Researchers question role of REDD

In the latest issue of the BioScience journal, a letter by three US researchers raiseds questions about the effectiveness of the proposed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

The global scheme, likely to feature heavily at the forthcoming UN climate summit in Poland, is based on the idea that rich industrialised nations pay nations with large areas of tropical forests not to fell the trees.

The payments offset lost income from the poorer nations’ timber sector, while the rich nations can offset the saved CO2 (from keeping the trees standing) against the emissions within their own borders.

However, two researchers – Charles Clement and Roland Clement – use their letter to voice their concerns about the viability of the scheme:

William Laurance (BioScience 58: 286-287, doi:10.1641/B580402) concluded that “REDD is becoming a reality, and might serve as a model of how environmental scientists can help affect international policy.” REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) is another carbon trading scheme which seems to offer help in accomplishing this worthy goal.

Do we need another voluntary scheme to benefit the wealthy, while generating little for the people who live in tropical forests today and are under contract to cut trees for the already wealthy? Is this an appropriate action model deserving our support?

As Laurance prudently points out, implementing REDD will be fraught with uncertainties. The technical issues are solvable, but there are many hurdles. He asks whether it is appropriate to focus exclusively on carbon, as though forests have value only in terms of this element. He mentions biodiversity and the hyrological cycle as being important; both are essential, and both are threatened by deforestation and climate change.

REDD is reputedly designed to avoid the pitfalls of a project-by-project approach; it focuses at the national level. Yet there are no mechanisms to guarantee that carbon trading will also help the indigenous people and the traditional communities that live in, and depend on, the forest for their livelihood. In an increasingly urbanized world, these people are marginalized because they lack political clout. They depend on the goodwill of national politicians. Such support is highly volatile, especially in countries with high corruption indices.

Given these worries, a number of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations)-especially third world NGOs and indigenous peoples’ organizations present at the Bali meeting-questioned REDD’s adequacy and called for profound changes in both national and international policy. Their declaration on forests recommended that REDD be eliminated (FOEI 2008).

Instead of following another red herring that may simply divert our attention from controlling the most important factors, should not the world’s scientific community ask that the major polluting countries address the root causes of carbon emissions, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and human inequities? The real problem is the growth-at-any-cost model of our political economy, and the neglect of human numbers.

Laurance ends by asking for sustainable resource-use policies. But there can be no sustainability until our numbers and our economic expectations are brought within the carrying capacity of the planet itself.

Source: BioScience journal

Date: September 2008

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