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Forest Scientists: REDD “is not low hanging fruit” and has potential for “catastrophic” impacts on biodiversity

Forest Scientists: REDD is not low hanging fruit and has potential for catastrophic impacts on biodiversityA Global Forest Expert Panel is currently working on an assessment of the relationship between biodiversity, forest management and REDD. The Panel presented its key findings at the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Hyderabad, India last week. A briefing note about the assessment is headlined, “REDD+ May Cut Both Ways”.

The Global Forest Expert Panel is coordinated by the International Union of Forest Research Organization, who released the briefing note. The final report will be released during the UN climate meeting in Doha (COP 18).

Bhaskar Vira, senior lecturer at the department of geography, University of Cambridge, is one of six lead authors on the assessment. He explained the four high level messages from the assessment in an interview with Responding to Climate Change:

“One of them is that synergies are possible but we shouldn’t take them for granted. You have to work hard to achieve them. Increasingly, people who were talking, some years ago, about low-hanging fruit, it’s not low-hanging, it’s tough. You’ve got to climb many ladders to get to REDD to get to that fruit, you’ve got to work really hard and fall down a few times along the way. But done right, there are possibilities that might actually help you to achieve those multiple goals. But we shouldn’t take it for granted that we are going to get it right. And that means that one has to take it really seriously.

“The second big message was that we have to learn from past experience. We’ve done interventions in the forestry sector for decades, there’s a wealth of information which is relevant to REDD+ and we can learn a lot from that. Who’s benefited, who’s lost, how has power been distributed, who are the beneficiaries in terms of the elite groups who might seek to capture benefits, especially when money is involved. And REDD involves potentially a lot of money. That’s the second high level message.

“The third message is that increasingly, officially, we’re talking the language of safeguards. But again our findings that integrating social objectives at an early stage might actually want us to say more than just safeguards. The language of safeguards is perhaps a little defensive. It kind of accepts that there’s going to be a negative social consequence and we’ve got to protect against it. You might actually want a more positive embracing of the social objectives.

“And our final conclusion is that despite our best efforts there are going to be situations where trade-offs will happen. We have to not be fooled into thinking that there are easy win-wins that there’s going to be win-win all the time. And then decision makers need to decide what they want to prioritise. Is the environmental objective over-riding? Are they going to take the economic and social objectives seriously and try to do something about it?”

Also interviewed was Valerie Kapos of the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring
Center. In response to a question about whether REDD could be ecologically damaged if it is implemented without safeguards, she replied:

“Almost certainly. Especially if people take a single benefit, a single focus on the carbon, there are many ways to increase carbon that would have absolutely disastrous consequences ecologically, including plantation of exotic species, including plantation of trees in non-forest ecosystems. The biodiversity consequences of those sort of actions would be potentially catastrophic.

“So actually, having this kind of balanced view of the trade-offs even within the environmental benefits, not to mention the social and economic benefits, is absolutely crucial to making some sort of sound decision about what to do next.”

Asked about how optimistic he is that the findings will be taken on board and that there will be “real REDD projects being rolled out in the next decade or so”, Vira answered,

“I would hope that there would be REDD projects that are sensitive to the sorts of things that our findings are pointing to that are lots of warning lights going off. And saying we need to do this very carefully, design it properly. Because the risks associated with them going ahead and not taking account of the kind of things that we are talking about, are actually very great.”

PHOTO Credit: William Laurance.

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  1. Thank goodness someone is speaking some sense at last.

    If only the likes of Nicholas Stern and Benoit Bosquet had talked to people like Bhaskar Vira five years ago, perhaps we would not have wasted all this time and money trying to pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’, which it turns out is mostly rotten…