Payments for forests set to heat atmosphere in Copenhagen

Posted: 10 December 2009

Forests are likely to be one of the hottest topics at Copenhagen over the coming days, as a new approach is discussed aiming to slow climate change by paying countries to stop cutting down their trees.

Key to reaching an agreement will be developing countries set to lose or gain most from such a deal. A new report from Panos London examines the opportunities and risks of REDD - reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.

Forest burnt for farming, Madagascar© John Newby/Still Pictures
Forest burnt for farming, Madagascar© John Newby/Still Pictures
Forest burnt for farming, MadagascarPhoto © John Newby/Still Pictures
Around 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon are released annually due to land use change, mainly from tropical deforestation, which plays a major role in global climate change. If agreed, REDD will involve a massive transfer of money from rich countries to poor as part of their commitment to decrease the impact of carbon emissions. The UN estimates the revenue from REDD could reach US$30 billion.

With forests responsible for nearly 20 per cent of annual global emissions of CO2, a radical solution will be needed and many believe that REDD will help meet the Copenhagen treaty's goal to reduce deforestation rates in developing countries by at least 50 percent by 2020. Thirty models for how REDD could work have been put forward by a range of organisations and countries. Although REDD projects would not be officially implemented until 2013, pilot projects are lined up in nine countries including Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Vietnam and Zambia.

"REDD is a unique opportunity we have now to protect the forests, where many other approaches have failed" according to Josep Gari of the UN-REDD Programme that is helping countries prepare for REDD.

"We're helping countries gear up for REDD: making sure that they are creating better instruments for monitoring to make sure carbon is actually being saved, and distributing the benefits from any future REDD mechanism funds as the money flows from countries of the North to South, " says Ravi Prabhu, UN-REDD.

Successful afforestion on the edge of the Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia
Successful afforestion on the edge of the Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia
Successful afforestion on the edge of the Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia.
To contribute to the debate, Panos has investigated REDD-type projects in Brazil and Indonesia that highlight the good and bad in 'payment for environmental services' approaches.
  • In Brazil, the Juma rainforest reserve in Amazonas houses a community that preserve the forest. Every family has a credit card and the state government puts around US$50 a month into each account as payment for keeping the forest intact. Financial support comes from big private groups interested in offsetting their carbon footprints. Supporters of REDD hold up the scheme as a model success story.

  • In Indonesia, the Prince Charles Rainforest Project in Harapan - a 100,000 hectare conservation project - highlights some of the problems that REDD schemes may face. The Indonesian government has granted a concession to manage the restoration of the forest to a consortium of three NGO's but landless farmers there are angry, claiming they have been evicted from forest land now managed by the scheme.
The Panos report - Reporting REDD - highlights some of the concerns over REDD: carbon credits that could flood existing carbon markets; the difficulties of measuring and verifying forest and carbon data on REDD projects; and controversies over who will pay for the technology required to carry out accurate monitoring and accounting. In addition, it says the fear of some forest-dependent people is that they may be prevented from cutting down trees but not compensated for their loss of income.

Some organisations are sceptical about the scheme: "REDD is only made for corporations. We're the landowners. We are the ones living in the jungle. We haven't been taken into account in the design of REDD" says Egberto Tabo Chipunavi, General Coordinator of the Amazon Basin Indigenous People's Organisation.

Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai is an environmentalist and social activist who founded the Green Belt Movement in Africa.
Rod Harbinson, head of Panos London's Environment Programme says, "reaching a positive outcome on REDD will depend on involving local communities in decisions that are taken and giving forest dependent people a say in the implementation of REDD on the ground".

The stakes are high as around 1.2 billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods. As a leading activist on forests, Nobel Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai points out, "If we don't reach an agreement on REDD... those who will suffer most are the poor countries."

Climate change expert Professor Nicholas Stern concludes that in order to mitigate climate change "REDD will have a powerful role to play in putting the right kind of incentives in place so that trees are indeed more valuable standing than cut down."