The Urgency of Eliminating Deforestation

30th March 2021

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.
This is the reality on the ground, as verified again and again by independent auditors based on science-based standards and methodologies developed over many years through open stakeholder engagement processes. We are motivated by a recognition that the voices of the communities and the many organizations involved in fighting deforestation, protecting wildlife, and safeguarding the climate on the ground are not being heard.  Perhaps this is because they are too busy engaging in the relentless, real work of making change happen in the most difficult of circumstances. Most of all, we are motivated by a recognition that there is no time left for inaction. Given the extreme urgency of this moment and continued government failure, the private sector clearly has a critical role to play in halting forest loss and with it, the catastrophic release of greenhouse gases and loss of up to a quarter of all of the species remaining on Earth. We need to make it easier, not harder, for companies seeking to take responsibility for their impacts on climate change and biodiversity to do so. In this light, we invite you to consider some of the repeatedly audited, independently verified impacts that REDD+ projects have generated.  REDD+ is generating transformative benefits for forests and climate, wildlife, and communities Here we offer a snapshot of some of the critical contributions that voluntary REDD+ projects are making for climate and forests, wildlife, and communities, taken from the seven high impact REDD+ projects Everland supports. These examples provide just a glimpse of the profound work that is being accomplished by thousands of dedicated people living and working in some of the most challenging social and economic conditions, and threatened landscapes, on planet Earth. High impact REDD+ projects have effectively protected threatened forests and delivered substantial carbon emissions reductions that would not have happened without their interventions The REDD+ projects in Everland’s portfolio are protecting a total of almost 1.6 million hectares (3.9 million acres) of the Amazon rainforest, Congo rainforest, South Asian rainforest, and the wildlife-rich African dry forests of Kenya -- some of the most critical carbon stocks and richest biodiversity areas in the world. This group of seven projects alone has to date generated a total of over 90 million tonnes of 3rd party-verified CO2 emissions reductions.  Over the next 30 years, these projects are projected to prevent over 400 million tonnes of CO2 from being emitted. Defending highly threatened forests: How REDD+ projects generate meaningful emission reductions The projects are delivering these emissions reductions by protecting critical forests from imminent destruction. For example, in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia (Borneo), the 65,000 hectare Rimba Raya REDD+ project and adjacent Tanjung Puting National Park are completely surrounded by oil palm concessions and mills (Figure 1). The area includes extensive carbon- and biodiversity-rich lowland peat forest, and holds approximately 10% of the world’s remaining endangered orangutan population. Oil palm concessions, which have destroyed 2.4 million hectares of Borneo’s forests since 2000, had been approved for the entire Rimba Raya project area before the project successfully halted them, obtaining its own conservation concession license that enabled the project to create the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve. As a result of halting the conversion of the project area to oil palm, the project has avoided over 30 million tonnes of emissions to date, emissions which would unquestionably have taken place without the project’s intervention. Figure 1: Oil palm and other extractive concessions surrounding Rimba Raya REDD+ project area and Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia (sources: Global Forest Watch, InfiniteEARTH) The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, located in Koh Kong Province in western Cambodia, is another forest area that is urgently threatened, and would by now have been lost without the project’s interventions.  For example, the project has successfully caused the revocation of 42 Economic Land Concessions which, if granted, would have resulted in the destruction of principally the entire project area (see Figure 2 below). The project also continues to face ongoing threats of illegal or corrupt land concessions. Only months ago, the project had to work to eliminate the threat that a transfer of land from the national to provincial government, for regional development purposes, would have led to the loss of 32,000 hectares from the project area, finding a win-win solution that enabled the transfer but left the forest intact (Figure 3). Figure 2: 42 Revoked Economic Land Concessions would have destroyed the entire Southern Cardamom project area (source: Wildlife Alliance) Figure 3: Recent land grant would have carved 32,000 hectares from Southern Cardamom project area (source: Wildlife Alliance) Large scale corrupt land concessions are hardly the only threat facing the project: Small scale land grabbing for speculative purposes, illegal logging, conversion for small scale agriculture, poaching, and other threats are dealt with literally on a daily basis through the tireless efforts of the project’s dedicated team working in remote, dangerous conditions. In 2020 alone, Southern Cardamom rangers and staff:
    • 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)
