in Sweden

Swedish Society for Nature Conservation: “It is naïve and dangerous to think that REDD will be quick or easy”

Goran EklofIn 2010, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) released a report titled, “New hope for the forests? REDD, biodiversity and poverty reduction”. Although the report is over a year old, REDD-Monitor only recently read it – others may have missed it too.

The report, written by Göran Eklöf of Context, a Swedish journalist and consultant group, was published in Swedish before COP16 in Cancún and the English translation released after the meeting. The conclusions and recommendations remain relevant and important, particularly coming from Sweden’s most influential environmental organisation.

The report consists of a background explanation of REDD, followed by a series of conclusions with an explanation of each conclusion and recommendations for the Swedish government’s position on REDD. (The report can be viewed and downloaded below.)

Elinor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics, took part in CIFOR’s Forest Day 3 at COP15 in Copenhagen where she explained that she is favour of REDD, but warned that REDD could be implemented in a way that does more harm than good. “If local users and indigenous peoples are not recognized and given clear rights, REDD could lead to more deforestation,” Ostrom said.

The report challenges the idea promoted, for example in the Stern Report and the Eliasch Report (both commissioned by the British government) that REDD will be cheap, quick and easy: “The assumption that it would be quick or easy to reduce deforestation cannot have any other foundation than ignorance.”

While the report highlights many of the difficulties of REDD, the report also points out that,

None of the difficulties that have been discussed constitute any objection to REDD as such. It is necessary and urgent to increase efforts to halt deforestation in developing countries through measures within the framework of the UNFCCC as well as through other channels.

What the difficulties highlight is rather the necessity of giving equal importance to all of the gains that can be made from reducing deforestation: conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services (including the role of forests as carbon sinks and stores), protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and the poor and promotion of sustainable economic and social development.

However, the report strongly opposes REDD carbon offsets. Here are the conclusions and recommendations from the report:

It is important to rapidly reduce deforestation, but naïve and dangerous to think that it will be quick or easy

Extensive new initiatives are needed to promote forest protection and sustainable use of forest resources. Nevertheless, the focus of these efforts cannot be limited to the capacity of forests to store carbon. All initiatives must also support the protection of other ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, development of local economies and respect for human rights.

Forest issues are complex and the experiences so far of international cooperation on forests are far from encouraging. It is not only naïve to think of reduced deforestation as a quick and easy way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is also a risk that exaggerated hopes for results in this area will reduce the pressure for limiting emissions from other, more critical sources.

Proposals for a programme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forestation, REDD, must be developed with great care.

Far too many important issues on how a REDD system can become functional and fair are still unresolved in the negotiations. Examples include reference levels, prevention of leakage, principles for financing and distribution of payments, conservation of biodiversity, respect for the rights of forest communities and many more. These must be resolved before an agreement is reached. Otherwise the programme runs the risk of becoming ineffective or even counterproductive. A badly designed REDD programme that is linked to carbon trading may even have the effect of increasing the global emissions of greenhouse gases.

Reducing deforestation cannot replace large reductions of the emissions in industrialised countries. Emissions caused by deforestation must not be equated with emissions from the burning of fossil fuels

REDD can only be a complement to ambitious commitments by industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from industrialised countries are by far the most important reason why atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases are approaching critical levels. The UN Convention on Climate Change recognises this and therefore places the main responsibility to deal with this problem on the industrialised countries. Nevertheless, industrialised country emissions are still several times higher than what is sustainable.

Allowing industrialised countries to take credit for emission reductions that can be achieved at a lower cost in poor countries will only postpone the necessary transformation of our own societies.

Greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation or other land use changes cannot be equated with emissions from burning fossil fuels. While the former are part of the carbon cycle in the biosphere, the latter contribute to an irreversible addition of carbon that would otherwise be locked away in geological formations.

Lasting reductions in the loss of forests can only be achieved through measures that also address the underlying causes of deforestation

REDD programmes that do not address the underlying causes of deforestation will not lead to long-lasting results. Expansion of agriculture, logging by forest companies and construction of roads and other infrastructure are visible and direct cases of deforestation. Behind these activities lies a growing demand for products –timber, biofuels, meat, palm oil, hydropower etc. – that drives deforestation.

Some of the more indirect causes of deforestation are (i) inappropriate subsidies and other economic incentives; (ii) weak forest governance; (iii) widespread corruption among government officials, politicians and in the corporate sector and iv) poorly defined or respected land tenure regimes.

The policies of industrialised countries in all areas also need to become supportive of the aims of REDD.

Forest protection programmes must be sensitive to the needs and interests of poor communities and bring benefits for them

Many indigenous and other local communities have managed their forest for centuries without degrading or destroying them. On the contrary, they have depended on the integrity of the forests for their long-term survival. Still, in many cases where authorities or organisations have intervened in order to protect forests, these communities have been forcefully evicted from their forests or otherwise prevented from continuing their traditional use of forest resources.

Effective measures against deforestation require approaches that build on the needs of poor communities and that advance their interests and engage them in the effort. This applies to communities that live either in or near the forests, as well as to other poor people who may be affected indirectly – for example by rising food prices – when competition for cropland and pastures increases.

