International Agreements and Cooperation Examples: UNFCCC / Kyoto Protocol - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)

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Loosely tied to the Kyoto Protocol is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), an evolving set of methods for using international cooperation and market incentives to reverse the trend of clear-cutting and other unsustainable management practices in order to preserve forests—one of the best natural carbon sinks.  Formalized by the UN REDD Programme, REDD comprises all of the strategies and innovations proposed to overcome the problem of deforestation (especially in developing countries), which accounts of about one-fifth of annual global carbon emissions.  Because deforestation accounts for such a substantial portion of global emissions, many commentators argue that deforestation prevention must be a critical part of the international framework in order to prevent substantial and unwanted climate change.  REDD garnered substantial attention at the global climate change talks in Copehagen in 2009.  Some commentators have argued that deforestation prevention is one of cheapest means of decreasing carbon emissions.

One idea is to combine REDD with the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.  The primary issue in this area (and with REDD generally) is the same issue all CDM projects have—additionality, or the problem of measuring and legitimatizing the credited emission reductions.  REDD, like the CDM, almost always involves developed countries helping developing countries via cash transfers, technology transfers, or other means.

One strategy is to pay poor farmers and indigenous groups who live near or in forested regions to practice sustainable foresting methods.  Potential problems with this approach are (1) who exactly is or should be receiving the payments; (2) monitoring and enforcement issues, such as keeping track of the inhabitants, some of whom might have a nomadic lifestyle; and (3) achieving cooperation with local governments, whose economic and political needs often create the incentives for destructive deforestation in the first place.

Other issues in the REDD context are: (1) the proper scale of the REDD approach—whether and when national, local, or project level approaches will work best in preventing deforestation; (2) who is willing, and who should, fund REDD projects, and on the flipside, who (national governments, local groups, businesses) should be receiving REDD forest preservation funds; (3) how to incorporate REDD into the existing international environmental framework (or whether REDD should be a separate and independent initiative); (4) how to set and measure baselines from which emission reductions will be credited (a problem made especially difficult in the REDD context, where the timescale for forest preservation is decades, centuries, or even the indefinite future); (5) the effect of allowing deforestation credits on the global carbon market; (6) the viability of planting and creating new forests as carbon sinks; (7) the extent to which protecting forests will protect biodiversity; and (8) the effect of REDD on the lifestyles, demographic patterns, and cultures of the affected communities, who often rely (absent REDD) on the forests for their livelihood.