REDD+: Going Beyond Forest Carbon

By Manishka De Mel, Climate and Society ’13

Tackling the third biggest contributor to climate change
Forests around the world are being slashed-and-burned. Forest fires pose serious health hazards, and in some places are literally choking people. Recently, millions of people in Singapore and Malaysia were forced to stay indoors as air pollution reached record levels due to forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia. It captured the world’s attention due to its major short-term impact on millions of people and caused political tensions between the neighboring countries.

For all the discussion of these issues, I was surprised that most articles covering forest fires did not address linkages to climate change. Emissions from deforestation, have long been a major source of greenhouse gases, accounting for over 17 percent of global emissions. This is more than all the emissions from the transportation sector, with only the energy and industry sectors being larger contributors to climate change.

Photo by: Roberto Faidutti, FAO (Ref: CFU000111)

Photo by: Roberto Faidutti, FAO (Ref: CFU000111)

Despite this large contribution, emissions from the forestry sector have not been at the forefront of the news or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) has been on the UNFCCC agenda since 2005 and an international agreement for results-based incentives for REDD+ is currently being negotiated. REDD+ aims to create financial incentives for carbon that is stored in forests, to mitigate climate change. Its scope goes beyond deforestation and degradation, with ‘+’ encompassing conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Conserving forests has multiple benefits, including providing ecosystem services such as conservation of biodiversity and water regulation and social benefits in the form of carbon payments and improved governance.

The role of the UN-REDD Programme
Currently countries are being assisted to get ready for REDD+ through capacity building, pilot initiatives and preparatory activities, before they can be financially compensated for reducing emissions from the forestry sector. The UN-REDD Programme is one such initiative involving the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This unique partnership draws on the strengths of three UN agencies so that REDD+ can be approached in a holistic manner.

Photo by: Arsenio Ella, FAO (Ref: FO-6089)

Photo by: Arsenio Ella, FAO (Ref: FO-6089)

My internship is with the UN-REDD Programme team at the UNDP headquarters in New York. It has given me an opportunity to understand and experience the REDD+ process first hand. I’m assisting UN-REDD Programme with framing the technical support and guidance it offers to countries on ensuring the participation of indigenous peoples, local communities and other non-governmental stakeholders in monitoring forests (participatory monitoring), and the implementation of safeguards to ensure that REDD+ activities “do no harm” to people or the environment. I am reviewing and consolidating existing analyses and case studies and developing a paper. It summarizes the findings of my research on emerging approaches to participatory monitoring, while also outlining proposed options and potential next steps. Support to participatory monitoring could be provided through the development of training modules and on-the-ground pilot initiatives. My internship has given me an opportunity to draw from both the ”climate” and ”society” aspects of what I learned over the year. My internship has shown me that successful REDD+ projects require an understanding of the social context, in addition to the science behind deforestation. It has confirmed that climate challenges cannot be resolved without harnessing the strengths of science and society.

The road ahead for REDD+
Many people have asked me if REDD+ is effective and if it’s worth it? Although my instant reaction is yes, this is a complex question to answer. We cannot ignore the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. If REDD+ focused on just the carbon component of forests, the process would be much simpler. Conserving forest carbon, while carrying out poverty alleviation, securing rights of indigenous people and conserving biodiversity is challenging – but is essential to the long-term success of REDD+. The value of REDD+ therefore goes beyond tackling the third biggest source of emissions by providing multiple social and environmental benefits such as livelihoods and ecosystem services.

The UNFCCC process has been a long and arduous path towards mitigating climate change. After more than two decades of negotiations, only a fragment of emission reductions has been achieved. It is unrealistic to expect REDD+ in its infancy to be an instant success. Thus, the focus should be on how to deliver REDD+ so that it contributes to mitigation, while achieving sustainable development goals.

Video – Forests: The Heart of a Green Economy

Source: UN-REDD Programme

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