It is clear enough that without the project’s effective intervention, these threats would have resulted in the loss of principally all of the Southern Cardamom forest. This is why, if anything, the Southern Cardamom’s independently audited and verified emissions reductions, totaling over 12M tonnes CO2e since project inception, may be an understatement of the actual climate impacts of the project - which protects a carbon stock that is greater than 100M tonnes in total. Figure 4: Confiscated chainsaws in Southern Cardamom ranger station (source: Everland) How high-impact REDD+ projects effectively safeguard critically threatened wildlife around the world With over 1 million species at imminent risk of extinction, the role of REDD+ in safeguarding the treasure of life on Earth is every bit as critical as for climate stabilization. Voluntary REDD+ projects, located in critical biodiversity hotspots around the world, are playing an essential role in protecting rare, endangered species. For example, the 167,000 hectare, Keo Seima REDD+ Project, located in Mondulkiri and Kratie Provinces, Cambodia, is home to more than 950 wild species, including 75 globally threatened species, and holding the world’s largest populations of endemic primates including the critically-endangered Black-shanked douc and endangered Yellow-cheeked crested gibbon. Since 2010, project field teams have conducted seven line transect field surveys, walking survey lines of more than 9,000 km — which is equivalent to walking from Battambang, Cambodia to Moscow, Russia. Based on the recently completed 2020 survey, population trends for all key monitored species exceed the projected “without-project” scenario. In the Andean Amazon area of Peru, the Alto Mayo REDD+ Project protects 182,000 hectares of high-elevation rainforest and cloud forest. Located within the Abiseo-Condor-Kutukú Corridor, the project has stabilized the populations of tremendous endemic biodiversity within the project area, including 420 bird species, 8 Morpho butterfly species, 588 plant species, 59 species of orchids, and 37 mammal species - including the critically endangered endemic Yellow-tailed wooly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda) and Andean titi monkey (Callicebus oenanthe). The protection of this wildlife depends on more than just defense of the trees alone - the projects aggressively patrol within the forest to defend wildlife from poaching and illegal hunting. Just in 2020 alone, for example, rangers from the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project removed 25,886 wildlife snares and rescued 562 live animals from poachers and hunters. Without these projects in place, both the wildlife and their forest home would have little defense. How high-impact REDD+ projects are generating transformative benefits for forest communities. Hundreds of thousands of people live within the project areas of the seven REDD+ projects represented by Everland. These include some of the most remote, economically underdeveloped parts of the world, where forest communities typically lack basic social services and land rights. REDD+ projects are helping these communities to obtain land rights, receive social services, develop sustainable livelihoods, benefit directly from the sale of verified emissions reductions -- and to self-determine how they wish to utilize carbon revenues through innovative community governance structures. Community-driven investment For example, in the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project, located in Kenya, a portion of carbon revenues is allocated for communities to invest in initiatives of their choice. Locational Carbon Committees, whose members are directly elected by the community through inclusive processes that require gender and age representation balance, determine each community’s investment priorities for utilization of carbon revenues.  Through this community self-determination mechanism, since inception of the project more than 25,000 community members have obtained improved access to drinking water from 25 water harvesting, storage, and pipeline projects, 28 classrooms have been built or renovated, and approximately 10,000 students have been awarded scholarships from the project, totaling over $700,000. In 2020 alone, a total of 4,004 educational bursaries were granted, with over $200,000 in total awarded; 51% of the students were girls. Close to Kasigau, the Chyulu Hills REDD+ Project is also pioneering a uniquely inclusive model of project design and governance: A member-based conservation dividend, in which the financial benefits of conservation – achieved through carbon credit sales – are directly realized by the landowners and key stakeholders in the area. The project is owned, governed, and operated by a coalition of nine partner organizations that includes all of the principally Masai communities living within the project area. The nine organizations are made up of two government agencies and four indigenous Maasai Group Ranches which together hold title to all the land within the project area, as well as three NGOs which work with the different land owning entities to support and manage conservation programs. Through its role in project ownership and governance, the community is directly involved in all investment decisions made by the project. A community-driven benefit sharing model is also used in the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which supports a 50,000 person community spread across 28 remote villages within the Congo rainforest. 25% of carbon revenues generated by the project are allocated for direct community benefit share, through which Local Development Committees - whose membership requires gender balance (a maximum of four out of seven of the members should be of one gender), youth representation, and inclusion of indigenous minorities such as the Batwa - determine investment priorities. Better than we can document here, community members, as well as a village chief, have spoken recently about the impact of the REDD+ project on the community through its activities building schools and clinics, urgent health care services, water infrastructure, and sustainable agriculture training. Community health Located in remote underserved areas, forest communities often lack the most basic of health services. REDD+ projects utilize carbon revenues to establish infrastructure and deliver services where they are needed most. Mai Ndombe suffered a devastating measles outbreak in 2019 and extending into early 2020; the project spent nearly $50,000 USD on emergency medical response, buying medicine and renting planes to bring doctors and nurses to the villages. Many lives were saved as a direct result of the project’s action and response. The project has teamed up with public health officials for vaccination campaigns to prevent the possibility of the epidemic resurfacing during the next rainy season. In Indonesia, the Rimba Raya project built and equipped a floating health clinic to service the remote villages in the project area which are only accessible by boat. In 2020, the clinic served over 800 people in 10 villages. And in Kenya, the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project established the Voi Diagnostic Lab, filling a critical gap in the region: The Lab now handles about 50,000 patients annually, each having 1-3 tests.

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.