Will REDD make a difference?

Arild Angelsen of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and CIFOR gives a ‘cynical optimist’s’ view on whether REDD will work.

Looking for firewood in Um Zibil Forest Reserve

REDD is not only a buzzword in climate negotiations. The mechanism – and the potentially large amount of money and policy reforms associated with it – might become the tallest landmark in modern forest conservation history.

REDD is based on a simple idea: reward individuals,communities, firms, projects and countries that reduce forest-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the proponents it has a huge potential (one-fifth of current global GHG emissions), is cheap (many deforestation and degradation activities are only marginally profitable), can be done quickly (‘stroke-of-pen’ reforms and no new technologies needed), and produce win-win-win outcomes (climate, biodiversity and livelihood benefits).

Contrast this optimism with the dismal record of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan, a very mixed history of forestry and forest conservation projects, continuously high deforestation over several decades, and the temptations (read: corruption) that big money tends to generate. The most important question to be asked about REDD is thus: Why should we succeed this time?

To achieve the main aim – reduced emissions – REDD must succeed at different levels. First, at the international level, sufficient funding must be mobilized, and sound mechanisms established to channel funding to countries. The post-2012 climate protocol to be agreed on at COP 15 in Copenhagen (or at later meetings), must include REDD and significant funding mechanisms.

Although all countries may have an interest in minimizing climate change, the interests in the global negotiations are divergent. One common assumption is that rich countries should pay poor countries to reduce forestry emissions. Looking at it cynically, as I’m trained to do as an economist, poor countries have an interest in maximizing funding received while doing as little as possible about their deforestation and degradation. Rich (Annex I) countries have the opposite interest: they want as much “bang for their buck” as possible, including some costs to be borne by REDD countries themselves. Rich countries also want to use REDD (and mitigation in poor countries generally) to partially offset their domestic emissions reduction targets.

This leads to a distributional game about ‘who will pay how much for what’. Should, for example, middle income countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Gabon and Malaysia not assume higher responsibilities and commitments than poor nations like DRC, Tanzania and Laos? Being labeled as poor (non-Annex I) can be lucrative. This game is the most serious hurdle for progress in climate negotiations.

Second, at the national level, the REDD money received must be used to undertake policy reforms and create incentive mechanisms that deliver real emissions reductions. Many actors will be seeking REDD rents – and ‘rent seeking’ is the root cause of corruption. Good governance reforms won’t come easy and we know from the aid and conditionality experience that aid is not effective as a means to buy political (or policy) reforms. REDD success therefore hinges on domesticallydriven democratic reforms.

Effective REDD policies must also be identified and designed. Many foresee that REDD can be simply an upscale of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) systems, to make forest conservation profitable by paying those that reduce deforestation and degradation. But implementing PES down to village, household and firm levels is information-intensive and costly. More importantly, many deforestation hotspots are characterized by unclear land rights and weak access controls. Who are to be paid in those situations? PES systems will therefore have to be complemented by old-fashioned forest conservation and broader policy reforms.

Will REDD make a significant difference in climate change mitigation? I choose to be an optimist, and can see some grounds for this stance. First, increasing evidence of climate change impacts will make international negotiators and political leaders more focused on action than on who should pay. Second, REDD has sufficient momentum to generate substantial international funding. Third, many watchdogs create awareness of any mismanagement, corruption and inefficient uses of REDD money. Fourth, international REDD payment will – much more than development aid – be linked to performance and measureable results. And finally, many good brains and practitioners are working hard to find innovative ways of making REDD come true.

In 10 years, I think we will probably look back and say: in spite of – and partly because of - our sound initial skepticism, REDD actually came to make a real difference!

This article is taken from issue 40 of arborvitae, the newsletter of IUCN’s Forest Conservation Programme
www.iucn.org/forest/;  www.iucn.org/forest/av

Work area: 
Climate Change
Protected Areas
Social Policy
Climate Change
North America
East and Southern Africa
West and Central Africa
West Asia
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