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The REDD initiative

Protagonists of reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) point out how deforestation accounts for 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore that REDD has the potential of mitigating one-fifth of global warming. Critics say otherwise. Darryl D’Monte concludes his despatches from the UN climate talks in Bangkok that ended inconclusively on Friday

A controversial initiative discussed at the UN climate talks, which ended inconclusively in Bangkok on Friday, related to reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation, better known by its catchy acronym REDD. 

Its protagonists, like the NGO known as the Global Canopy Programme, point out how deforestation accounts for 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a corollary, they believe, REDD has the potential of mitigating one-fifth of global warming. 

Around one-fifth of the world’s poorest people depend on forests for their survival; forests are also home to 90% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. REDD seeks to redress this problem by first measuring the extent of deforestation and degradation, and what can be done to enhance this potential. 

There is a funding mechanism under the REDD initiative. Partly, these are voluntary transfers from industrial to developing countries where forests have to be preserved. There are also market instruments like carbon credits. These funds will go towards an additional mechanism to deal with deforestation as well as a redistribution mechanism. In Bangkok, countries discussed a forest reserve fund for conservation. 

However, Greenpeace and other organisations have criticised the EU for trying to include REDD as part of climate negotiations. Particularly problematic is the EU’s position of including sustainable forestry management (SFM)) within the scope of REDD. Over the past two decades, this term has been co-opted by the forest industry to lend a green image to some of the most destructive logging practices in the tropics. 

Other NGOs spelt out the acronym differently: R for ‘Reaping Profits’, E for ‘Evictions and Land Grabs’, D for ‘Deforestation’, and D for ‘Destruction of Biodiversity’. While India and China are pressing for the inclusion of degraded lands in REDD, to qualify for such funding, these NGOs believe that this may include industrial plantations and genetically modified plants. 

Indonesian journalist Veby Mega Indah, writing in Jurnal Nacional, points out: “So far, world leaders have agreed to count emission cuts from five activities: deforestation, degradation, conservation, forest management, and increasing forest carbon stocks.  

“In 2005 alone, Indonesia’s government has opened 2 million hectares of virgin forests in the Kalimantan for palm plantation, and it will raise revenues of more than $567 million and employ 500,000 workers within five years.” She quotes Nur Masripatin who heads Indonesia’s delegation for international forest negotiations: “We have to remember, always, that REDD is designed to help developing countries decrease their emissions from deforestation and degradation without sacrificing their national development.” 

Nur recalled that Indonesia had its own forest management system which allowed some industrial plantations to exist. This constituted forest management and increasing forest carbon stocks, and thus plantations could be included in REDD. 

At the same time, critics have raised serious allegations that indigenous peoples will be evicted from their traditional forests in what might actually amount to an appropriation of forests by multinational logging companies. In Indonesia, Nur argued, the government will still able to protect them by applying REDD guidelines, guaranteeing local and indigenous rights. 

In a document released in Bangkok titled ‘Why logging will not save the climate’, Greenpeace criticised the switch in terminology from “sustainable management of forests” to “sustainable forest management” in the negotiations. This may sound like semantics, but it strikes at the heart of suspicions that REDD will be subverted by powerful timber interests. The jury is still out on what will finally be the shape of an international agreement on this contentious issue. 

Infochange News & Features, October 2009