REDD+: From Euphoria to Reality

As the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto protocol had, in the land-use sectors, been restricted to afforestation and reforestation, the concept of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (RED) raised interest at the 11th Conference of the Parties (COP)of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005. Subsequent reports suggested that protecting forests could reduce emissions quickly and cost-effectively. At the COP13 in Bali (Indonesia) in 2007, countries were encouraged to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, and to start gaining on-the-ground experience on how to achieve this in a development context. International negotiations were exploring details, and international funding for ‘REDD Readiness’ became available. In the euphoria phase some expected that REDD could halve carbon emissions by 2030. Against that backdrop, the European Union funded the REDD-ALERT (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation through Alternative Land Uses in the Rainforests of the Tropics) project that started in April 2009. REDD-ALERT aimed at understanding local-level dynamics in four countries, as well as contributing to international debate on REDD+ architecture. The research project, active in Indonesia, Viet Nam, Cameroon and Peru, ended in December 2012.The scientific journal  Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change has now dedicated a Special Issue to describing the REDD-ALERT project and reflecting on key project findings against the backdrop of developments in the global REDD+ debate. Matthews and van Noordwijk bring you an overview of that Special Issue.

sushila gavelA detailed account of the international debate shows that the expected net effect of controlling tropical deforestation on total carbon emissions has gradually been adjusted downwards—especially because fossil-fuel based emissions kept increasing, especially in China.  In the latest estimate the net effect of land-use change is less than 10% of the total CO2 emissions. In the meantime, the fraction of such emissions that has low opportunity costs, because it is the result of land-use change that is barely profitable, is now estimated to be lower than before, while the transaction costs to reduce these low-opportunity-cost emissions is higher than initially envisaged. Together with the failure of international agreements to be sufficiently ambitious, the pseudo-market prices of carbon are now so low that market-based REDD+ mechanisms would not make a dent in global emissions.

A more realistic assessment of what REDD+ might achieve is still based on the high current rates of forest conversion in the tropics. Rather than dealing directly with the countries with the largest contributions to global emissions, the international processes have supported capacity building in a large number of countries. The REDD-ALERT research interacted with ongoing learning in the four countries on which it focussed, and helped to develop assessment tools that can be used elsewhere as well.

The special issue of Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change features a selection of papers describing aspects of the REDD-ALERT project including:

  • An analysis, by Nijnik et al., of the views of a range of experts on REDD+—identifying four attitudinal groups: pragmatists, sceptics, conventionalists and optimists.
  • A description by Kuik of a simple analytical model of the factors controlling potential leakage of emissions in response to REDD+ interventions, and testing this against a Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) model.
  • A framework by White based on six different REDD+ models to analyse stakeholder perspectives on REDD+, and using it to analyse the approaches of the Peruvian Government, an NGO representing the rights of indigenous people, and the World Bank.
  • A review by van Noordwijk et al. of the development of the REDD+ and the NAMAs debates in Indonesia, which occurred in parallel, to some extent in competition, despite their many similarities and common goals; a broader NAMA umbrella helped overcome three of five main challenges to REDD+.
  • A set of papers that focus on the local level and investigate the land-use change dynamics of specific case studies in Indonesia on mineral soils, and how these might be influenced by REDD+ mechanisms to achieve emission reductions and other benefits.
  • A set of papers focusing on improving our understanding of the processes involved in and better quantification of emissions from tropical peatlands, again with the focus on Indonesia.
  • A discussion by van Noordwijk et al. of the knowledge-to-action value chain that connects local to global nodes in developing effective schemes to reduce emissions from peatland conversion and deforestation, and the role of models in understanding and evaluating these chains.

Finally, Matthews et al. reflect on the overall contribution of the REDD-ALERT project, including work published both in the Special Issue and in other journals.

Click to read the full article.

Matthews RB, van Noordwijk M. 2014. From euphoria to reality on efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 19 (6): 615-620

Climate change adaptation and mitigation, which considers how forests, trees and agroforestry can play a role in climate change mitigation and also how they can help people adapt to climate change  is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner.'

Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on

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