Can REDD+ live up to expectations as a tool to achieve long-term biodiversity conservation? (ASNS)

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‘Win-Win’ Is Too Simplistic A Description For REDD+– And Possibly Wrong

Written by Terrence Sunderland

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) coupled with co-benefits such as biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and enhancement of carbon stocks through afforestation (REDD+), accompanied by appropriate safeguards, offers “unprecedented potential funding for forest conservation and associated biodiversity”’ says a study by Jacob Phelps and colleagues, published in a recent issue of Conservation Letters.

Much of the rest of the world agrees. Since the UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007, REDD, in all its forms, has been embraced with a fervour rarely witnessed in environmental or academic circles.

However, Phelps’s study, along with a paper by Paul Hirsch and colleagues in Conservation Biology, suggest such optimism needs tempering. Both provide a reality check: Can REDD+ live up to expectations as a tool to achieve long-term biodiversity conservation?

Far from providing the ever-elusive ‘win-win’ for biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and sustainable forest management, REDD+ implementation could be fraught with risks, particularly regarding long-term investment.

In addition, informed accounting of who gains and who loses (i.e. recognising and negotiating the trade-offs) will ultimately determine the success of REDD+ schemes.

Phelps and his colleagues highlight the long-recognised constraints on effective conservation, especially long-term funding, in the context of the opportunities REDD+ represents.

Many conservation agencies are now linking on-the-ground implementation with global carbon mitigation efforts in the hope that they can thus secure sustained investment in biodiversity conservation efforts: the Holy Grail of environmental protection. But is such faith warranted?

They further suggest that current funding levels committed to REDD+ fall considerably short of what is required to even halve current rates of deforestation. They recognise the reluctance of the private sector to commit funds to REDD+ as carbon investments are ‘volatile and risky’, especially as an over-supply of REDD+ forestry-related credits could reduce carbon prices.

In addition, there are inherent risks in relying on the voluntary public finance sector to support REDD+. As Phelps et al. point out, the closest corollary to the current voluntary investment in climate change mitigation is development assistance.

Such aid is notoriously volatile and prone to either political circumstances of donor countries or often cyclical changes in funding priorities. Thus globally significant levels of funding for effective REDD+ implementation simply might not materialise.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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