Don’t forget the second D

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In the year since the UNFCCC COP13 put Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) on the Bali Road Map, REDD has dominated debates about the future of tropical forests. But it’s fair to say that most attention has focused on the first “D”, deforestation, to the relative neglect of forest degradation.

Disregard for the second “D” is a big mistake, according to a recent article published in PLoS Biology. Drawing on data from a long-term forest management study in Malaysia, Francis “Jack” Putz and his co-authors demonstrate that applying Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) techniques can reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent compared to conventional logging. Improved harvesting practices such as the planning of skid trails and directional felling can substantially reduce collateral damage to non-target trees and hence increase carbon retention while extracting the same volume of timber.

Inclusion of reduced forest degradation in a global climate agreement could result in significant emission reductions throughout the tropics. Using data on the area designated for production forestry and conservative assumptions regarding logging intervals, intensity, and the potential impact of RIL, the authors estimate that improved forest management could account for emission reductions equivalent to at least 10 percent of those available from avoided deforestation. Most of these reductions would be in Asia, due to the lower logging intensities characteristic of timber production in Latin America and Africa.

Putz and his colleagues address many of the concerns that kept avoided forest degradation out of the Kyoto Protocol:

  • “permanence” of avoided emissions would be guaranteed through long intervals between timber harvests;
  • “leakage” of exploitation pressures to other areas would be unlikely if improved practices are rewarded with higher financial yield; and
  • new technologies have increased the feasibility and lowered the cost of monitoring changes in forest carbon stocks.

In addition to reduced carbon emissions, improved logging practices can protect biodiversity, control erosion, and improve worker safety. Yet such practices are applied in less than five percent of tropical forests. Should REDD funds be used to reward loggers for adopting practices that some might argue should be required without special incentives? Putz and his colleagues do not explicitly address the objections of those who would say “no”, but their implicit answer is “yes”. No one ever said the second “D” stands for “Deserving”.

Frances Seymour
Director General

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Further reading

Improved Tropical Forest Management for Carbon Retention, Francis E. Putz, Pieter A. Zuidema, Michelle A. Pinard, Rene G. A. Boot, Jeffrey A. Sayer, Douglas Sheil, Plinio Sist, Elias, Jerome K. Vanclay. Perspective, PLoS Biology, preprint, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060166. PDF file: English (100kb)

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