skoll World Forum in Oxford, UK.

At least US$7.3 billion has been pledged for REDD+ over the period from 2008 to 2015, with $4.3 billion pledged for REDD+ readiness during the fast-start period alone (2010-2012). In addition to these funds, private investors, private foundations, and others have been channeling financial support to developing countries for REDD+ and related programs for several years now.

Despite the great momentum REDD+ has achieved, information regarding which activities are being implemented as well as the actual flows of financing to and within forest nations remains fragmented, incomplete, and often inaccessible. For example, national policy makers and donors are still unsure about how much pledged public funding is actually flowing. There is also a paucity of information revealing if and how private funding is moving in parallel, which types of organizations are implementing the majority of activities (e.g., large international consulting firms, local, or community organizations, government programs, etc.), and what types of activities across the spectrum have already been funded.

Michael Jenkins

Founder, Forest Trends

As a forester in Haiti and Brazil, Michael Jenkins saw the effects of extreme degradation of natural ecosystems on poor people and understood that traditional philanthropy alone was insufficient to solve the problem. At the MacArthur Foundation, he reoriented the sustainable forestry program to take a whole-systems approach that outlined the forest “value chain” and identified strategies to build financial and community sustainability within the system. He founded Forest Trends in 1998 to highlight the market value of natural ecosystems to promote their conservation. Forest Trends is widely credited for advancing the concept and practical application of “payments for ecosystem services,” an innovation that is gaining widespread momentum as a powerful conservation tool for forests and ecosystems.

In response to this need for transparency and accountability in the burgeoning financial flows for REDD+, the Tracking REDD+ Expenditures initiative was launched in November 2010 by Forest Trends (FT) in four pilot countries—Ghana, Ecuador, Brazil, and Vietnam—in collaboration with national governments and local partners. The initiative has entered an expanded second phase which aims to vet and improve case studies, continue tracking funds in 2012, add additional countries (including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Tanzania, and Colombia), and collaborate with complementary initiatives (REDD+ Partnership, Climate Funds Update (ODI), REDD Desk (Global Canopy Programme), Tropical Forest Group).

It is safe to say, from our initial findings, that to date very little of the commitments to REDD+ has reached the ground and with minimal impact in terms of real reductions of carbon emissions from forestry and land use, or mobilizing longer-term private sector investment. The lion’s share of these fast-track funds are earmarked for REDD Readiness – preparing for a market that does not exist. There is a critical need to increase efficiency in the way these funds are deployed and to dramatically leverage new sources of private finance. We need to jump-start REDD.

Fortunately, there are some very interesting opportunities emerging. While the global framework of the UNFCCC moves slowly forward with the aim of having a regime in place by 2020, some stakeholders are moving forward more boldly. States and provinces grouped under the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) are developing pragmatic frameworks to deliver, measure, and mobilize finance for reducing deforestation, with the State of Acre, Brazil, perhaps being the most advanced in this process. In parallel, Roundtables for Sustainable Soy, Palm Oil, and Cattle, out of concern about security of supply and access to markets, have adopted commitments to reduce or eliminate deforestation in their supply chain. As major drivers of deforestation in key tropical forest areas, these commodity sectors have the potential to significantly reduce global emissions, if leveraged through innovative public-private finance.

In order to jump-start or catalyze the rapid scale-up of private finance for REDD and long-term growth for forest carbon payment schemes, we need a bilateral (Norway, US) or multilateral (World Bank) institution to use its balance sheet enhancement; act as a central buyer of forest and land-use carbon credits that reduces risk for both public and private sector investment; and develop and deploy new contract and project/jurisdictional finance structures that pave the way for more sophisticated systems of payments for high-performing forest carbon services. This would offer the bold leadership that could jump-start REDD and give it a chance to deliver on its promise.

To discuss this commentary, please visit THE NEED TO JUMP-START REDD


6 lessons for stopping deforestation on the frontier

(04/09/2013) In 1984, at the tail end of the Brazilian dictatorship, I took up residence in a frontier town called Paragominas in the eastern Amazon. I went to study rainforests and pasture restoration, but soon became captivated as well by the drama of the frontier itself. Forests were hotly contested among cattle ranchers, smallholder communities, land speculators and more than a hundred logging companies, sometimes with fatal results. If we are to meet rising global demand for food, conserve tropical forests, and mitigate climate change at the pace that is necessary, we must become much better at taming aggressive, lawless tropical forest frontiers where people are making a lot of money cutting forests down.

