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REDD under the spotlight – Can ‘Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ deliver real benefits for the climate and for rural communities?

In this article, Wally Menne of the Timberwatch Coalition in South Africa asks whether REDD can really help address climate change and whether it can bring genuine benefits for rural communities. The article was first published in Drynet News, in February 2012.

Since the mid-1990s, the Timberwatch Coalition has focussed on exposing the environmental and social problems caused by industrial tree plantations in South Africa and elsewhere. One of Menne’s concerns with REDD is that it fails to address a key driver of deforestation: over-consumption. As long as consumption of forest products and agricultural products continues to increase, the pressure on forests will remain, as forests are logged for timber or cleared to make way for monoculture plantations. Other problems include the reliance on carbon trading to finance REDD and the risk of “allowing real forests to be replaced by monoculture tree plantations in the name of ‘enhancing forest-carbon stocks’”.

REDD under the spotlight – Can ‘Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ deliver real benefits for the climate and for rural communities?

By Wally Menne, Timberwatch Coalition, published in Drynet News #9 February 2012

Stand-alone conservation activities aimed at reducing deforestation and preventing the deterioration of natural vegetation and soils could deliver numerous long-term developmental benefits to local communities that depend on natural resources to sustain their livelihoods. Besides ensuring the survival of biodiversity, healthy habitats would also deliver ecosystem services including clean water and air to people, help ensure food security, and mitigate climate change.

This inspiring outcome has led many to support the concept of REDD (Reducing Deforestation and forest Degradation). However as presently structured, proposed United Nations REDD+ (reducing deforestation and forest degradation and enhancing forest carbon stocks) schemes seem unlikely to contribute meaningfully to reducing global warming. This is largely because the negative effects of global over-consumption of products derived from remaining forests or from forests destroyed when clearing land for industrial crops like sugar cane for biofuel have not been taken into account and are in fact set to grow to even higher levels.

Unless the overall demand for those products is reduced substantially, the exploitative activities that cause forest destruction will simply move to other regions or countries where there is less resistance; mostly to poorer countries with weaker capacity to control deforestation; mainly due to corruption, a lack of resources, or fewer options for sustainable livelihoods. This is called ‘leakage’ in UN-speak.

Making REDD-type projects that are supposed to save forests dependant on finance from trading in carbon offsets also corrupts the original good intentions of REDD, and reduces community forests to a commodity that can be owned, sold and exploited by foreign interests that control the ‘carbon rights’ in a specific area. This is made worse by the patronising attitude of the Northern governments and organisations that promote or implement REDD-style offset projects in developing countries. This is sometimes referred to as CO2lonialism, with carbon offsets being the entry point to land-grabbing and the increased exploitation of resources in developing countries.

The World Bank and the UNFCCC have hyped REDD+ up as a viable solution to forest loss even though there is no real evidence to support their claims, but what is clear is that they intend allowing real forests to be replaced by monoculture tree plantations in the name of “enhancing forest-carbon stocks”.

As currently conceptualised, REDD+ will mainly benefit the Northern polluters that caused climate change, with carbon traders and consultants following close behind. Community-driven efforts to reduce deforestation, prevent forest ecosystem deterioration, and restore those forests previously destroyed, need to be supported with long-term payments made by industrialised countries in lieu of their current and historical ecological and climate debt.

To be meaningfully sustainable, such projects require full community involvement and ownership; while funds received should be invested in programmes that support non-consumptive resource use. Community members working as forest protectors or visitor guides should be properly compensated, whilst measuring carbon in trees should be the lowest priority activity, as it is relatively pointless when compared with work that improves overall forest health by restoring biodiversity richness and eradicating alien invasive species.

REDD-type projects that depend on finance from carbon markets are at best a distraction from dealing directly with the causes of climate change – i.e. through the actual reduction of GHG emissions at source by polluters. As such they are a false solution, failing to make any meaningful contributions to solving climate change, whilst perpetuating the environmentally destructive endless growth model that supports the capitalist economy. Protecting and/or restoring the world’s forests must be seen as a primary responsibility that requires large unconditional monetary contributions from industrialised countries and international institutions.

The best strategy for developing countries to prevent further forest loss, and to ensure a sustainable local economy, would be to avoid foreign imposed extractive land-use change that damages forests and other ecosystems, whilst supporting the ownership, management and control of forest areas by local communities. The introduction of and sustained support for low-input ecological agriculture would provide communities with abundant healthy food, and help reduce shifting agriculture in sensitive forest areas.

REDD+ in its currently envisaged form – reliant on carbon trading for funding, or viewed as cheap emission offsets – is likely to have an overall detrimental effect, as its local effects will be largely limited to green-washing activities such as tree-planting in the form of monoculture tree plantations, thanks to the confusing forest definitions adopted by the UNFCCC.

Meanwhile Northern countries and industries will continue to profit unfairly from cheap access to developing country land and resources, and to pollute the global atmosphere.

Further reading

1) REDD: CO2lonialism of Forests –

2) CARBON SCAM: Noel Kempff Climate Action Project and the Push for Sub-National
Forest Offsets –

3) No REDD – A Reader – & (pdf file, 3.4 MB).

4) World Rainforest Movement: From REDD to HEDD

5) Key Arguments Against Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+)


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