Innovative Conservation Models Can Refine REDD+

In December 2015, with the signing of the Paris Agreement, the nations of the world reached agreement on a historic, collective and comprehensive approach to combat climate change. The primary goal of the agreement, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and try to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees C. Within that agreement is a recognition of the critical role of forests, including actions to halt and reverse the rate of deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, which have contributed up to 20 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

To assist countries in these actions, the agreement includes a framework of policies and incentives for reducing deforestation and forest degradation and increasing carbon storage in forests through conservation and sustainable management. This is known as REDD+.

REDD+ has evolved over a decade of discussions, research and negotiations to become a key piece of the newly adopted climate architecture. It is flexible by design, as it recognizes the significant differences across countries in terms of societal and governance structures, histories, laws, economies, and ecological and environmental factors. It is intended to support the necessary economic transitions and shifts to sustainable landscape management as part of a country’s low carbon development. To ensure that it contributes to the environmental integrity of the climate regime, REDD+ requires a national commitment—not isolated projects. No more foundational decisions are needed for REDD+ to be fully implemented.

The adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 solidified the foundation for REDD+. The agreement referenced, in a single paragraph, the entire body of decisions, including the objectives, rules, guidelines and guiding principles for REDD+. The focus now is on actions to implement and support REDD+ initiatives. To do so, a solid understanding of REDD+ and the Paris Agreement is needed. We must understand what REDD+ is, in a manner that is accessible to policy makers, scientists and civil society and in a form that is completely consistent with the UNFCCC decisions and agreements.

The broad intent of REDD+ is to help countries shift to low-emissions development pathways by increasing the value of healthy forests relative to other land uses.

Greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high. If emissions are not reduced, it will be nearly impossible to hold global warming to below 2 degrees C. One of the best ways to address this challenge is to keep trees standing, as healthy forests are one of the largest store houses of carbon. And unhealthy forests—those that have been degraded or deforested—are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, after the burning of fossil fuels.

reforestation and climate change

An approach called REDD+ is one of the most promising means for keeping trees standing in developing countries. “REDD” stands for “reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation.” The thought leaders behind REDD+ agreed that incentives are necessary not only to reduce emissions by tackling the drivers of forest loss, but also to avoid emissions and increase storage by taking proactive measures to conserve and restore forests.

The aim of REDD+ is to slowly halt and reverse forest cover and carbon loss in developing countries. The broad intent of REDD+ is to help countries shift to low-emissions development pathways by increasing the value of healthy forests relative to other land uses. Achieving and sustaining the objectives of REDD+ requires the transformation of economic activities within and outside of the forests, often referred to as the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation.

REDD+ was born in 2005 but its importance was not fully and formally recognized until December 2015, when the 197 parties to the UNFCCC adopted the Paris Agreement—a landmark global pact to curb climate change. Recognizing REDD+ in the Paris Agreement was seen as a means to highlight and validate the system of incentives for developing countries to conserve forests in the context of poverty reduction and economic development. It also filled a gap left by the Kyoto Protocol, which went into effect in 2005.

Prior to the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol was the main tool to achieve the objective of the UNFCCC–reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. However, the protocol did not include emissions caused by the unsustainable exploitation and destruction of forests in developing countries. With the Paris Agreement in place, REDD+ is now a key piece of the new climate architecture adopted by every country in the world. No additional foundational decisions are needed for REDD+ to be fully implemented. The focus now is on implementation and support of REDD+.

REDD+ In A Nutshell

REDD+ is a voluntary approach for developing countries and includes five activities:

  •  Reduce emissions from deforestation;
  • Reduce emissions from forest degradation;
  • Conserve forest carbon stocks;
  • Sustainably manage forests; and
  • Enhance forest carbon stocks.

REDD+ includes four components:

  • A national strategy or action plan;
  • A national forest reference level as the basis for accounting the results of REDD+ activities;
  • A national forest monitoring system; and
  • A system for reporting how all of the REDD+ social and environmental safeguards are being addressed and respected throughout the implementation of the activities.

Countries implementing REDD+ pass three phases:

  • The development of national strategies or action plans, policies and measures, and capacity-building;
  • The implementation of national policies and measures, as well as national strategies or action plans, that could involve capacity building, technology development and transfer, and results based demonstration activities; and
  • Results-based actions that should be fully measured, reported and verified.

Financial support for REDD+ may come from a variety of sources, such as the public and private sectors and bilateral and multilateral agreements. This funding may include payments for emissions reductions achieved through the implementation of REDD+ activities. These are called results-based payments.

How are unintended negative social and environmental impacts avoided?

The 2010 Cancun Agreements established a set of seven social and environmental safeguards when implementing REDD+ activities, as well as guidance for systems to provide information on how countries are implementing the safeguards. Countries should start providing a summary of that safeguard information to the UNFCCC once they begin implementing REDD+ activities and periodically, thereafter.

Doing so is a means for reducing or eliminating the potential negative impacts REDD+ could have on social and environmental values, beyond GHG emissions and associated climate change. The social safeguards promote and support good governance, respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous people and members of local communities, and the full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders in the development and implementation of REDD+ activities. The environmental safeguards promote and support the conservation of natural forests and biological diversity. This helps ensure that REDD+ actions are not used for the conversion of natural forests, but are, instead, used to incentivize the protection and conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, as well as to enhance other social and environmental benefits.

The 2015 Paris Agreement highlights the role forests and other carbon stores (known as “sinks and reservoirs”) should play in meeting global and national climate change mitigation goals. In particular, Article 5 of the agreement highlights the role of forests in curbing climate change and effectively recognizes all of the existing guidance for REDD+ previously agreed to by the COP. This article states that all nations should take action to conserve and enhance the role of “sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases,” which include biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.62 Nations are encouraged to take action to implement and support the existing REDD+ framework as set out in related guidance and decisions.63 This can be done in several ways, including through results-based payments. As specified in Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, REDD+ activities will also contribute to the goal of achieving a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.