REDD Grows Up

Written by Erin Myers Madeira on . Posted in COP17, The Wonk Room


When I grow up, I want to be Jane Goodall.

Dr. Goodall’s time spent in the forests of Africa means that she not only understands the intrinsic value and beauty of the forests themselves, she also deeply understands the interconnection of people and forests. Yesterday, while addressing a crowd of hundreds at the Avoided Deforestation Partners event in COP-17 in Durban, she laid it out quite simply, as she recounted her return to Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania where poverty has fueled the deforestation that destroyed the once lush forests that surrounded the lake: “we can’t save the forests if we can’t save the people.” Dr. Goodall has seen first-hand what it takes to save the forests, and she sees REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) as a promising part of the solution.

Unfortunately, down the road at the negotiations, and in the media coming out of the conference, the concept of REDD+ remains tied down by misconceptions, with many describing REDD+ as a purely project-style approach to conservation that’s all about the money. These misconceptions drive some of the heated, emotional discourse and help block progress on the negotiations about how to finance REDD+. But REDD+ is not about “deals” and paying people to do nothing. It’s not even really about “credits” and “carbon markets.” Sure these are important components of policy design and financing mechanisms, but somehow the discussions in Durban around the technical aspects of REDD+ policies and financing options have made people lose sight of what REDD is really about.

“What REDD+ is all about is improving the lives of people,” said Liberian President and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  REDD+ is “an opportunity to shift our development pathway 180 degrees” to move from exploiting forests in our pursuit of development to “protecting our most valuable resource.” Another Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, demonstrated the effectiveness of this through her life and work to empower women in Kenya and promote environmental sustainability.

President Obama, in a video message for the event, recognized the importance of this, saying “Wangari’s work stands as a testament to the power of a single person’s idea that the simple act of planting a tree can be a profound statement of dignity and hope first in one village, then in one nation, and now across Africa.” He added, ”Here in Durban, we can carry on her work, to … grow our economies in a way that’s sustainable and that addresses climate change. In this you have the partnership of the United States.”

Bottom line: REDD+ is about catalyzing rural development, and the countries that are making the most progress on the ground know it.

Countries are implementing REDD+ programs because it helps them address their own domestic challenges of how to improve rural livelihoods while maintaining the forest ecosystems on which people depend. And while it’s true that Norway and other donor countries have shown tremendous leadership in helping to catalyze REDD+ on the ground, countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico are moving forward with REDD+ because it is in their OWN best interest.

Brazil is a prime example of this – reducing deforestation by 11% since last year through tough command-and-control measures that have proven incredibly effective. Sure, some of their motivation is based on contributing to the mitigation of climate change, but the level of commitment to stopping deforestation is also fueled by the recognition that the Amazon is the rainmaker that helps make Brazil an agricultural superpower.

Eric Solheim, Minister of Environment for Norway – the largest donor to REDD+ with commitment of $1B to Brazil – is quick to point out that Brazil has been successful at reducing its emissions from deforestation and degradation not because Norway is paying them, but because it is in their own interest. Given the size of Brazil’s economy, the commitment from Norway is hardly enough to cause a fundamental change in Brazil’s land use regulations.

First and foremost, REDD+ needs to be about shifting development pathways to more sustainable trajectories that improve rural livelihoods without destroying the forests that underpin those livelihoods. It is as much about RED – Rural Economic Development – as it is about REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.

Erin Myers Madeira is a forest carbon senior advisor at The Nature Conservancy. Rane Cortez also contributed to this article. She is a forest carbon development advisor at The Nature Conservancy. 

Photo by: Flickr user World Resources (Dr. Jane Goodall discusses avoiding deforestation and the benefits of REDD+). Used under Creative Commons license.


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