in Indonesia, Philippines

REDD is dead. What’s next?

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REDD is deadA new paper in Conservation Biology starts with the following sentence: “Increasingly, one hears furtive whispers in the halls of conservation: ‘REDD+ is dead; it’s time to cut our losses and move on.’”

The paper builds on a 2013 editorial in Conservation Biology that identifies REDD as a conservation “fad”. The authors of the editorial, Kent Radford (previously Vice President of Conservation Strategies at the Wildlife Conservation Society), Christine Padoch and Terry Sunderland (both at CIFOR), define fads as “approaches that are embraced enthusiastically and then abandoned”.

They list 10 conservation fads (in no particular order):

marketing of natural products from rain forests; biological diversity hotspots; integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs); ecotourism; ecocertification; community-based conservation; payment for ecosystem or environmental services (PES); reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD); conservation concessions; and landscape approaches that integrate agriculture, sustainable uses, and conservation.

The new paper, “Questioning REDD+ and the future of market-based conservation”, is by Robert Fletcher (Wageningen University), Wolfram Dressler (University of Melbourne), Bram Büscher (Wageningen University), and Zachary R. Anderson (University of Toronto). The authors address two related issues:

  • how to better understand where REDD+ is going and prepare for fallout if it fails to deliver on intended promises; and
  • what we can learn from REDD+ concerning the prospects of so-called “market-based instruments” (MBIs) that have become increasingly central to global conservation.

The carbon market isn’t paying for REDD

While there are many REDD pilot projects around the world, only a handful of these receive payment through voluntary carbon markets. Most of the money comes from multilateral and bilateral aid agencies, including the World Bank, the UN-REDD programme, and the Norwegian government.

REDD, like other conservation market-based initiatives, aims to make forests worth more standing that cleared for alternative land uses.

The authors note that the idea of REDD has been successful, but, “its implementation has proven quite problematic.” CIFOR recently completed a major study looking at REDD on the ground, which found that the majority of the projects were stagnating because of a lack of funding and some had been abandoned.

Tension in REDD project sites

The result, the authors note, is “considerable tension in many REDD+ project sites”. On Palawan, in the Philippines, they write,

After decades of partially implemented ICDPs [integrated conservation and development projects], the prospect of implementing a comprehensive, community-based REDD+ programme has slowed considerably, with both NGOs and local peoples waiting for funding.

In Kalimantan in Indonesia, The Nature Conservancy is implementing its Berau Forest Carbon Progamme. TNC specifically avoid discussion of carbon payments with local communities in order to “manage expectations”.

In both places, local communities are weighing up the intangible promised benefits of REDD+ against the far more lucrative short term benefits of palm oil or industrial mining.

The authors write that the REDD mechanism’s “original promise to generate a global market in carbon credits is already effectively finished”. REDD’s failure to deliver “will likely spur substantial resentment”, adding to the “graveyard of expectations” from the failure of previous “fads”. They urge a response to this problem:

We urge conservation professionals to take this prospect seriously and develop strategies to deal with the backlash – whether covert or explicit – that is likely to come from communities disillusioned by undelivered benefits for their participation in REDD+ and previous initiatives.

“Managers continually search for new sources of funding,” the authors write, “to make up the shortfall left by previous unfulfilled promises”.

Re-think market-based conservation

Instead of conservationists constantly having to chase the next fad, the authors propose a re-think of market-based conservation.

They argue that the problems REDD is facing are not the result of the failure at the UN level to create an international carbon market for REDD credits, but that the problems are symptoms of inherent deficiencies in REDD, which in turn are symptoms of contradictions in market-based conservation.

The problem is even more fundamental for conservation markets like REDD+ that seek to directly offset – and are therefore funded by – extractive activity itself, in which case they must at minimum receive at least as much revenue as the extraction they seek to offset. This is untenable, which is why in practice conservation markets become increasingly less market-like over time, forced to incorporate forms of subsidy or regulation antithetical to their original aims in order to achieve any conservation, as we have seen in the evolution of REDD+.

In the long term, the authors argue, we need to move away from market mechanisms, “towards a more fundamental redistribution of resource control, reigning in extractive expansion and putting land back under local control to manage as a commons”.

