The urgency of eliminating deforestation immediately cannot be overstated.According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global emissions will need to be reduced by about 28Gt (global carbon emissions) per annum by 2030 in order to stabilize the global climate and avoid catastrophe. This is equivalent to more than 1.5x of all emissions from oil consumption in 2019. To put this in perspective, as noted by Jonathan Foley of Climate Drawdown: “We have to cut emissions more in this decade than emissions grew in the previous five decades combined… Time is the most crucial parameter here.” According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group Three, deforestation is the fourth-largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 9% of the total – just under road transportation (10%) and almost five times more than air travel (5%). It is now settled science that we will be unable to hold global temperature rise below 1.5 Celsius, the goal agreed to by the world in the Paris Agreement, without eliminating deforestation completely. That is why the scientific community agrees that to achieve such rapid cuts in emissions, “we need to deploy the fastest possible climate solutions… includ(ing) halting tropical deforestation... (which) would have an immediate effect on the atmosphere.
Why project-based REDD+ and voluntary offsetting are critical
Despite the immediate need to vastly scale up forest protection, global deforestation in 2019 remained unchanged from its 20-year average. Recent studies confirm that at least 260 Gt of additional irrecoverable carbon in natural ecosystems are now urgently at risk of release to the atmosphere, and only 12% of special ‘hotspot’ areas — ones containing high carbon stocks, and which serve as the last strongholds of highest biodiversity and ecosystem intactness — are formally protected in any way. To turn the tide on deforestation, immediate action is needed on a scale that the world has never seen. However, the unfortunate reality today is that action to reduce deforestation in the public sector remains devastatingly slow, and governments of critical forest nations lack the capacity and resources to effectively protect their forests. Yet a solution that has demonstrated clear effectiveness in halting deforestation is here right now, and is ready to scale immediately: Voluntary REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) projects. Around the world, the REDD+ mechanism is demonstrably reducing critical emissions from deforestation while generating unprecedented benefits for communities and biodiversity. Repeated independent third-party audits, based on science-based standards that were developed through open multi-stakeholder processes, confirm these results. This solution is also ready to scale quickly: The private sector has been matching or exceeding public sector payments for REDD+, and is demonstrating its readiness to expand these investments with the speed and at the scale needed. Demand for REDD+ has been growing on average 40% a year since 2015 and is poised to accelerate in line with the increase in public-facing corporate “net zero” commitments.
REDD+ is a proven solution to address the intertwined climate, deforestation, and biodiversity crises, while generating unprecedented social and community benefits.We must work together to set the record straight Yet, articles offering negative portrayals of specific REDD+ projects, various aspects of the REDD+ mechanism, and the endeavor as a whole have proliferated. Some of these articles have been even destructive, seeking to convince its readers either that REDD+ projects don’t reduce deforestation and harm rather than help forest communities to achieve a sustainable livelihood, or that companies who purchase offsets from REDD+ are simply greenwashing and not helping to address the climate, forest, and biodiversity crises. These critiques are misplaced, poorly informed about the realities on the ground, and, crucially and cruelly, pose a damaging impediment to effective climate action. Humanity and planet Earth have together reached a point of no return: We must set the record straight about REDD+ We write this article motivated by a recognition that in fact, high impact REDD+ projects -- implemented by effective mission-driven conservation organizations to the verified requirements of top-tier third-party standards (such as the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity standard) – have been proven to:
- reduce greenhouse gas emissions,
- reduce deforestation,
- protect biodiversity, and
- help forest communities achieve significant improvements in their livelihoods.
- Conducted 5,189 patrols covering 193,651km
- Stopped 140 land encroachment attempts in the field, and submitted 115 cases to the courts
- Confiscated 663 vehicles used for illegal activities, including 33 excavators, bulldozers and tractors used to clear the forest
- Confiscated 1,720 illegal chainsaws and removed 9 illegal sawmills within the forest (Figure 4)
2019 medical campaign to address measles outbreak in Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project area (source: Everland)Land rights Forest communities around the world lack formal land tenure for what are often their traditional lands. REDD+ projects have been instrumental in supporting these communities. In Cambodia, the Keo Seima project area falls within the traditional land of the Bunong, an indigenous minority community with animist spirituality linked closely to the forest. The project helped the Bunong to secure the first Indigenous Community Land Title in Cambodia, and has now helped to secure a total of 7 Indigenous Community Land Titles for Bunong communities within the project area, with 6 more under governmental review and 4 in process. On the western side of Cambodia, the Southern Cardamom project has also worked with local government authorities in Koh Kong Province to ensure the issuance of 7,300 land titles to landless families within the landscape. Elsewhere, REDD+ projects have secured the position of families living illegally within protected areas. This is the case in the Alto Mayo project in Peru, which has enabled almost 1,100 illegal settlers within the Alto Mayo Protected Forest to continue to live, and thrive, in the forest through the innovative mechanism of voluntary conservation agreements. Through the voluntary conservation agreements, the families agree not to cut down any trees, in exchange for receiving training and technical assistance in ecological farming practices, as well as market linkages and capacity building. Perhaps most importantly, however, through the agreements these families receive formal recognition as “settlers” within the protected area, securing their rights to utilize natural resources and make a sustainable livelihood. Sustainable livelihoods In the Alto Mayo project, the families who settled in the protected area are mainly coffee growers: Their poor agricultural practices were the principal driver of deforestation, which reached the highest level of any protected area in Peru before the project began. As a result of the project’s work with the conservation agreement subscribers, the project and community created a coffee cooperative, which has achieved Fair Trade and organic certification: Since 2016 the protected area coffee cooperative has earned approximately $4M in revenue, including $1.5M in 2020 alone - a significant source of income and resilience during the COVID pandemic. Nearly 1,000 formal jobs have been created by the project in total since 2008.