To consider the poverty dimensions in REDD does not imply making the system more complex than necessary. Poverty aspects have to be integrated in order to ensure that the programmes are sustainable. REDD must be designed to bring benefits to the poor, for example by strengthening their right to manage and use the land that they depend on for their livelihoods, or by creating new income opportunities. The programmes must also ensure that the payments of compensation reach the communities that manage their forests, once reduced deforestation has been achieved.

REDD must be based on efficient and functioning forest governance, respect the rights of indigenous and local communities and ensure their participation

Clearly defined and respected land rights combined with efficient and open forest governance and effective systems for preventing corruption are necessary in order to prevent short-sighted overuse of forest resources. Unless these conditions can be secured, other investments to curb deforestation will fail.

REDD must respect, promote and – when necessary – strengthen the rights of indigenous and local communities to sustainably use forests and forest resources. In order to find solutions that are beneficial to affected indigenous and local communities, all programmes must build on meaningful consultations and opportunities for real democratic influence and participation by these local stakeholders. The right of indigenous communities to give their free and prior informed consent to all REDD projects that affect them must be respected.[1]

REDD must also extend support for traditional forest governance by indigenous peoples and local communities, through Community Forest Management (CFM), Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) and other systems.[2]

Forests are not only carbon – REDD must protect biodiversity and ecosystems and not support the conversion of forests to tree plantations

Forests are more than assemblies of trees. Trees are more than carbon. Halting deforestation and forest degradation also means conserving biodiversity and the many ecosystem services that forests provide. It also involves protecting the habitat of several hundred million people.

The definitions that are used to measure deforestation and forest degradation are too technical and one-dimensional. They do not differentiate between a rich rainforest and a monoculture of fast-growing eucalyptus. REDD must be based on definitions that can capture a broad range of values and qualities of forests.

REDD must discourage the conversion of forests into plantations. The criteria for REDD must make it clear that sustainable forest management (SFM) cannot include – as is sometimes the case today – such conversion of natural forests into plantations, or the planting of genetically modified trees.

Reducing deforestation requires new and appropriate financing – do not link REDD to emissions trading

Industrialised countries have made a commitment to provide new and additional financial resources to help developing countries mitigate their emissions of greenhouse gases. This includes reducing the emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation. That the funds are to be additional implies that they should be over and above commitments that have already been made regarding development assistance (0.7 per cent of GDI for all OECD members, 1 per cent in the case of Sweden). Official Development Assistance (ODA) must not be double-counted as financing activities to combat climate change.

Proposals to link REDD to carbon trading threaten to eliminate the climate benefits that will be gained from reducing deforestation and forest degradation. Carbon trading in itself does not reduce emissions. The result of linking REDD to the carbon trade would be that reduced emissions from forests in developing countries would be cancelled out by increased emissions – primarily from fossil fuels – in industrialised countries. This would occur unless the cap for emissions is simultaneously lowered. Carbon trading also does not generate any new financial resources. Instead it only moves investments from large sources of emissions in industrialised countries to the forests in developing countries.

Carbon trading requires robust solutions to difficult issues like baselines, leakage and permanence of emission reductions. Due to these fundamental methodological problems, it is likely that the result of linking REDD to the carbon markets would be an increase in global emissions. Furthermore, emissions trading systems cannot, at least not in a foreseeable future, handle the multiple values of forests.

For the time being, REDD must be financed through a fundbased system that produces climate benefits and can respond to real, integrated needs rather than to the narrow interests of markets.

SSNC’s message to the Swedish Government

SSNC calls on the Swedish Government to:

  • Ensure, in line with the Swedish Policy for Global Development, that REDD is guided by a human rights perspective and the perspectives of poor people on development;
  • Support the adoption of binding and verifiable safeguards in REDD that will ensure requirements for conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, respect for the rights and participation of forest communities and a fair distribution of the incomes that REDD will generate;
  • Resist the linking of REDD to the carbon markets and to any other systems through which REDD can be used by industrialised counties in meeting their emission reduction commitments;
  • Abstain from using carbon sinks in meeting Sweden’s own commitments under the Kyoto protocol or any other framework;
  • Only provide financing for REDD, as well as for all other commitments under the Climate Change Convention, through grants that are over and above the 1 per cent target for Swedish ODA;
  • Give priority to programmes and funding channels under the leadership and control of the United Nations and the UNFCCC.

[1] ^^ “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.” UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly 2007.

[2] ^^ The Program of Work on Protected Areas of the Convention on Biological Diversity includes the aim to recognise and promote protected areas conserved by indigenous and local communities, as well as other new governance forms. See also Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas at web site of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN.


Download here:

New hope for the forests? REDD, biodiversity and poverty reduction
New hope for the forests? REDD, biodiversity and poverty reduction (4.8 MB).


UPDATE – 22 August 2012: First two paragraphs corrected. The Swedish version of the report was released before the Cancún meeting and the English translation after Cancún.

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  1. “Respect for rights” as stated in this document. How many times have we heard this flippant statement? It is not respect that is needed but “universal rights of governance and control by local communities, in the wise and pragmatic use of the forest, preservation of its biodiversity using strategies for the benefit of choice achievable sustainable development”.

    This is when REDD + will become a strategic mechanism for the mess our world has become because of the ignorance and greed of G20 nations.

    Thank you,

    Dr. Nigel Miles