Red light for REDD?

Red light for REDD?


Progressive globalization and industrialization cause new problems which cannot be solved within state boundaries. International alliances should be build in order to deal with global issues. Climate change seems to be the most urgent challenge because of its irreparable and broad consequence. Although we do not have exact predictions of greenhouse gases influence, warming of the climate system is observable. Rise of temperature causes melting of snow and ice which affect sea level, frequent hot extremes, draughts, floods etc. It is estimated that cutting trees contribute 18 % of antropogenic greenhouse gases which are the main cause of temperature’s increase (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007:5) Although this issue was excluded from Kyoto protocol in 1995, during 11th Conference of Parties the idea of saving forests was included into debate. The majority of actors on global political arena agreed that mitigation should be held right now. However their engagement follows different reasons and interests. From the economic point of view slowing down deforestation is the easiest and cheapest way to reduce emission of GHGs so most of the countries agreed on REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Apart from impact on biodiversity and number of species under risk of extinction, climate change will have also social and economic consequences. In this essay I would like to discuss whether REDD really contributes to prevention of climate change. I will observe what consequences of including this programme in market mechanism are. I will try to analyze whether it is designed multidimensionally with respect to economic, environmental and social factors.

Why are forest so important?

Forests are key component of earth carbon and hydrological cycles because they keep CO2 in the ground, control humidity and rainfall level by transpiration and evaporation of moisture into the atmosphere. They are habit of thousand of species and place of human existence. Forest supplies foods and products necessary for living and acts as a protection service from floods and droughts. Soil is anchored by the roots which enable growth of trees, plants and crops. Apart from these, forest are our natural heritage which should be protected. In spite of all advantages of preserving forests according to FAO each year approximately 9 to 13 million hectares disappear as a result of agriculture, plantations, logging, road expansion, mining etc.

What is REDD?

REDD stands for Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. It is a market-based mechanism of mitigation climate change and reduction of greenhouse gases emission caused by deforestation. In this programme developing countries and companies receive financial incentives for not cutting down carbon-rich trees. Because this idea favours high deforesting countries REDD Plus was included in debate. What this means is that instead of just compensating activities to stop deforestation and forest degradation, policy approaches and positive incentives should also be considered for conservation, enhancement of forests stocks and sustainable management of forests (Tebtebba Foundation, 2009:51). According to project designers REDD Plus creates win-win situation. Not only it mitigates climate change but contributes to poverty, protects biodiversity and enables protection of forests without economic loss.

Beginning of REDD

The idea of protection of forests has been appearing during global summits from 80’ however it was not included in the debate until 11th Conference of Parties (COP) in 2005. In Montreal representatives of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations[1] led by Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea presented an idea of compensation for reduction of deforestation. After negotiations it was decided to include REDD in post-Kyoto arrangement. However it can be fully introduced in 2013 some initiatives have been already undertaken on the base of Bali Action Plan[2] from 2007 in which parties decided to plan actions on mitigation of climate change with consideration of policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (UNFCCC, 2008:3). Although the COP15 in Copenhagen was perceived as groundbreaking step on the way to slow down climate change the summit is commented as a failure. Nevertheless the accord about REDD was agreed and the draft will be a strong base for discussion during COP16 in Mexico. Even though only methodological side of the idea was established, first countries decided to commit money to preserve tropical rainforests.

What is wrong with REDD?

The project has not been approved yet so it still has ambiguities. Some details like deforestation baseline (to which change in forest cover would be compared), ways of monitoring area of forests and scale of implementation has not been established. Nevertheless incomplete accord gathered thousands of opponents what could be seen during COP15 in Copenhagen. According to them REDD encourages to slow down deforestation instead of stopping it. It also negates existing efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and undermines reduction agreement. Moreover it gives developed countries permission to pollute and leads to carbon intensive lifestyle and usage of cheap forest offset to fulfill requirements. To clarify, the main idea of financing REDD actions is to include it in carbon trade. It means that developed countries would give money for reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and not reduce greenhouse gases’ emission in their terrain. Foundation of environmental programmes in the Global South enable them to buy enough carbon credits to balance pollution in Europe and USA. Although there are much more disadvantages and doubts connected with REDD I would only mention drawbacks of REDD as market-based mechanism, its impact on biodiversity and influence on indigenous people what I will elaborate the most.

Market-based mechanism

Market based approaches in this context are focused on the generation of carbon credits that are sold in an international market and the money that is generated from these sales is used to support REDD actions (Fry, 2008:169). According to United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change this mechanism is used to meet national limits of emission. Although it will create fund to reduce deforestation, including new source of carbon in the carbon market may have negative consequences. Ian Fry, mentioned above, in his article distinguishes seven pitfall of market-based approaches:

  • measurement,
  • permanence,
  • undermining the market,
  • leakage,
  • additionality,
  • sovereignty and rights to land.

Firstly, to compensate developing countries for economic losses caused by not cutting trees we need to observe changes in carbon stock. In spite of access to new technologies like satellite images there is still problem how to make all procedures transparent and comparable. Until all interested countries do not have enough data and system of monitoring REDD would not act effectively.

Secondly, offsets are permanent in order to address climate change. In the case of deforestation which is under influence of changing prices of commodities it is really difficult to assure permanence. Any sudden increase in the price of timber or agricultural commodities could greatly reduce the area of forest that could be protected, if it suddenly becomes more profitable to harvest the timber and/or use the land for commodity production rather than maintain a REDD agreement (Friends of the Earth, 2008:20).

Moreover there is a risk of flooding carbon market by cheap credits what can cause drop of its value. It could undermine other mitigation efforts which depend on price of carbon.

