Global efforts to fight deforestation are not enough to tackle forest loss


In 2010, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Cancún and agreed on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by protecting forests: rich countries would pay poor countries so that they do not cut down their trees.

the REDD+ framework, which means “reduce[ing] emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as the sustainable management of forests and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks”, evolved during subsequent UN climate talks, but the basic principle remained the same. So, more than a decade later, how successful has the program been?

It’s something the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) – known as the “IPCC of Forests” – set out to assess in a report released earlier this month. The report highlights what the program did well and what it could do better. But one of the main takeaways is that the problems of deforestation and the climate crisis also require other solutions.

Quick Stats

The tropics lost 9.3 million acres of primary primary forest in 2021, resulting in 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. How much is this? About 2.5 times the emissions of US passenger cars and light trucks each year.

“It has a role to play, but it’s only part of a bigger picture, and that bigger picture is also overshadowed by the need to reduce fossil fuel consumption,” the lead author said. and IUFRO President John Parrotta, who also works for the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Treehugger tells. “Forests are part of the picture, but that’s no excuse for [not] to act in many other ways and in many other sectors to get us out of our dependence on fossil fuels.

Forests and climate change

The new report, titled ‘Forests, Climate, Biodiversity and People: A Decade Assessment of REDD+’, comes at a critical time for both global climate and the world’s forests. It was released exactly a month after the latest IPCC report warned that policies in place through the end of 2020 would put the planet on track for a warming of 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100. A few days after its release, the Brazilian space agency announced that the country had experienced record deforestation in the Amazon for the month of April, while Reuters reported at the time.

The authors of the report recognized the urgency of the current moment. They noted that while the rate of deforestation is slowing, the planet still lost 10 million hectares of forest each year between 2015 and 2020. Between 1990 and 2020, approximately 420 million hectares of forest were cleared, of which more than 90% in the tropics. Forests currently absorb 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but they are also responsible for 10% of those same emissions when damaged or destroyed.

If stopping this deforestation is therefore essential, it is not enough to solve the climate crisis on its own. Reducing deforestation could reduce global emissions by an estimated 0.4 to 5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year. For reference, global carbon dioxide emissions are projected to reach 36.4 gigatonnes in 2021, and they must decline by 1.4 gigatonnes each year to reach net zero by 2050.

The advantages of REDD+

“Nevertheless,” write the authors of the study, “forests and actions under REDD+ have the potential to make significant contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while combating deforestation. and forest degradation”.

After the Cancun meeting, the REDD+ framework was developed at the United Nations climate change conference in Warsaw in 2013. It is supposed to work in three stages:

  1. Nations will develop action plans and policies to protect or restore forests.
  2. Nations will begin to implement these plans and policies to move towards a measurable outcome.
  3. These initial steps will turn into actions that can be accurately reported to receive payment for verifiable results.

“Unfortunately”, conclude the authors of the study, “it is not yet possible to draw definitive conclusions regarding the impacts of REDD+ to date”.

This is because the program is still at a relatively early stage and countries have provided limited information on their progress. However, there is some evidence that the program is making a positive difference.

Over the past 10 years, 46-85% of REDD+ participating countries have reported reduced deforestation compared to 16-33% of non-participating countries. Seventeen countries that have participated in REDD+ reported taking actions that reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 11.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide between 2006 and 2020. Overall, however, the authors of the study said there was not enough evidence to say with certainty that participation in REDD+ had caused deforestation to decline.

One bright spot, Parrotta tells Treehugger, is that most payments so far have gone into securing protected areas in large, undisturbed tracts of primary rainforest.

“From a carbon perspective, there is more carbon in these old growth forests than in other secondary forests,” he says, adding that “any program that actually helps maintain the integrity of protected areas is a good thing, especially from a biodiversity point of view”. .”

Local support

Although it is not yet possible to make general judgments about the impact of REDD+ as a whole, the authors were able to assess the success so far of individual projects. What they found was that projects tended to be more successful if local communities and stakeholders were involved in the planning process from the start and saw concrete benefits.

“If they’re not involved, the buy-in won’t be there, and these . . projects won’t be really sustainable,” Parrotta says.

An important aspect of local ownership is ensuring that people who live in the forest have a secure right to land. In Indonesia, studies have shown that local people are more likely to distrust government and less likely to participate in REDD+ activities when their land rights are uncertain. On the other hand, forests are better protected in parts of the Americas and the Caribbean where the rights of indigenous peoples are recognized.

Another important influence on the success of REDD+ is the quality of project governance.

“Since 2012, the implementation of REDD+ has made significant progress in many countries, but ultimately it is the governance of REDD+ that determines its performance,” said the expert group program coordinator IUFRO Forest Reports and co-author and editor of the report, Christoph Wildburger. Press release shared with Treehugger. “Yet governance is spread across a complex landscape of institutions with different sources of authority and power dynamics that influence its outcomes.”

Nelson Grima / IUFRO

For example, Brazil has gone from a country experiencing massive deforestation to a world leader in reducing deforestation to worrying the world again with rising deforestation rates, and this is largely due to changes in the within the national government. At the same time, some states in Brazil have managed to implement REDD+ programs themselves.

World leaders continue to promise action against deforestation. At the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow in November 2021, 141 countries, including Brazil, pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and forest degradation by 2030. But whether or not they will make that commitment remains to be seen.

“Trends are not good,” Parrotta says. “It’s like diverting the Titanic from its course, away from the iceberg.”


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