Deforestation accounts for about a fifth of all global carbon emissions, second only to the burning of fossil fuels, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).1 But ever since the Kyoto Protocol was drafted in 1997, countries have been divided over how to incorporate forest protection into global emission-reduction plans.
At the UNFCCC meeting in Montreal in 2005, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a group of nine countries led by Papua New Guinea, proposed that there be incentives for countries to control emissions by reducing deforestation. Their proposal evolved into REDD: Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, the United Nations’ model for curbing deforestation. Under REDD, polluters could offset their emissions by purchasing carbon credits generated by governments, companies, and communities like Cocomasur that protect forests.
But as countries began hammering out a post-Kyoto climate plan in subsequent UNFCCC meetings, the chorus of REDD critics grew, particularly with regard to carbon trading. Opponents say measuring the amount of carbon stored in forests is complex and prone to errors, and that protecting one part of a forest may have the unintended consequence of shifting deforestation to adjacent, unprotected areas. Critics point out that offsets could allow companies to continue polluting with no net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Indigenous peoples and other communities that depend on forests for their survival are also concerned that REDD may not provide sufficient safeguards to prevent land grabs. In countries where land tenure and rights to forest carbon are not well defined, they fear the financial incentives of REDD could lead to displacement and other abuses.
For now, a formal UN framework for REDD is on hold but likely to be developed in the coming years. Delays in the UN process have not, however, prevented the emergence of hundreds of REDD pilot projects around the world, many in developing countries with funds provided by individual countries, the World Bank, private donors, and other sources. Nations with weak governance and limited resources often struggle to uphold the rights of forest peoples. But certification programs through groups such as the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance and Verified Carbon Standard are encouraging pilot projects that adhere to higher environmental standards and community protections, creating a blueprint for future models that aim to be more equitable and inclusive.
Autumn Spanne is an independent journalist who writes about climate change, biodiversity, and environmental justice. She has an M.S. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Fact Sheet: The Need for Mitigation,” November 2009, available at unfccc.int.
For more on this topic read: Carbon-Offset Conservation in the Chocó.
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