REDD+: From Kyoto to Cancun

This article explores the journey of REDD through the course of the climate negotiations and reviews its current status after the Cancun round of negotiations ended last week.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), a relatively new market-based mechanism in the carbon markets aims to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from the degradation and/or resource reduction in the forestry sector. Deforestation is defined as the permanent removal of forests and withdrawal of land from forest use and forest Degradation refers to loss of production capacity and biomass in forests. The “+” in REDD+ seeks to incentivise increase in existing forest stocks by way of regeneration and planting.

REDD+ has lately emerged as one of the most promising mechanisms to address global climate change. It intends to address one of the largest pools of increased carbon emissions, loss of tropical forests.  In addition, it is likely to deliver on a number of co-benefits including biodiversity protection and watershed benefits. Lastly, REDD+ is seen as a tool that can potentially contribute to economic development of forest dwellers and associated communities in the developing world, although this last merit is oft debated.

The Evolution of REDD

REDD initially featured in the climate change mitigation dialogue as early 1997 when a REDD like mechanism was included in the text of the Kyoto Protocol . The Kyoto protocol calls for each member party to undertake “Protection and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, taking into account its commitments under relevant international environmental agreements; promotion of sustainable forest management practices, afforestation and reforestation”.

However, the Marrakesh Accords , adopted at the COP 7 in 2001 which spelt out the design and scope of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)- currently the largest project based emission reduction mechanism worldwide-  left out REDD as one of the eligible project activities to be awarded Certified Emission Reductions (CERs). Only Afforestation/ reforestation activities were included on the forestry side.

After this omission, it took nearly four years before REDD reappeared in negotiations. It was at the COP 11 in 2005 at Montreal where the newly formed Coalition for Rainforests Nations (CFN) formally placed REDD on the agenda, highlighting the high rates of deforestation prevalent in developing nations.  In the following two years, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice began considering REDD and came up with certain recommendations. The Bali Action Plan , adopted at the COP 13 provided a more definitive description of REDD:

“Policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”. It further outlined the key objective of REDD as: All Parties should collectively aim at halting forest cover loss in developing countries by 2030 at the latest and reducing gross deforestation in developing countries by at least 50 per cent by 2020 compared to current levels.”

In the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice session in Poznan, 2009, with major pressure from India, REDD was changed to REDD+.

REDD at Copenhagen
As a build up to the COP 15 in 2009, several proposals on REDD+ were floated and negotiated which led to REDD+ gaining a lot of attention. The Copenhagen Accord  adopted at this COP for the first time recognised deforestation and forest degradation as major issues and stressed on the need to combat these through the provision of funding, resources and a mechanism in the form of REDD+.

The developed countries committed USD 30 billion for the period 2010 – 2012 and about USD 100 billion a year by 2020 in order to support enhanced action on adaptation, technology transfer, mitigation including REDD+ and also capacity building towards achieving these objectives.  The Accord however stopped short of defining a precise framework for the REDD+ mechanism. Also, in absence of an agreed climate change mitigation treaty post 2012, there is uncertainty on use of REDD+ credits. 

The major issues that need to be decided are:
• Methodological Issues: Including identifying drivers for deforestation, quantifying emission reductions due to REDD+
• Reference Level: National or Sub national, Policy level or Project level
• Financing Plan: Fund based or through carbon markets
• Scope of activities allowed in REDD+
• Right of forest dwellers and governance

The Copenhagen Accord did provide a fillip in building momentum for areas of activities which will enable developing countries to ready themselves in order to implement a REDD+ mechanism in future. These included investment in capacity building, establishing monitoring protocols and development of pilot REDD+ schemes. Leading from the Accord and the following developments, a lot was expected from the recently concluded COP 16 in Cancun.

Copenhagen to Cancun: Status of REDD
The Cancun Decision  delivered an even more defined pathway for developing REDD+.  However it again stopped short of defining the precise design of a REDD+ scheme. It covered several important aspects in much more detail than before. It seeks to encourage all parties to curb deforestation and providing developing nations options to choose from the following eligible activities that can form a part of a REDD+ regime in the future:
• Reducing emissions from deforestation;
• Reducing emissions from forest degradation;
• Conservation of forest carbon stocks;
• Sustainable management of forest;
• Enhancement of forest carbon stocks;
It is stated that developing nations should prepare a national strategy, action plan, monitoring system and also track emission levels from forest. It is also stated that the reference level should be at a national level though  in the initial preparatory phase, nations are allowed a sub national reference level. There is also a reference to land tenure rights, forest governance issues and maintaining gender rights. Inclusion of these in the text is a major breakthrough as well.

The exact implementation is now left to two bodies to explore; SBSTA will be developing the methodology side and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action will explore financing options.

These outcomes are very positive towards development of a worldwide REDD+ mechanism, in particular towards further capacity development in developing nations and readying them for an eventual rollout.
However, they also indicate that in the long term there will be a shift from a sub national reference level to a national level. This implies a potential shift away from project based, carbon market driven projects to a more centralised policy based approach.  Moreover, just like in Copenhagen, it falls short of delivering a final working mechanism and leaves that to the next meeting, COP 17 in South Africa. 

Project developers engaged in developing REDD+ projects worldwide still do not have a clear picture on the future of these projects which for now will continue to be developed under voluntary mechanisms, hoping that they are eventually grandfathered into whatever format of REDD+ is accepted by the world leadership.

In conclusion I can’t help but quote Doug Boucher of the Union of Concerned Scientists who puts the past negotiations and Cancun in perspective with regards to REDD+ as: “We were on the 5 yard line, and now it’s something like the 4.  But no touchdown yet”.

The author, Swapan Mehra is the CEO and Founder of Iora Ecological Solutions, a firm specializing in development of Forestry Carbon and Distributed Renewable Energy Programs. Swapan is one of India’s leading Carbon Finance and CDM experts and has previously served in top management with several leading international firms to develop climate change related business opportunities in the Indian subcontinent.




Image(s) Courtesy:

UN Climate Talks
Kraetzsche Photo

Author: Swapan Mehra