Global Warming and Deforestation: How Green is REDD?

GoodpalStarred Page By Goodpal, 5th Jul 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Science>Environmental Science

Deforestation contributes around 15 -- 20 percent towards global carbon dioxide emission. The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program is an attempt to reduce deforestation in developing countries. Idea is good but there are objections about its possible adverse consequences, particularly on indigenous people.

What is REDD?

The United Nation's REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) program is a collaboration between the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Environmental (UNEP) and Development (UNDP) programs. It aims to reduce loss of forest areas in developing countries because the destruction of the world's rainforests is estimated to contribute 15 – 20 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In theory REDD is a system to provide incentives for countries not to cut their forests. The incentive system is meant to reward poor nations for not cutting their trees. It means recognizing the functions of rain forests – capturing carbon, water storage, weather regulation and preserving biodiversity.

Back in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, the part rainforests play in carbon storage wasn't recognized. Proposals to reduce emissions from deforestation were first introduced by the governments of Papua New Guinea in December 2005 at the COP11 talks in Canada. Since then promoters and enthusiasts of the REDD concept have come up with more than 30 models of how the program should work have.

For a more detailed discussion on the role of forests and the REDD program, you may click here.

Is REDD Really Green?

The REDD programs being implemented are largely donor driven. Although the REDD concept is yet to be formally adopted in a treaty by parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), some rich countries such as Norway are pursuing it with full zeal at exploratory level. They hope that in the post Kyoto scenario after 2012, they will be able to formally introduce market mechanism into the REDD initiatives.

While the whole idea of rich countries helping poor countries to preserve their forests sounds good and benevolent, it does not address the basic issue – GHG emission by burning fossil fuel by the biggest polluters, mainly the US. At the same time, people well familiar with global warming issues and the format of REDD proposals stress that the REDD projects can easily degenerate into land grabs, displacement, conflict, corruption, impoverishment and cultural degradation.

Following are some typical objections to the REDD initiative as voiced across the world.

Six Common Objections to REDD

1. Forest carbon is not equivalent to fossil fuel carbon

Conserving forests can never be climatically equivalent to keeping fossil fuels under the ground, since carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels adds to the overall burden of carbon perpetually circulating among the atmosphere, vegetation, soils and oceans, whereas carbon dioxide from deforestation does not. This non equivalence, among many other complexities, makes REDD carbon accounting impossible, allowing carbon traders to inflate the value of REDD carbon credits. Interpol has also warned against the vulnerability of REDD to international fraud and corruption.

2. When used as a carbon offset strategy, REDD does not reduce GHG emission

Scientists point out that the total amount of CO2 emissions is crucial in terms of how much the earth warms up. Every ton of CO2 counts, regardless of where it is emitted. Preventing GHG emission through REDD in developing countries and emitting an equivalent amount in a rich country simply confuses the issue. Developed countries should actually cut their own per capita GHG emission, rather than continuing to pollute by paying small amount for forest preservation somewhere else.

3. Problematic definition of “forest”

The definition of forests as adopted by the parties to the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 is another troublesome area. This definition includes not only a forest as we commonly know it, but also any kind of tree mono-culture, and even areas that are clear-cut but waiting to be planted again at an unspecified future moment. Adopting this flawed definition mean that companies could replace forests with monoculture tree plantations and still qualify for subsidies under REDD. Many experts feel that without a definition of forests that differentiates between forests and industrial tree plantations, REDD will spell disaster.

Likewise, while the term “deforestation” has been defined as the direct human-induced conversion of forested land to non-forested land, there is no universally agreed-upon definition of “forest degradation”. This will cause complications when REDD projects are implemented.

4. Dangers of trading carbon as commodity

Many people are not comfortable with the idea of carbon trading as the way of funding REDD. The vast majority of carbon trading on the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme is in futures, not in spot trading of carbon credits. The available derivatives are too complicated to be regulated. Therefore, as it happens with other commodities, the price often gets dictated by speculators and not the normal law of demand and supply.

5. Displacement of Indigenous people

Whoever pays for the REDD project is actually only interested in the carbon; biodiversity and forest dwellers who survive on the forest are unlikely to be his concern. Given the level of corruption and lack of clear land rights in most poor countries, the native people in developing countries who have lived and sustained on the forest products may suddenly find themselves landless and without means to survive. This is a really IMPORTANT issue.

Many human rights and environmental groups feel that REDD will inevitably take away control of forests from the Indigenous People and will go in the hands of state forest departments, loggers, miners, plantation companies, traders, lawyers, and speculators; resulting in violations of rights, loss of livelihood – and, ultimately, more forest loss.

6. Conserving one forest may shift degradation elsewhere

Putting one forest under REDD and conserving it may simply shift the deforestation and forest degradation activities at another location which will defeat the purpose.

Expert Quotes

“Carbon offsetting makes sense if you are seeking a global cut of 5% between now and forever. It is the cheapest and quickest way of achieving an insignificant reduction. But as soon as you seek substantial cuts, it becomes an unfair, impossible nonsense, the equivalent of pulling yourself off the ground by your whiskers. Yes, let us help poorer nations to reduce deforestation and clean up pollution. But let us not pretend that it lets us off the hook.” — George Monbiot, The Guardian, July 2009

“Carbon trading may have been the answer once but not any more… It will just take too long to achieve anything, and we no longer have the luxury of time.” — Professor Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, October 2008


The whole idea of rich donors being philanthropic and helping developing countries preserve forests must be seen through the dynamics of world politics. The track record of industrialized nations, who polluted the world, is not very bright when it comes to justice for poor or weak nations. The chances are quite high that if REDD schemes are used for carbon trading, market distortions will overshadow the basic needs of the poor societies implementing the scheme and at the same time the polluters will continue to pollute under carbon offset schemes.

Suggested Further Reading

Climate Change Plan Draws Many Criticisms
Seeing REDD?
No REDD! No REDD Plus!


Deforestation, Emissions Trading Scheme, Forest Conservation, Forest Degradation, Global Warming Green Earth, Greenhouse Gases, Indigenous People, Rain Forests, Redd, Redd Concept

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author avatar Goodpal
I am a keen practitioner of mindfulness meditation for past several years. I firmly believe in "goodness" of people, society and world. I regularly write on personal growth and social topics.

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