RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (26 June 2012)_Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation schemes, or REDD+, could be the “game changer” that enables forest-rich countries to meet sustainable development goals and work toward a greener economy, said the Norwegian Minister for Environment at a recent CIFOR event.
REDD+ allows us to protect forests and those who depend on them for their survival, said Minister Bård Vegar Solhjell, calling it a “development choice.”
“It is indisputable that REDD+ should become a game-changing part of the global green transition.”
His comments were made during Forests: the Eighth roundtable, roundtable a CIFOR-hosted event that brought together over 550 scientists, policy makers and members of civil society to discuss the role of forests in providing the world with food, energy, income and clean water.
According to CIFOR research, in countries such as Africa and Asia, the agricultural and bio energy sectors are the main drivers of deforestation. With demands for food and fuel set to rise by 50% by 2030, and increasing pressure on natural resources, REDD will need to contribute to wider economic and development objectives that ensure the sustainable use of forest resources, contribute to economic growth and help alleviate poverty.
In his speech, Solhjell argued countries must “move toward a model of economic growth where the value of natural capital is fully integrated in economic and political decision-making by government, by business and by citizens.”
“The case for REDD+ is overwhelming…the importance of forests is much more significant now than we realized in Rio 20 years ago or even in Bali just 5 years ago,” he added.
Over 40 countries are now developing the institutions, legislation and policy frameworks needed for implementation of REDD+ on the ground. The scheme, which will pay forest rich-nations for the carbon stored in trees, is being hailed as one of the cheapest and most effective ways to halt deforestation and reduce green house gas emissions. It could also alleviate poverty by ensuring that small-holders and communities receive the compensation payments and livelihoods opportunities generated by the scheme.
However, whether REDD+ can actually deliver on its wide-ranging mandate is still under debate.
Funding is one issue. Approximately $7.2 billion has been pledged by the international community since 2008 for REDD+, yet the distribution of funds has been slow. Many forest rich countries have been turning to other sources of funding to get projects off the ground. For, example, in 2010, the Norwegian government committed $1 billion to support the development of Indonesia’s REDD+ strategy and pilot projects.
The result, according to a recently launched CIFOR book Analysing REDD, has been the ‘aid-fiction of REDD+’ where two thirds of REDD+ funding comes from development aid budgets rather than from an international carbon market – funds that come with their own set of economic development and poverty alleviation objectives.
Though well-intentioned, it has contributed to the “dilution or pulverising of the original REDD+ objectives…which is to reduce carbon emissions,” said Arild Angelsen, a CIFOR environmental economist and the book’s main editor.
“Most development aid is bilateral, so it becomes less in the interests of donors to have some kind of universal standard to harmonise it – what characterizes development aid is that each and every donor will have their own procedures, their own agendas to follow,” he warned.
There is also concern that without strong incentives to ensure private sector support and without a multi-stakeholder approach to include all actors in the REDD+ debate, there could be conflicting interests that undermine sustainable development goals.
“Many forest-rich countries are developing countries that are just starting to grow their economies. With the majority of their income generated from forest commodities, these countries may find it difficult to reconcile the different goals of development and conservation,” said Fernanda Gebara, a CIFOR scientist at a recent Rio+ side event.
For example, in Brazil, despite an impressive record that has reduced deforestation by 70% while increasing industrial growth by 30%, pressures from the agricultural lobby to reform Brazil’s Forest Code led to a weakening in the law that had stipulated farmer keep 80% of forest cover on their land. The new legislation reduced the requirement to 50%, leading to fears it could lead to an increase in deforestation.
Gebara said countries must have the political will to ensure that REDD+ is incorporated into sustainable development and green growth agendas.
During the Minister’s speech, countries like Guyana, Indonesia and Ethiopia were praised for talking “bold steps” to develop plans for green growth and emissions reductions interventions. But he reassured countries following a similar path they need not “discover these new pathways in isolation.”
He pledged to scale up funding for their Climate and Forests Initiative, beyond the current $500 million per year, provided that other countries follow suit.
“We know that the economic and political costs of REDD+ in the short term can be significant for the implementing countries,” said Solhjell. “Norway will to continue to invest at scale in REDD+.”
“We are obliged to succeed in ending deforestation, for our fellow global citizens and for our children and our children’s grandchildren. We cannot guarantee success, but we cannot fail because we did not try hard enough.”