Can we meet rising food demand and save forests?

(04/03/2013) A few weeks ago the Skoll World Forum hosted an online debate on how increased global consumption can be balanced with sustainability. The debate asks how a rapidly growing world that is ever consuming can hope to feed everyone, and at the same time address the deforestation that is emitting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and destroying the world’s greatest tropical forests. Many contributors made very strong points—even contradicting one another in their approaches and ideas.

Strong ‘no deforestation’ commitments save forests and feed people

(03/12/2013) As a global community, we have so far failed to answer this most pressing question; we have yet to build our cloud. Deforestation rates are down in some places, but overall, our forests continue to disappear much as they have for the past 50 years, driven principally by increasing global demand for food. Can we feed the world and save our forests? Yes, we can, and the solution lies in the global supply chain and the message some companies are now sending their suppliers: ‘If you cut down trees, I won’t buy your product.’ This has the power to silence bulldozers. It’s already doing so and now it’s time to go to scale.

The need to jump-start REDD to save forests

(03/08/2013) At least US$7.3 billion has been pledged for REDD+ over the period from 2008 to 2015, with $4.3 billion pledged for REDD+ readiness during the fast-start period alone (2010-2012). In addition to these funds, private investors, private foundations, and others have been channeling financial support to developing countries for REDD+ and related programs for several years now.

A promising initiative to address deforestation in Brazil at the local level

(03/05/2013) The history of the Brazilian Amazon has long been marked by deforestation and degradation. Until recently the situation has been considered out of control. Then, in 2004, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious program to combat deforestation. Public pressure—both national and international—was one of the reasons that motivated the government to act. Another reason was that in 2004, deforestation contributed to more than 55 percent of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making Brazil the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

Saving forests by putting a price on them

(03/04/2013) During the 2013 SuperBowl, the championship game of the US National Football League, a truck company aired an advertisement that likened farmers to God’s favorite assistant. It suggested that when God needs something tough, or gentle, done, he calls a farmer. The narration, taken from a speech given to the Future Farmers of America in 1978 by Paul Harvey, a radio host, plays directly to the near mythical stature of farmers and ranchers in American culture and their deep connection to nature.

Saving forests by stemming agricultural sprawl

(03/01/2013) I’m fortunate to travel the world helping conserve habitats for some of the world’s most iconic species. When I visit places like the Amazon and Sumatra, I’m still awestruck by their diversity and pristine beauty. I’m also reminded how threatened they are. Our growing demand for food and fiber is fueling deforestation in resource-rich regions of the world. As environmentalists, if we don’t change where and how we produce food and fiber, we can turn off the lights and go home. There won’t be any biodiversity left to protect.

Can saving forests help feed the world?

(02/28/2013) As world population climbs from 7 to a projected 9 billion people and emerging and developing economies demand ever more of the food and fiber that drive deforestation, many environmentalists ask with increasing urgency whether and how tropical forests can survive. But the question may actually be whether and how the world’s increasing, and increasingly rich, population can be fed unless tropical forests survive.

The challenge of putting Brazil’s forests in good hands

(02/28/2013) People often associate Brazil with its forests. It’s no wonder given that nearly 60% of the country’s territory is covered by forest and it holds about one-third of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests. You might assume that a country like this would care about educating people to sustainably manage this precious heritage. Well, you’d be wrong!

The corporate conservation revolution

(02/27/2013) There’s a new kind of environmental hero emerging. They don’t live in Washington, D.C., and they’re known more for their interest in increasing earnings than in reducing greenhouse gases. They are found in an unlikely place: The Corporate Boardroom, and they’re making a big difference in saving the worlds forests and our climate. In recent years, a group of visionary corporate leaders have been quietly teaming up with a growing number of environmental groups to take a hard look at what’s left of our planet’s natural resources. Together, they agree: we are past the point where our land and oceans can meet the food, energy and commodity demands of our planet’s seven billion inhabitants.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this op-ed do not necessarily reflect the views of or its staff. Mongabay founder, president, and editor Rhett A. Butler served as an advisor to the Skoll Foundation from 2010-2012.