Alto Mayo Protected Area coffee cooperative quality lab (source: Everland)In Kenya, the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project also features a wide range of sustainable livelihoods activities that are generating significant income and jobs for the community. The project is the second-largest employer in the county, directly employing over 300 local people – a third of whom are women. The project also operates an apparel factory employing 55 people, as well as an eco-charcoal factory employing nine. The project works with over 2,000 women across 50 women’s groups, supporting community ventures (including local basket weaving, beadwork and agro-business ventures) that bring critical income: The artisans of the Hadithi Community Based Organization alone generated over $50,000 in revenue in the third quarter of 2020, an increase of 8.7% compared to the same period in 2019.
Lusario Widow’s Group greenhouse, Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project (source: Everland)
Baskets produced by Buguta Disabled and Handicapped Group, Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project (source: Everland)In the Southern Cardamom project, funding from carbon credit sales has also enabled the project to directly employ 197 people on a full time basis, including ranger teams throughout the project area who are essential to detecting and halting the persistent threats of encroachment, land grabbing, poaching, and illegal logging. These are well-paying local jobs that are essential for forest protection, and which would not exist without the REDD+ project. In addition, the project has expanded its Community-Based Ecotourism program to 12 villages, fully or partially supporting 604 families in Chi Phat and Chhay Areng and generating $190,489 in average annual income over the past 3 years (2018-2020), a material contribution to the sustainable livelihood for thousands of people in the project area. REDD+ is a collective endeavor that brings forest heroes and climate change leaders into common cause When you immerse yourself in the realities of what is happening on the ground in Peru, or Kenya, or Cambodia, you quickly realize how essential these projects are and how very serious and indispensable the work is. The people doing this work are heroes, doing some of the hardest, most necessary work on Earth while battling government corruption, market forces, and risking their lives. Within a period of one month in late 2020, two rangers in Kasigau, Joseph Ngeti and Jessica Njeri, were tragically killed by elephants in separate incidents while in the line of duty. Jessica Njeri and Joseph Ngeti (source: Wildlife Works) And we must also recognize that this work is entirely financed by the voluntary purchase of offsets by organizations and people – climate change leaders who are choosing to take responsibility for halting deforestation. While critics rightly point out that responsible corporate climate policy must begin with reducing a company’s direct (or “scope 1 and 2”) emissions, at the same time it remains the case that given the huge scale of the physical infrastructure and capital needed, the transition to a non-fossil fuel-based energy system is going to take time – and so will the impacts on the climate system. Experts agree that “even the most aggressive scenarios of this energy transition (will) require the 2020s and 2030s to complete.” In the meantime, corporations which voluntarily choose to finance emissions reductions from avoided deforestation today, while also aggressively making the investments to reduce their direct emissions, should be applauded for their actions and encouraged to do more: They are taking true leadership and investing in immediate impact for forests, climate, biodiversity, and people. The biggest threat to our planet’s future is losing the forest for the trees As the articles pile up questioning the precise accuracy of a project’s “baseline scenario” or speculating about the “permanence” of the emissions reductions achieved by REDD+ projects, we wonder how it is that otherwise well-intended people can literally lose the forest for the trees: Without these projects, and the heroic people making them happen all over the world, there would be no forest at all. We are fortunate that there are forest heroes on the front lines every day to stop deforestation, and corporate climate change leaders who are helping to finance their work. In the search for real solutions to our planetary emergency, in REDD+ we have one right in front of us. As Jonathan Foley notes: “We have already squandered decades debating and denying climate change… But we’ve wasted all the time we can, and we cannot delay any longer. We will need to do everything we can to cut emissions in half during this decade. That means no more waiting. No more delays. Not even well-intended ones, including waiting for better technologies that can help reduce emissions a little better. We have to get started today…” Right now, we need more forest heroes and more climate change leaders actually making the work happen. To those who are busy criticising REDD+ and not offering any proven solutions, we ask to put down your weapons and join us – let’s do the work that needs to get done.