3 Reasons We Need to Support the Forest Carbon Market

Yesterday at New York City’s Bronx Zoo, I attended a great meeting celebrating the five-year anniversary of the United Nations REDD Programme.

As I listened to the moving speeches of Minister Holmas from Norway’s International Development Ministry and CI Board Member Edward Norton highlighting the role of forests and need to protect them, I thought about all that has been accomplished over the last five years in the realm of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.)

forest in Costa Rica

A forest in Costa Rica. The burning and clearing of tropical forests accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transportation sector. (© Trond Larsen)

In some ways, we could not have hoped for greater success for this program, which provides economic incentives (primarily in developing countries) to increase the value of standing forests, thus providing an alternative to the “business as usual” of logging or clearing for agriculture.

Ever since the 2007 U.N. Climate Change conference in Bali, the value of forests has gradually made it to the forefront of the climate change agenda, and is now regularly discussed by presidents and prime ministers. And with the development of REDD+, we finally have a means by which to protect these forests.

Yet at this moment, the future of REDD+ is far from certain. Successes on the ground have not been met by commitments of further support from the international community. Instead, slow progress in international climate change negotiations and differing agendas among donors have left REDD+ projects battling for buyers of carbon credits within the relatively small voluntary carbon market.

Although an extraordinary amount of funding has been raised, little is flowing to actual forest protection or communities. Out of more than US$ 1 billion raised in various multilateral funds, less than 1% has been disbursed over the last five years. New research from CI shows that although a slew of successful REDD+ projects have been developed, they have not been met with a corresponding uptick in market demand for these credits.

This is a critical time for the future of our forests — and the people who call them home. Here are three reasons we need to keep REDD+ going.

1.       Forests are important.

Forests are central to the livelihoods of over 1 billion people, are home to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity and provide a suite of environmental services — from freshwater provision to erosion prevention — that we are still only just beginning to understand. They are, however, disappearing at an alarming rate. The FAO estimates that between 12–15 million hectares (29.6–37.1 million acres) are deforested every year, accounting for more emissions than all of the world’s planes, trains, ships, cars and trucks combined.

Study after study has made it clear that without forests — and a corresponding drop in deforestation — it will be impossible for the world to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Providing incentives for the people that live in those forests to keep their trees standing is essential to this process. (Learn how Norway has helped Guyana do this in the video below.)

2.       REDD+ is working.

In the six years since Bali, billions have been raised through U.N. and World Bank funds focused on forest conservation. The private sector has gotten into the act through various initiatives, the highlight being the pledge made by the Consumer Goods Forum (representing more than 400 leading companies such as the Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark) to take deforestation out of their supply chains by 2020.

Pilot projects are up and running, and have worked with communities to reduce emissions from deforestation by over 5 million tons of CO2 to date — the rough equivalent of taking all of Washington D.C.’s cars off the road for four years.

Real, tangible progress on emissions reductions, biodiversity protection and socioeconomic benefits like job creation, improved farming practices and access to education and health care has been measured, monitored and reported against independently verified carbon standards. This is remarkable.

3.       The disappearance of REDD+ would hurt countries and communities already benefitting from it.

A lack of finance to reward these successes would send a strong and worrying signal to all countries embarking on efforts to reduce deforestation. If their efforts are met by indifference and uncertainty rather than further support, they will have limited motivation to press ahead with the politically challenging, complex and long-term reforms needed for REDD+ to succeed at scale.

Such failures would not only result in a reversal of the successes achieved in conserving critical ecosystems and supporting poverty alleviation, but would also destroy the hope that communities and national governments have placed in the international community to uphold their promises to deliver payments for actions taken to address climate change. Such a loss of trust would take a long time to repair — time that neither the world’s forests nor climate has to spare.

REDD+Market-Impact_LR

Click on the infographic above to enlarge and learn more about the benefits of REDD+ on local communities — and global climate change. (Infographic: © Conservation International)

Over the next five years, we need to build on our achievements as an international community and focus on delivering the change everyone agrees is needed. The fact that the world is not yet willing to invest the $100 billion or so estimated to save the world’s forests, but is happy to place a $110 billion valuation on Facebook shows that we still have a way to go to convince the broader community of the value of forests.

So how can we guarantee that REDD+ keeps going?

Donor governments must continue to pledge REDD+ funding, but deliver it through new approaches that ensure that funds actually reach their intended beneficiaries. Countries hosting REDD+ projects need to continue to push for reforms in the forest sector. Consumer Goods Forum companies need to invest in REDD+ as an effective bridge to deforestation-free supply chains.

We need more proactive companies like Disney, Microsoft and Puma. We need more individual actors to step up and voluntarily offset their emissions through REDD+. We need to send a strong signal that forests are indeed important — and the world is willing to pay for their protection.

Agustin Silvani is the managing director of carbon finance in CI’s Ecosystem Finance and Markets division.

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