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REDD+ as an idea is a success but implementing it is fraught with challenges, global study says

Despite gaining traction in policy circles, implementing REDD+ has proved increasingly difficult.
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La Amazonía, CIFOR
La Amazonía, CIFOR

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (18 June, 2012)_REDD+ as an idea is a success – but implementing it is fraught with challenges, according to a new publication from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Analysing REDD+: Challenges and Choices, released today on the sidelines of the Rio +20 summit, examines how the UN-backed scheme – which aims to reduce carbon emissions through avoided deforestation – is being implemented, and offers ideas on how to improve it.

“It’s a reality check on what is happening on the ground,” says Arild Angelsen, an environmental economist with CIFOR and professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, and the book’s main editor.

The research-based book draws on an extensive comparative research project on REDD+, the Global Comparative Study, which is being conducted by CIFOR and partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Seven years since the idea of reducing emissions through avoided deforestation was launched, the publication takes a critical look at REDD+, asking how it has changed, how it is unfolding in specific national policy arenas – and highlighting the choices for making REDD+ more effective, efficient, and equitable.

It’s a reality check on what is happening on the ground

“REDD+ as an idea is a success story,” says Angelsen. “It was something genuinely new, and the new key element was that it was based on payments for performance or results. And it was also accompanied by big money.”

“We compare it to ‘sustainable development’ – a nice catch phrase and promising to do a lot. Both ideas have been inspirational for policy makers and practitioners, but results so far are not what many hoped for.”

But as REDD+ has moved from an idea into the real world, the challenges have mounted.

Those challenges are both practical and political – from how to measure and monitor the carbon emissions avoided by leaving a forest standing, to deciding who should get the money generated by REDD+, to achieving coordination between local, regional, national and international levels of governance.

“REDD+ design and implementation is extremely challenging,” says Angelsen. “The devil is in the detail – when you start to work out the specifics of REDD+ then there is more conflict.”

“If you have a system of payments you could in theory make everybody winners – but in practice there are two challenges: firstly, we don’t have enough financing to change the fundamental equation and thereby make everyone winners, and secondly it’s very difficult to design a system that will make sure everyone wins.”

“There are a lot of practical challenges, but this book shows there are workable, technical solutions to these, so the main problems are really the political ones,” Angelsen said.

Analysing REDD+ argues that to fully realise its potential as a tool to mitigate against climate change, REDD+ requires a transformational change in the way we conceive of forests. But, says Angelsen, it can also help to drive this change.

“Until now, in the institutions and the policy framework, the incentives stimulate chopping down trees, rather than protecting trees,” he said.

“So we need to change this, to bring the value of live trees, the value of the services provided by standing forests, and let that be reflected in the institutions and the regulatory framework and the governance – and that takes political commitment and coalitions for change.”

“It is a shift in the overall economic governance framework for forests, to one that values live forests.”

Arild Angelsen says there is much uncertainty about REDD+ – but this should not lead to inaction.

“To me the starting point is climate change is real,” he said.

“There is a high risk of harmful climate change, and we should do something about that, and REDD+ is a key part of what we should do.”

“It’s not simple, but still, REDD+ is easier and cheaper than a lot of other mitigation efforts. So I think there are still things to be excited about when it comes to REDD+, it still is important.”

“You cannot address climate change without including REDD+.”

Analysing REDD+: Challenges and choices

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