Saving the forests, saving the future

10 countries are responsible for 87% of global deforestation

Deforestation causes up to 1/5 of current greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
After including their forest emissions, Brazil and Indonesia are, respectively, the world’s 4th and 5th largest greenhouse gas emitters.

Reducing rates of deforestation can be one effective way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And depending how it’s done, it also meets other environmental and development objectives like protecting biodiversity, soils and water supplies.
Currently there are no incentives in climate law for developing countries – where more than 90% of deforestation takes place – to protect their forests.

Most forests still being lost are in tropical countries that have no emissions targets.

The problems are aggravated because international trade, including demand from rich nations for cattle and beef, timber, soy and palm oil, creates huge short-term financial incentives for forest destruction.

Many forested countries are also poor. The immediate need to generate wealth and reduce rural poverty is high, and the ability to police conservation laws is often low. But it can be done.

Take Costa Rica. This small Central American country was once a hotspot of deforestation. Forest cover fell from 80% in the 1950s to just 21% in 1987. But since then, Costa Rica has reversed its forest loss by paying farmers to protect the forests, and is getting extra income from millions of tourists coming to see the wildlife.

Today forest cover is back above 50%.

Other nations are starting to take action too. Brazil recently announced it would cut its deforestation in the Amazon region by 70% by 2020; Indonesia has committed to stopping the conversion of old growth forest into plantations in Sumatra; and Paraguay confirms the success of its forest policy, reducing deforestation from historic rates of 300,000 hectares per year (in the late 1980s) to less than 50,000 in 2004, and is committed to zero net deforestation by 2020.

Seeing REDD

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD)

REDD aims to repeat what happened in Costa Rica and Paraguay on a global scale by providing incentives for conserving forests rater than converting them.

It was first proposed by a Coalition of Rainforest Nations led by Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea in 2005, and was supported in Bali in 2007.

If REDD gets adopted, the idea is to mobilize international funds to pay countries to reduce and ultimately end forest loss. This is a challenging task both technically and politically.

We are prepared to deploy almost our entire rainforests, which is approximately the size of England, in the global battle against climate change.

Robert Persaud, Guyana Minister of Agriculture, Bali Climate Conference, 2007

 / ©: WWF / Volker KESS
Illegal logging for delivery to CALTEX. Tesso Nilo, Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia.
© WWF / Volker KESS
First, it must happen on a large scale.

There is no point paying to protect one forest, if the loggers and farmers simply go somewhere else and tear that down (in the jargon, this is called “leakage”) – or come back in a couple of years after REDD has paid out (the challenge of “permanence”). REDD should focus on achieving a fall in national deforestation rates.

Another problem is that paying countries to stop deforestation potentially rewards those with the worst current rates of deforestation. They can generate REDD money by being a bit less bad, while the good guys who protected their forests get nothing.

One way around this problem would be to encourage countries with low deforestation rates to maintain this.

An idea proposed by the government of Guyana has been to recognize the economic value of forests in all developing countries. That way, countries like Guyana that have sacrificed income by protecting their forests would benefit as well as those that had gone ahead and deforested.

This might be fairer.

But to ensure that rapid emissions cuts are achieved, it must not be at the expense of addressing deforestation in countries that are emitting.

Again, there is the question of who pays. Some countries want REDD to be run as a commercial carbon market. Since cutting emissions from forests could be cheap, this might be popular among industrialized nations seeking to “offset” their industrial emissions. But some fear the potential for cheap REDD carbon-saving projects is so great that it will swamp the carbon market and undermine incentives for clean energy. Others fear that an abundance of forest carbon credits will undermine domestic action in industrialized countries. And some forested countries, notably Brazil, fear losing control of their forests to international markets.

WWF BELIEVES the world should be able to use REDD to cut net deforestation worldwide to zero by 2020.

This would probably mean a cut of gross deforestation by about 75% compared to today, equivalent to avoiding about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

REDD can be used as a lever to protect forests as a means to reduce emissions, but the broader values of forests, including biodiversity, must also be maintained and the rights of local and indigenous communities upheld. They must be able to benefit from REDD while managing their land in the way they prefer.
 / ©: Michèle Dépraz / WWF
Monteverde Cloud Forest. Mist in a moist broadleaf forest. Costa Rica
© Michèle Dépraz / WWF

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