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Combatting tropical deforestation: the REDD+ initiative

Deforestation - the permanent conversion of forests and woodlands to other land uses such as crops, roads, settlements, mining or grazing land - is responsible for around 16% of global CO2 emissions, making it a major contributor to climate change.

 
Jungle burned for agriculture (c) public domain by Jami Dwyer

The REDD+ initiative has been established at international level to combat deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics, where the vast majority of forest destruction takes place. REDD+ also has major implications for agriculture (the source of some 13% of global CO2 emissions), rural development and adaptation to climate change in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world.

Global area the size of Greece destroyed each year

Tropical forests are disappearing at a rate of about 13 million hectares per year (approximately the size of Greece). This destruction has an impact not only at a local level but also globally. Tropical forests are home to much of the planet's biodiversity, hosting about half of all known terrestrial species.

Together with forest degradation, deforestation also poses a threat to the cultural integrity and way of life of people dependent on forests for their livelihood. Alternative land uses usually bring increased economic revenues in the short term, and this is why the deforestation rate remains so high in many countries.

Forests cover roughly 30% of the world's land area. Three percent of the earth's forest cover was lost between 1990 and 2005, mostly in tropical regions, and there has been no significant decrease in the rate of deforestation over the past 20 years.

Meeting the internationally agreed objective of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels will require a cut in global emissions of at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. This reduction will be impossible to achieve without substantial action to combat deforestation.

The European Union supports a policy target of halting global forest cover loss by 2030 at the latest and at least halving gross tropical deforestation by 2020 compared to 2008 levels. This target was set out in a 2008 Communication on addressing deforestation and forest degradation.

From REDD to REDD+

The 'reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation' (REDD) initiative emerged from negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005. REDD aims to create incentives for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from forested lands.

Following intensive discussions on the need for social and environmental safeguards, the concept was expanded to the REDD+ initiative which includes the goals of sustainably managing forests and conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks.

Aims of national REDD+ policies

  • Slowing, halting and sustainably reversing global forest cover and carbon loss (including the enhancement of forest carbon stocks), to achieve long-lasting and credible greenhouse gas emission reductions, consistent with the agreed objective of keeping global warming below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial temperature;
  • Preserving and enhancing other benefits of forests such as poverty alleviation, biodiversity, restoration and resilience of forests ecosystems and the services they provide, recognising the links between adaptation and mitigation, in line with international commitments and objectives;
  • Enabling broad participation of developing countries, resulting in wide coverage of forests to prevent international displacement of carbon emissions;
  • Anticipating and encouraging further movement towards sustainable land use and resource consumption patterns as a basis for food, water and energy security, raw material supply and rural income in the context of low emission development strategies, thus preventing the risks of 'reversals' (future release of forest carbon).

Towards international payments for performance

Following the completion in 2013 of guidelines for applying REDD+, large-scale provincial pilot emission reduction programmes will be tested in a number of countries, including Brazil, Congo, Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Nepal, to promote sustainable management, rural development and resilient livelihoods in forests and forest margins.

REDD+ is being implemented in three phases:

  1. Development of national REDD+ strategies and capacity building (readiness phase)
  2. Further capacity-building and demonstration activities
  3. Full-scale (national) implementation. Countries achieving verified emission reductions will receive international payments based on performance.

Phases 1 and 2 are being financed through public sector funding. However, the methods and procedures for financing phase 3 have yet to be decided and will be the subject of negotiations at the UNFCCC conference in Lima, Peru in December 2014.

EU financing for REDD+

The EU's approach to REDD+ builds on its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan as well as international initiatives such as the REDD+ Partnership, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) the EU REDD Facility, and the UN-REDD programme.

The European Commission commits approximately €25 million a year to initiatives piloting REDD+ in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Commission is investigating ways to stimulate private sector investment in addressing the drivers of deforestation and further increase the effectiveness and efficiency of REDD+ financing.

The need to scale up financing for REDD+ is implicit in the pledge by developed countries to mobilise climate finance of $100 billion per year to the developing world by 2020. This money depends on meaningful mitigation action and transparency on implementation.