Three areas to focus on to make REDD+ work

REDD+ continues to find its place in forest-based strategies against climate change, but getting results will require serious change.
REDD+: A success as an idea, but fewer results than expected. Edgardo W. Olivera/Flickr

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REDD+ might not have figured prominently on the agenda of the official climate negotiations in Paris, but experiences and visions were shared during side events and other discussions, and REDD+ continues to find its place in strategies against climate change.

For example, the new REDD+ pledges of US$5 billion for 2015–2020 by the newly formed GNU group (Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom) represent a major step-up in international funding, and 39 developing countries included REDD+ in their pledges (INDCs, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) to the UNFCCC.

The state of REDD+ is not unlike that of the New York Declaration on Forests, a stocktaking of which suggests that progress is slow, at best: It’s a remarkable success as an idea and as a flagship of international climate negotiations, but has had slower implementation and fewer documented results than most of us expected. And indeed, how exactly REDD+ is to be inserted into national development and climate strategies remains a major challenge.

In the wake of the celebrations greeting the Paris Agreement, we highlight three areas where REDD+ needs to move forward if it is to realize its original objective: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

First, REDD+ countries must assume a stronger role and ownership in the implementation of REDD+ and incorporate it into their INDCs and in their domestic emission targets.

Second, corporate efforts—through the greening of supply chains—can play a major role, driven by consumer pressure and environmental watchdogs and complemented by domestic policy reforms.

Powerful actors are engaged like never before in debates on the role of forests in the global carbon cycle.

Arild Angelsen and Louis Verchot

Third, international funding should nudge countries toward stronger commitments, support capacity building, and provide incentives for forest conservation through results-based mechanisms.


To achieve substantial emission reductions, forest conservation will increasingly have to be considered as REDD+ countries’ contribution to the global effort of limiting climate change, as integrated into national green/low-emission/low-carbon/sustainable development strategies. An analysis of the policy process in key REDD+ countries argues that “achieving emission reductions through REDD+ requires four preconditions for overcoming politico-economic hurdles: (i) the relative autonomy of the State from key interests that drive deforestation and forest degradation, (ii) national ownership over REDD+ policy processes, (iii) inclusive REDD+ policy processes, and (iv) the presence of coalitions that call for transformational change.” When the REDD+ process is driven by international actors, it is unlikely to make a difference on the ground.

National governments are therefore in the driver’s seat for achieving reduced forest emissions. They have the primary ability for achieving this goal, and—some would argue—also the primary responsibility. Governments can implement a range of specific policies that have proved efficient in limiting deforestation. Subsidized emissions are not just a problem for fossil fuel emissions. A recent report by the Overseas Development Institute points to the pervasive effect of subsidies on key commodities, such as beef and soy in Brazil, and palm oil and timber in Indonesia. The subsidies amount to $40 billion per year for these two countries combined, and, the authors write, “These subsidies are likely to have a far more significant impact on private investment in activities that drive deforestation, than current REDD+ finance.” Reducing these subsidies, or making them conditional on compliance with zero-deforestation practices, represents a win–win change for conservation and development, although some groups will stand to lose from such a reform.

Creating and exploiting win–win situations is essential for REDD+ to make headway in national policy-making. REDD+ must be made compatible with national strategies for sustainable development, including food security and poverty reduction. Such win-win opportunities can be created by corporations, consumers and donors.


In parallel with the UNFCCC process, several initiatives at global and national levels have involved the private sector as a key partner in REDD+. The most noted national example is the Soy Moratorium of Brazil, adopted in 2006. This made traders agree not to sell soy produced by farmers who had cleared Amazon forests. Internationally, ‘zero deforestation’ initiatives have resulted in several global companies making significant efforts in greening their value chains. Studies among business executives also confirm that corporate reputation, media attention and customer pressure are the most important reasons for taking climate issues into consideration. Security of supply (in areas where production is not sustainable) is likely to become more important as land competition and climate extremes increase in frequency and severity.

In the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests, signatories from private sector, civil society and governments committed to doing their part to halve current deforestation rates by 2020 and to end deforestation by 2030. They also agreed to ensure that the production of four key commodities (palm oil, soy, paper, and beef) did not add to deforestation. A combination of higher awareness of the costs and risks involved in continued climate change, consumer pressure and demand for green products, and ‘naming and shaming’ by NGOs and other watchdogs can strengthen this trend even further. With international climate negotiations proving insufficient to deliver the cuts needed to get on a 2 degree path, private sector actors can define new standards and rules in (international) environmental governance. Supply chain reforms need to be backed by domestic legislation and supportive policies to make them function better and to hold companies accountable, while encouraging frontrunners.


The initially envisioned role of REDD+, or perhaps the core of REDD+, was a massive transfer of resources to incentivize forest conservation in developing countries. That scenario is unlikely to unfold, basically because the only realistic chance to provide sufficient funding is a global carbon market with REDD+ credits as an offsetting opportunity, and the creation of a market requires national caps on emissions. In absence of that, how could an international agreement advance the implementation of REDD+?

REDD+ has moved issues of transparency, accountability, tenure and rights, and indigenous peoples onto domestic political agendas.

Arild Angelsen and Louis Verchot

The only game in town (= Paris) is INDCs: countries made their soft pledges through their submissions of the INDCs. In the best scenario, the review process both inside and—more importantly outside—the UNFCCC framework would help align national contributions toward reaching the 2°C target, enhance transparency and build trust. Halting and reversing the loss of carbon in forests and soils could become the main contribution of many developing countries in their INDCs. In other words, rather than REDD+ being seen solely as a vehicle to generate international funding, part of it could be claimed as a national contribution to the global efforts of curbing climate change, particularly for middle-income countries.

In terms of international funding, the Green Climate Fund, and other multilateral and bilateral arrangements (such as the GNU pledge) can provide funding for capacity building, upfront investments, concessional finance and direct payments for results (i.e. for reduced emissions). International funding for REDD+ (and climate funding in general) should arguably focus on the poorest countries, rather than middle-income countries such as Brazil that have sufficient resources to cover the domestic costs of forest conservation.


REDD+ is frequently presented as a climate success story, partly because the idea looks so simple and appealing, partly because of the unusual inclusiveness of the process (the wide variety of active CSO and IP observers), partly because of the funding mobilized and activities generated, and partly because UNFCCC has for once reached a balanced agreement despite huge technical challenges. Powerful actors—from presidents and finance ministers in REDD+ countries to top executives in international corporations—are engaged like never before in debates on the role of forests in the global carbon cycle. REDD+ has moved issues of transparency, accountability, tenure and rights, and indigenous peoples onto domestic political agendas. The dramatic change in the global narrative and the political momentum generated are reasons for cautious optimism.

REDD+ is frequently presented as a climate success story, partly because the idea looks so simple and appealing.

Arild Angelsen and Louis Verchot

But a thorough reality check is needed. The envisioned results in terms of reduced emissions have—by and large—not been delivered. Brazil is a success story, although little of its success can be attributed to REDD+. For other countries, there are few stories of substantial early progress in terms of reductions in deforestation (and its harder-to-measure twin, forest degradation). Old and new business-minded coalitions have blocked progress, suggesting that REDD+, if implemented, would actually make a difference.

This analysis is based in part on Arild Angelsen’s chapter “REDD+: What should come next?” in Towards a Workable and Effective Climate Regime.

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For more information on this topic, please contact Louis Verchot at
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.
Topic(s) :   REDD+ Peruvian Amazon
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