The next issue mentioned by the author is the leakage which is really difficult to control. It means displacement of greenhouse gases emission when reduction in deforestation in other place is gained. It can occur on the regional scale within one state boundaries or on global scale as in the case of India which reduced deforestation rate while importing timber and other commodities from different countries.

Because REDD role is to offset emission in developed countries and mitigate climate change Fry underlines importance of it additionality. The idea behind the need to address ‘additionality’ is to avoid giving credits to projects that would have happened anyway (Fry, 2008:177).

Finally REDD weakens state sovereignty by outside control over management of forests and undermines indigenous people customary right to land which I will describe later.

Who will benefit? REDD and indigenous people

According to FAO about 1,6 billion people rely on forest partially to satisfy their needs. What is more 60 million indigenous people depend wholly on them in their livelihood what makes an access a key issue. For most of them forests are more than commodity and entertainment area but rather basic concept of culture and religion. Local communities build their identities with relation to forest and ancestral land. They are deeply bounded with their natural environment that they live in symbiosis with and take care of. The International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change underlines that indigenous peoples have been and continue to be the primary guardians of forests. For generations, indigenous peoples have managed to utilize forests resources in a sustainable manner. Indigenous peoples have always regarded forests as not simply resources to be exploited but as the source of life and an integral part of our lives and lifestyles (2009:2).

They often inhabit afforested territories on the basis of customs and tradition without legal tenure. After implementation of REDD they can be threaten by evictions and displacements from the land which needs to be conserved or reforested. It is worth to mention the case of Ogiek people in Kenya, called potential conservation refugees, whom government tried to force to leave their ancestral land in the name of environment protection. However they have never had destructive impact on nature so they perceive the order as unfair and harmful. Their fight for the land becomes more peaceful now but this case as well as others tribes’ struggle for rights show that conflict, violence and militarization can be one REDD results.

In spite of huge funds designed for reducing emission from deforestation and degradation it is not guaranteed that indigenous people would have a chance to benefit from it. According to REDD Plus Indigenous People should be paid for protection of forests, however there is a risk that they will occupy poor negotiation position in the discussions with corporations and big non-governmental organization. The point that money will be send ex-post after emission reduction discriminate smaller projects which have insufficient budget.

Local communities bound with forest see the need of environment protection and want to take part in it. They organize themselves to express their right to be involved in the discussion. They are becoming visible by taking part in global summit like Climate Justice Now – network of organizations and movements from across the globe committed to the fight for social, ecological and gender justice. During the alternative forum in Copenhagen this global alliance of grassroots organizations organized several meeting about their propositions and attitude to REDD and.


Rising value of forest described before can become an encouragement for companies to convert it into plantations which bring additional income and do not break REDD rules. Although this idea seems incredible the definition used in REDD debate include monoculture plantations and clearcuts (temporarily unstocked areas). Definition which explains forest as an area where tree canopies cover more than 10 percent can lead to substitution original forest by planting trees for profit and loss of unique plants and animals species. In the subject of REDD Plus researchers convinced that more money for conservation should be allocate in species-rich countries for example in Asia where intensive destruction caused by loggers and palm oil producers make the implementation of REDD more expensive.

Chance for REDD – conclusion

I this essay I briefly presented an idea of reducing emission form deforestation and forest degradation. Although in this short text I was able to mention only few doubts related to REDD the accord does not look optimistic. To conclude the REDD project does not contribute enough to climate change mitigation. Offsets just divert attention from pollution in developed countries and phenomenon of leakage proves that REDD acts to clear conscience that something has being done. Including it in carbon market transforms forests into commodity which will be save or not according to owners interests. The project do not take into account environmental and social consequences. The definition of forest used in the draft can cause loss of biodiversity instead of saving the nature. Moreover indigenous people, inhabitants and guardians of trees, who are threatened by evictions and displacement are excluded from discussion. Does it mean that there are no advantages of REDD? The biggest progress is that people realized the need of mitigation and they are going to push politicians and business to deal with the problem. However, as I could hear during Climate Justice Now People Assembly in Copenhagen conscious citizens will not agree for protection the nature by offsets. In my opinion, actions against deforestation are essential but they should go hand in hand with reduction of greenhouse gases emission in developed countries. As Charlie Cronnick from Greenpeace said: It has to respect the rights of indigenous people and protect bio-diversity. In other words it can’t just be an excuse to cut down forests and put in plantations and things like palm oil or other monocultures (Saini, 2009). If definition of forest was different there would be more chance to take advantage of the money. However it is difficult to reconcile the idea of environment protection with need for development it is reachable if designed carefully. But it cannot be another top-down initiative but an idea introduced with participation of local communities who has irreplaceable knowledge and rights.



Fry, I., 2008. Reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation: opportunities and pitfalls in developing a new legal regime, Review of European Community & International Environmental Law 17 (2) available from

Voice of America, available from, available from


Friends of the Earth, 2009. REDD myths. a critical review of proposed mechanisms to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries, available from, available from, available from, available from


The International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, Submission to Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice for Parties (Sbsta) on item 11 of FCCC/SBSTA/2008/L.23, draft conclusion proposed by chair, available from

UNFCCC, 2007. Report of the Conference of the Parties on its thirteenth session, held in Bali, available from

Websites Rainforest, (accessed 15 December 2009)

REDD-monitor, (accessed 27 December 2009)

[1] Coalition of Rainforest Nations – an alliance of developing and industrialized nations to secure environmentally sustainable economic growth; it support regulations and frameworks for fair trade and economic development without destruction of nature.

[2] Bali Action Plan- adopted during COP13 framework for negotiation of an agreement which would replace Kyoto protocol after 2012