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Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)

Deforestation and associated land use changes generate on the order of 20 percent of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally each year, primarily in the form of CO2. The bulk of GHG come from burning fossil fuels but deforestation is also relevant. In some countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, deforestation constitutes the single most important share of national emissions (averaging 54 percent in Brazil and 44 percent in Indonesia over the 2000–2005 period according to estimates based on FAO and WRI data). These two countries alone were responsible for an estimated 60.6 percent of all deforestation in the humid tropics between 2000 and 2005 (Hansen et al., 2008). If deforestation could be substantially reduced in just these two countries, it would make an enormous contribution to the overall efforts to reduce global emissions. Other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, also experience serious deforestation contributing to global emissions; but their governance conditions are more precarious (Angelsen, 2009).

In this context the current proposal for global REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and REDD+ (the same plus biodiversity conservation) programs financed by carbon-offset trading aims at underpinning the resilience to climate change of forest carbon stocks and offer (contested) biodiversity benefits at a no extra or marginal increase in cost. Competiveness and cost-effectiveness of REDD in respect to other mitigation methods is argued demonstrating lower estimated unit costs of REDD to abate carbon emissions (Rodríguez-Labajos, 2013).

There are no current binding limitations set on tropical deforestation even where this constitutes significant shares of national and indeed global emissions. There is no other global mechanism to restrain nations from expanding agricultural and resource extractive frontiers into areas of intact tropical forest. There are a number of reasons that efforts to reduce deforestation have been addressed as a separate issue within the post-Kyoto Protocol negotiations:

(1) Fears on the part of parties engaged in emissions trading that REDD credits would flood the nascent carbon market (Carbon Trading), undermining the value of Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) issued by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the rules of the Kyoto Protocol, and hence undermining CDM-related incentives to invest in GHG emissions controls over fossil fuels and associated industrial sources. However, REDD would have only a low impact on overall carbon prices provided the emissions reductions commitments assumed by industrial nations are strong enough.

(2) Perceptions that additional forest-related emissions reductions would be only temporary in duration, since at some point forests would die off or cease being net absorbers of carbon. Indeed, the possibility of Amazon forests reversing their absorption of CO2 has been backed up by scientific research over many years. The hypothesis is that with global warming, temperature increase above a certain level will result in negative CO2 balance by forests. (It is currently positive, i.e. there is net photosynthetic sequestration even in forests that are at ecological climax.)

(3) ‘Leakage’ of activities such as ranching or crop or tree plantation production. If a forest is preserved under a REDD scheme, deforestation activities may just switch to another area. If this occurs internationally, it is even more difficult to control, due to the absence of a global authority or agreement to oversee such displacement. A nation-state approach to REDD would conceivably permit intranational leakage to be internalized by the agreement. After all, nation-states are the parties to the agreement and must demonstrate progress towards targets, with adequate intelligence regarding the rate of change in land use against adopted baselines (based on historical land use change or future anticipated demands for forestland conversion).

Reviews of alternative REDD architectures (e.g. GCP, 2008) suggest that a mixed approach, involving nation-state demonstration of progress towards GHG reduction targets combined with voluntary project activities would be most effective in achieving objectives. Alternative carbon accounting architectures include:

(1) National carbon accounting based on macro land use monitoring, excluding project-level activities, to avoid double counting when aggregating reductions;

(2) Parallel but separate accounting for projects and nation-states, enabling parties to tax carbon credits secured by projects in voluntary markets (thus requiring disclosure of private investments in these markets, but allowing that financing flows bypass the national authority), deducting project reductions from overall national reductions to avoid double counting;

(3) Nation-state accounts validating all project and non-project emissions reductions, requiring the creation of a national registry of project activities and accomplishments, and infrastructure for monitoring and validation. In this case, control over financing flows could be parallel but accounting would be centralized. The complexities of these alternatives and their imaginable variants have led to a state of indecision regarding initiation of activities along these lines.

Obviously these alternative strategies differ in their objectives, and the extent of their substitutability for mitigation is limited. Portraying REDD as an ideal mechanism for climate change mitigation may reduce investments to minimise significantly larger emissions from industrial activities. Into a great extent, these come explained by variations in the level of the global GDP. Moreover, REDD largely relies on the premises on which market-based payment for ecosystem services (PES) are founded. A decade of ground-level PES experiences demonstrates a clash between market-efficiency criteria and poverty reduction. The risk of regressive wealth redistribution is not the only issue in market-based conservation. Less-attractive sites for REDD+, notably those with low carbon storage or high opportunity costs, could elicit conservation interest but lack adequate financial support (Rodríguez-Labajos, 2013).


Angelsen, A. (ed.) (2009) Realising REDD+. National strategy and policy options. Copenhagen: CIFOR, Available online: (accessed 27 April 2012).

Global Canopy Project (GCP) (2008) The Little REDD Book. Oxford: GCP.

Hansen, Matthew, C., Stehman, Stephen V., Potapov, Peter V., Loveland, Thomas R., Townshend, John R.G., DeFries, Ruth S., Pittman, Kyle W., Arunarwati, B., Stolle, Fred; Steininger, Marc K., Carroll, Mark; and DiMiceli Charlene . (2008) Humid tropical forest clearing from 2000 to 2005 quantifi ed by using multitemporal and multiresolution remotely sensed data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 ( 27 ): 9439 – 9444.

Rodríguez-Labajos, B. (2013), Climate change, ecosystem services, and costs of action and inaction: scoping the interface. WIREs Clim Change, 4(6): 555-573.

This glossary entry is based on a contribution by Peter May

EJOLT glossary editors: Hali Healy, Sylvia Lorek and Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos

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