The REDD+ mechanism aims at reducing the CO2 emissions related to deforestation and forest degradation, and to encourage investments in sustainable development. In some countries however, it tends to foster the forest rent.

In the context of international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the international community focused on the forestry sector very early on due to its weight in emissions (deforestation) and its storage capacity. These discussions led to the development of an instrument to regulate deforestation and forest degradation: REDD+.

The REDD+ mechanism – the acronym for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation – relates to the forestry component of the fight against climate change. It takes into account the dual dimension of this living ecosystem, which can be both a “very high emitter of CO2 and also provide “extremely significant potential in terms of the capture” of carbon. The complexity of REDD+ does, however, raise a number of issues: in certain countries, the mechanism tends to foster the forest rent, whereas it would benefit from being used as an investment to support sustainable development.

Can the targets of the REDD+ mechanism be reconciled with the economic development aspirations of countries? This question was discussed at the Grand Palais in the framework of the COP21. The debate was coordinated by Cécile BARBIÈRE, journalist at Euractiv. The speakers were Christophe DU CASTEL, Forestry Project Manager at AFD ; Alain KARSENTY, Researcher at the French Center for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD) and Valérie MERCKX, Director of REDD+ programs at the European Forest Institute (EFI).


REDD+: a strategy developed gradually

“Taking account of the forestry issue in climate discussions is nothing new”. However, the complexity of this issue has required several successive readjustments to the protection policies that have been put in place. The principle of “clean development”, defined in 1997 in the context of the Kyoto Protocol, which allowed the “establishment of carbon sequestration mechanisms via plantations, enrichments, forest restoration” rapidly reached its limits due to the lack of really ambitious projects. It has, however, paved the way for other initiatives: the issue was initially limited to the fight against the phenomenon of deforestation (RED mechanism), but has been extended to “the integration of the impacts of forest degradation”, particularly in the Congo Basin forests (REDD), and finally “sustainable forest management”, and “forest exploitation methods (REDD+).

These complementary strategies all obey the same “general dynamics”: they are based on taking account of a “differential between a ‘fatal’ baseline scenario (that of deforestation if we do nothing) and that of the impacts which the policies implemented could have” (C. Du Castel).


A complex implementation

The practical implementation of the REDD+ mechanism, which is conditional upon the adoption of proactive policies at national level(C. Du Castel) requires an “awareness of the immensity of the task” by taking action “in all sectors which, in one way or another, are engaged in the deforestation process”. Administrations, private sector, local communities…, “the mobilization of actors is essential” in all the stages of the process: identification of the causes of deforestation, implementation of a strategy, integration of the social and environmental risks posed by policies to combat deforestation. The work takes place within a dialectic between “the national framework and pilot projects in the field”: this fosters “the emergence of local models”, like in Kinshasa or Cameroon.

The financial mechanisms are implemented in three phases: preparation, investment (for example in development or land-use planning programs) and “results-based payment”, based on an idea which involves “remunerating the country in proportion to the ton of carbon which has not been sent into the atmosphere thanks to the policy [implemented]” (V. Merckx).


An instrument that fosters forest rent?

It is for this aspect of results-based payment that the REDD+ mechanism can be criticized. It is based on taking account of an avoidance scenario, i.e. which “encourages the actors concerned, who are the only judges, to imagine the worst in order to subsequently claim to have avoided the worst”. Consequently, countries like Bolivia are tempted to inflate the projections for deforestation that it anticipates in its country in order to ultimately be able to request payment for its conservation. (A. Karsenty). There are certainly safeguards insofar as “countries are required to provide explanations based on data, methods” to a panel of United Nations experts. There is also a positive aspect to this approach to the development of scenarios: it invites States to take a practical approach to reflection on the future of their forests (V. Merckx).

However, the major risk of results-based payment, as it is currently implemented, is that it will turn the States concerned into “forest rentiers” and “hinder their economic development” (C. Barbière). To date, there is nothing to “assess the coherence of public policies” of countries that both demand money for REDD+ and, at the same time, launch policies that really do not protect the environment, such as for agribusiness (A. Karsenty).


Rethinking REDD+ in terms of investment

Yet there is a need to qualify this pessimistic observation because, gradually, we are beginning to rethink REDD+ in an intelligent manner in terms of investment, […] the key to the green economy(A. Karsenty). The mechanism is moving from an “institutional and financial mechanism […] likely to foster the forest rent” towards the status of “development instrument”: “countries appropriate [REDD+] in order to consider their deforestation issues by including a number of subjects: agricultural, but also energy, infrastructure…” (C. Du Castel).

The Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), promoted by Norway and now supported by France, illustrates this paradigm shift: this program develops “investment systematically in order to identify the drivers of deforestation, give African farmers the means to transform their agriculture […], and involve politicians in the energy, transport and land sectors” (A. Karsenty).

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

I subscribe to the ID4D newsletter

Once a week, I receive the latest blog posts!