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  1. I agree with the authors that relying on markets to restructure forest economies aways from extraction is not tenable right now, but the proposed alternative strategy: we need to move away from market mechanisms, “towards a more fundamental redistribution of resource control, reigning in extractive expansion and putting land back under local control to manage as a commons” seems even less tenable given political, institutional, and resource demands in REDD+ eligible countries. I think we need to do absolutely everything we can, and markets are certainly part of the solution.

  2. REDD+ is not a fad; it is not enough known by the public; it is simply a fraud. “Its main innovation is its result-based approach, in which payments are done ex-post in relation to a mitigation outcome already achieved, as opposed to project-based activities, where financing is provided ex-ante in relation to expected outcomes…….REDD+ payments are expected for result-based actions, and although UNFCCC has already identified potential ways to pay for these, the financial architecture for the REDD+ mechanism is still under negotiation under the UNFCCC.” [International Panel on Climate Change, Mitigation of Climate Change – Chapter 11: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU)]. 8 years after its inception REDD+ has systematically violated its basic principle and disbursed all its money (nowhere I could find a rough estimate of it, but thought to be well above a billion US$) in non-result-based activities (where “result” must be defined as forest actually conserved and being managed in order to maintain or improve the provision of its environmental services). Monitoring the wellness of forests worldwide is nowadays very easy; an informatics-smart teen-ager can do it. Was that money spent for results it could have at least stimulated the creation of a new protected area, motivated a forest community to defend its rights against governments and mining companies, or a national government to better protect its country’s forests.
    I don’t know whether that “REDD….aims to make forests worth more standing that cleared for alternative land uses” by itself has ever been officially stated by agencies involved in the initiative. Any rough calculation would show that the amount of money necessary to keep it self-sustaining would go beyond any possible commitment from the international community. The financial incentive provided by REDD would just add to the complex of present and desired constraints/incentives (stick and carrot) that allow forest conservation. As forests worldwide are mostly considered marginal lands, either from an economic sense, and because of social/regulatory limits to their conversion, a small variation in their value can determine a great variation in their conversion rate (that can become negative, as it already occurs in many countries without incentives).
    The developers of REDD+ went too far in creating a mechanism so complicate that they would remain the only one able to manage it. They remained tangled in it; profiting therefore only of its preliminary phase (R&D) as consultants and government representatives (anyway already lasting many years); without being able to develop it into the implementation phase. Of course the beneficiaries got pissed-off; not only they see scarce benefits from the initiative they signed in, but those benefits are not what they were promised, and nobody understand how things should work.
    I therefore don’t agree with the conclusion of the article that a renovated REDD should “move away from market mechanism”, but that mechanism should remain as a very simplified component, within the more complex carrot & stick policy, to support forest conservation; and of course its money be stuck to results (not for inconclusive programs and international conferences); results, disbursements and data on forests transparent; benefited forests open to everybody’s scrutiny. How can the market be considered unsuitable if not experimented? (implementation of the pay-for-result principle has so far been insignificant). That conclusion would also be contradictory with what reported as the study conclusion that invites to “putting land back under local controls”: should the locals be excluded from the market?

  3. @Kate Dillon Levin – You argue that relying on markets isn’t tenable right now, but that markets are certainly part of the solution. Which raises a few questions:

    What would it take for markets to become a tenable solution to rainforest destruction? Is this likely to happen any time soon?

    What price of carbon would be needed to “restructure forest economies away from extraction”? The World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility has set a price of not more than US$5. Stand For Trees sells REDD credits for US$10. Neither of these prices can compete with the profits to be made from mining, or oil palm plantations. As Steve Zwick from Ecosystem Marketplace puts it,

    “REDD didn’t create an incentive to save forests, because anyone who responded to purely economic incentives would opt for palm oil. What REDD did create was a financing mechanism that might make it possible for people who wanted to save the forest to do so.”

    Given the fact that the current level of national commitments (sorry, “contributions”) to reduce emissions would leave us with more than 3°C, what would be the climatic impact of trading the carbon stored in forests against continued emissions from fossil fuels?


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  5. Any action taken by authorities to conserve forest biology is either take a u turn or dead turn due to valid reason that they are on other side of destroying forest grabbing the enormous amount of forest wealth.

  6. Is REDD+ dead? I am sure the many African delegates at COP21 would say no. REDD+ is not just a payment scheme but an initiative that incentivizes governments to understand and manage their forests better. Thus even the readiness activities are beneficial in the way they highlight shortcomings of forest management and spark debates on the way forward.