In this interview, Sven Wunder, Principal Scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and head of CIFOR’s Brazil office, looks at how REDD+ has developed in South America, and what he sees happening in the next few years. You can watch this interview on video at the bottom of the page. The interview was recorded in Brazil in April.
Q: What is the state of REDD+ in South America?
Compared to other tropical forest regions of the world, the REDD pilot experiences are fairly advanced in the Amazon region and South America, thanks to very active civil society organizations in this region. A lot of it has been driven by NGOs that have pushed this process forward. Brazil is the leading country, both in terms of its share of the Amazon region but also the number of REDD projects that are in a starting-up phase. In Peru, you also have quite a few experiences that are taking off the ground now, and efforts for a national program of payments for environmental services to possibly link up to that process. In Ecuador, you have a similar process where the Socio Bosque public program is making payments for environmental services for forest conservation, and the government is trying to link up to the REDD process in order to gain other sources of financing for its program. So, those are some examples that show there is a lot going on in this region.
Q: Is there an increasing amount of political support for REDD?
Yes. Countries are starting to see REDD as an opportunity for funding that comes in for forest conservation, but also for reaching poor forest dwellers in marginal regions that would otherwise have few possibilities for receiving government funding. It is both these motives that are driving governments. Of course, there are also skeptical voices, which even in a country like Brazil until quite recently at least from the government side were objecting to the idea of REDD. You still see certain skeptical voices and ideological obstacles that see REDD as being linked to a neo-liberal way of doing forest conservation. That at worst undermines some of the intrinsic forces for forest conservation for its own values.
Q What are the views of indigenous groups?
They are pretty much divided on that question. In Brazil, for example, you have several indigenous organizations that are preparing projects, like the Surui for instance, who have prepared an own REDD project. In other regions, like Bolivia, for example, we have seen some counter-reactions exactly along the lines of what I talk about that it is ‘selling the oxygen to the gringos,’ to put it in popular terms. This can be (driven) by insecurities for what the process is about, misperceptions about what is actually at stake. We will see in coming years if those suspicions will be broken down and we will move forward.
Q: What impact do you see REDD having on deforestation rates in South America?
Outside of Brazil we have lots of data insecurities about what is actually happening to forest cover. Brazil, through its space research institute INPE, has a very reliable monitoring of forest-cover changes, even in the short term. In other countries, like Ecuador, the last wall-to-wall assessment of forest cover was only 10 years back. So, then you have to look at more circumstantial evidence of what is going on. I think the circumstantial evidence outside of Brazil shows that there is probably less deforestation now than 10 years ago. A lot of that could be linked to the fact that we have had a huge international financial crisis that has diminished commodity prices, which are a main driver for forest conversion. Right now we see a certain pickup again. We will see if that will again induce higher deforestation rates. If you look at Brazil in particular, there is an exciting debate about to what extent policies can take the major part of the blame for dropped deforestation rates, or whether it has more to do with low commodity prices. That is also a very interesting research topic that we hope to dig further into.
Q Could we see REDD prompt further drops in the deforestation rate in the short-term?
I certainly think so. We have seen processes, like the Amazon Fund in Brazil, where money is changing hands already and where action on the ground is happening. I think the challenge will be to go from a number of piecemeal projects to avoided deforestation at a higher aggregation level.