Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Q&A: Redd - preserving forests to tackle climate change

One concrete agreement expected from the Copenhagen climate change conference is a deal on finance for a programme to preserve the world's forests - Redd. The BBC's James Painter explains how it works.

What does Redd stand for?

Redd stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.

What is it?

Essentially, it is a way of paying developing countries or communities within them to preserve their forests. Redd schemes are seen as a critical way of reducing the amount of CO2 emissions that come from deforestation around the world and cause global warming. In the last few years Redd has become a key part of the negotiations over a new climate deal.

Why does deforestation lead to CO2 emissions?

Vast quantities of carbon are stored in the trees and soils of tropical forests. When the trees are burnt down to clear land to grow crops, this is converted into carbon dioxide which is one of the greenhouse gases accelerating climate change. The main causes of tropical deforestation are clearing for cattle ranching and commercial agriculture (eg soya or palm oil plantations), logging, colonisation and subsequent subsistence agriculture, and the building of roads.

Why is REDD so important?

Estimates for the percentage of annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that come from deforestation range between 12 and 20%. Most experts agree the figure is roughly comparable to the emissions of the whole of the European Union, and is higher than the total of emissions generated by the global transport sector (all the cars, trucks, planes, ships and trains worldwide).

Over and above the emissions associated with deforestation, the destruction of forests reduces the planet's ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Tropical forests are estimated to absorb about 15% of the CO2 we release.

How important is Redd?

Some observers, including Lord Nicholas Stern, argue that Redd schemes offer the single largest opportunity for cost-effective and immediate reductions in GHG emissions. They say other, more technologically sophisticated, options like carbon capture and storage could take several years to come into large-scale operation and are more expensive.

Which countries are key for Redd?

According the World Resources Institute (WRI), in the 1990s Indonesia and Brazil were responsible for about a half of the global emissions from deforestation. The WRI places them in third and fourth place in the world ranking of global emitters (after China and the USA), if GHG emissions from deforestation are included. The Democratic Republic of Congo is also a major emitter. Many forest countries are grouped in the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, which has a strong voice in the Redd negotiations (particularly Papua New Guinea).

Do Redd programmes already exist?

Yes, many pilot programmes are already operating around the world.

  • Indonesia has more than 10 schemes, including the Ulu Masen project in Aceh province, which is part-funded by the US bank Merrill Lynch
  • Brazil also has a number of projects, including the Juma programme in the state of Amazonas
  • The Norwegian government recently announced it would pay Guyana US$250m to preserve its rainforest

The World Bank is working to set in motion Redd projects in 35 countries.

How do they work?

In different ways. In the Ulu Masen project in Indonesia, the idea is that you start by calculating how much carbon is saved from entering the earth's atmosphere by not cutting down the forest. These savings are converted into what are known as carbon-offset credits, which are then sold to rich governments or companies prepared to pay others to reduce their GHG emissions on their behalf. The money generated by the sale of these credits is invested into protecting the local forest and improving the lives of local communities living near or in the forest. The aim is that this would give local people enough of an incentive not to cut down trees.

In Brazil, families in the Juma reserve are given a debit card, and if regular inspections show that the trees are still standing, they get about US$30 a month credited to their accounts. Coca-Cola, the Marriott hotel chain and a Brazilian private bank have been involved in part-funding the project.

How might Redd work in the future?

There are many different proposals regarding how Redd might work and how it might be funded. But broadly they fall into three categories:

  • Market mechanisms: countries that reduce deforestation would gain credits for reducing their carbon emissions, which would then be sold on international carbon markets
  • Government funds: a large pot of international funding would be set up and play a similar role to the official development aid that flows from rich to poor countries. An example of this is Brazil's Amazon Fund to which Norway has pledged US$1bn
  • A combination of the two

There is also a big debate as to whether Redd projects should be managed and funded at a national or sub-national level.

What sort of sums of money are we talking about?

The 2006 Stern Report spoke of at least US$5bn a year needed initially for the eight countries responsible for 70% of the GHG emissions from deforestation. The Eliasch report (commissioned by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown) suggested that between US$18bn and US$26bn would be required annually to halve emissions from deforestation by 2020.

Is that possible?

The UN estimates that the various schemes could raise up to US$30bn a year for developing countries. The outcome of the proposed legislation being discussed in the US Congress is critical to raising money for Redd schemes via carbon markets. The current proposed cap-and-trade scheme includes a stipulation that companies and other entities could offset a percentage of their carbon emissions via domestic and international Redd schemes.

There are various carbon markets around the world either already operating (the EU) or being proposed (USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea) but harmonising them will be difficult.

What are the main problems with Redd?

The main ones are:

Market mechanisms - Critics say carbon-offset schemes give companies or governments in the rich world a chance to meet international obligations without cutting their own emissions. Several countries like Brazil, China and Bolivia have stated that Redd should not be used as a way of big CO2 emitters being able to avoid their obligations to meet emission cuts domestically.

Greenpeace argues that allowing a forestry credit scheme would flood the market with cheap offsets, lower the carbon price and reduce incentives for industrial countries and companies to cut their emissions.

Monitoring compliance - How can you measure whether a country is really reducing deforestation? Halting it one area might drive loggers or farmers into another (known as "leakage").

Measuring carbon - How do you know how much carbon is stored in a forest, and so much carbon emissions are being avoided by preserving it?

Embezzlement - Some forest countries are also some of the most corrupt in the world. How can you be sure the money gets to the communities who depend on the forests, rather than agribusiness companies or local politicians? Many indigenous forest communities are worried they will not see the benefits.

Land tenure - Putting a value on forests may cause land-grabs, particularly when property rights in many parts of the world are poorly-defined and hotly-contested.

So why bother?

Redd supporters say it won't be easy but these problems can eventually be overcome or mitigated. Brazil for example already has a sophisticated satellite monitoring system of deforestation and is keen to share it. The Norwegian government, which is a major provider of Redd funds, says that only when a country puts in place robust anti-corruption measures will it be eligible for payments.

Will anything be agreed at Copenhagen?

The current Kyoto Protocol does not allow developing countries to sell offsets from avoided deforestation schemes. Planting new trees did qualify, but refraining from cutting down existing trees in forests did not. An outline agreement which changes this and recognises the importance of Redd is likely to emerge, but several issues are still being negotiated. They include how forest communities will benefit, how to safeguard against forests being turned into plantations, and whether "carbon enhancement" schemes such as protecting biodiversity (known as Redd-plus) will be incorporated.

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