The world’s forests are crucial to efforts to limit climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it for long periods in soil and plant tissues. Cut down or burn a forest and this carbon will enter the atmosphere and trap more heat. One initiative that aims to reduce this threat is called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and (forest) Degradation (or REDD+). The basic idea is to compensate nations that forgo development opportunities when they conserve, restore or enhance their forests.
Under a REDD+ scheme, countries could gain credits for reducing emissions in this way. These credits could be sold on international carbon markets, compensated through a fund paid by developed nations or, as looks most likely, paid using a combination of both approaches. REDD+ is likely to be central to the global strategy for addressing climate change that governments are negotiating under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Already many countries are implementing REDD+ projects or preparing to do so. The challenges REDD+ schemes must overcome include:
• Measuring ‘reference levels’ of how much carbon an area of forest stores.
• Calculating how this baseline level would change under a ‘business as usual’ scenario.
• Designing projects that ensure less carbon is lost.
• Ensuring laws protect local land rights.
• Developing social and environmental safeguards to ensure that REDD+ does not harm local communities – e.g. through land grabs – or biodiversity.
• Ensuring that preventing deforestation in one place does not encourage it elsewhere (known as leakage).
• Ensuring that elites and corrupt officials do not capture REDD+ money that flows to forest nations.
As yet, there is no agreed method for measuring carbon. Even if there were, few forest nations have the resources needed to make such measurements, which will require historical data, satellite imagery and direct measurement of trees, as well as an international system for reporting and verifying the data, which comes from often hard-to-reach locations. Finally, there are also concerns that REDD+ could flood the market with carbon credits and lead to a crash in the price of carbon that creates a disincentive for other activities – such as renewable energy projects – that would also help mitigate climate change.
If REDD+ is going to move forward as a formal mechanism, it will need to involve networks of local communities in determining how plans are interpreted locally and in managing activities such as monitoring and policing. Geographical isolation, language differences and contested rights over land are among the issues that need to be addressed. In some cases this will require significant changes in policy to allow communities a greater voice in governing their forests. UN and World Bank programs and non-profits around the world are looking at ways to do this.
Until governments of the world agree a REDD+ system under the UN climate change convention, activities are being organized through other initiatives such as the UN-REDD programme, the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, Forest Investment Program, and Global Environmental Facility. As REDD+ has not been formally agreed in an international treaty, forested countries have not all adopted it. So far, the UN-REDD program consists of 47 partner countries of which 18 are in Africa.
REDD+ in Africa
The Congo Basin countries of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Uganda and Zambia are all REDD partner countries in one of the programs listed above. Other African nations to have initiated REDD programs include Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan and Tanzania. Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo are all in the process of entering REDD schemes. According to the Climate Investment Funds Update for 2012, REDD projects accounted for 9.6 per cent of all climate funding to sub-Saharan Africa. This comprised 73 REDD projects, for which US$235.8 million have been committed and US$68.9 million disbursed. UN-REDD is the largest funding source for REDD projects with USD$24.2 million approved and US$19.1 million disbursed to a total of five projects. Half of Africa’s REDD+ finance flows into the Congo Basin.
Case Study: Kenya
Kenya’s forest area has fallen from about 12 per cent of the country to 5.6 per cent in recent decades. It loses about 12,000 hectares to deforestation each year but is considered to have a low rate of forest loss – of about 0.31 per cent per year. Kenya demonstrates how REDD’s complex structure can both accelerate projects and make it hard for journalists to find information. In contrast to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which implements ten REDD+ demonstration projects through a top-down government process with support from UN- REDD, Kenya has 47 active projects even though it is not an official UN-REDD partner country.
Kenya submitted its REDD Readiness Plan Idea Note to the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) in 2008 and a grant agreement was completed in November 2009. Updates about the country’s REDD progress are available through FCPF’s website. Within two months of the FCPF approving Kenya’s plan, the US-based company Wildlife Works Carbon began the Kasigau Corridor REDD project. This aims to protect 200,000 hectares of dryland forest that forms a corridor between two national parks, Tsavo East and Tsavo West. It was the first REDD project to receive credits for the carbon it stored through the Verified Carbon Standard, and the Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard.
The project sold some of the first tranche of 1.45 million voluntary carbon units – representing the same number of tons of stored carbon –to South Africa’s Nedbank, as part of the bank’s positioning of itself as a carbon-neutral company. This private-sector approach has demonstrated the ability to speed up the development of REDD activates but also shows a vulnerability to the volatility of the carbon market. Other REDD activities in Kenya receive finance from funds such as the Save the Mau Trust Fund, the Finnish Fund for Local Cooperation, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, the Clinton and Rockefeller Foundations and the Hyundai Carbon Fund.
Tips for reporting about REDD+ can be found here.