Pro-Poor REDD Implementation

As Merry Walker (Executive Director), mentioned in her previous post, she and I (Chandni Shah, Business Affairs Director) have been attending numerous sessions discussing Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). It seems to be one of the hot topics here at COP16 in Cancun this year.

For those of you with little background in REDD here is a basic overview: REDD is a set of steps designed to use market/financial incentives in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses from deforestation and forest degradation. About 15% of the worlds emissions are caused by deforestation related activities.  In 2007 at  COP13 in Bali parties of the UNFCCC  agreed to explore policies that would reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).  REDD’s original objective is to reduce green house gases but it can deliver co-benefits such as biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation.  It is being implemented across the globe in many countries such as Indonesia, Ghana, Guayana, and etc… And about 40 national governments are creating REDD strategies.    There are however, many debates on how REDD should be implemented. Whether it should be implemented as REDD + or REDD ++.  REDD+ stands for countries’ efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.  The UN-REDD program currently backs REDD+.

During our time here, I attended two press conferences discussing the issues with REDD implementation and its potential hazards to indigenous people and local communities. Concerns were voiced that REDD would place pressure on the most marginalized people in the world to change their lifestyles and alter their livelihoods with inadequate compensation.  Further perpetuating the already poor in to further poverty. RainForest Foundation cites this concern as arising from Mckinsey’s pro-bono study estimating  “global” cost of abatement and abatement potential for all activities that result in deforestation and forest degradation. The RainForest Foundation says that Mckinsey’s “approach is methodically flawed as it excludes transaction and implementation costs as well as challenges of governance, and undervalues activities not integrated into formal markets, such as subsistence farming.”

The poor generally employ subsistence uses, which do not yield a quantifiable economic value and therefore are not included in the cost curve.   The cost curve suggests that slash/burn and subsistence use reduction would be the “cheapest “ way to achieve the highest reductions.  Rainforest Foundations says that, “the Mckinsey-inspired ‘Indonesian National Climate Change Council’ report estimates that ‘stopping forest conversion to smallholder agricultures is the single largest opportunity at slightly more than 190 MtCO2e’ and can be achieved at US $1 per tCO2e. “  This could result in recommendations to take action where the least economic value is drawn from forest or in other words land that is controlled by the poorer forest users.  RainForest foundation says that a family holding one hectare of land could be compensated as low as US $720 to stop their slash/burn and small agriculture farming.  They say that this is likely an immense underestimation of the cost to support an alternate livelihood for that family. Overall, they say that the cost curve logic suggests that options with less economic value should be acted upon first for emission reductions.  This could lead to allowing “extractive industries to continue business as usual,” and put the responsibility on the poor for emission reductions.

If REDD is to be implemented, I believe it should take a PRO-Poor approach and should actively consider the indigenous and local communities rights.  A major question here at COP16 was whether REDD+ financing can lead to both climate change and development goals. Can we also alleviate poverty while saving our forests and reducing emissions?  I believe YES, it can, if a top down as well as a bottom up approach is taken.  We must build up our poor communities in the developing and developed world, by supporting marginalized people’s lifestyles with alternative energy and community development, as well as empowering them with skills to build their economies, so that they too can become an active part of the world’s economy.  As Jeffrey Sachs said in his book Economics of Poverty, we must help get the poorest of poor on the “economic ladder.” I am proud to be part of an organization that works towards empowering these individuals to create their own businesses and develop sustainable lifestyles and economies in their communities.  For instance, one of Vort Port International’s projects in Madagascar works to reduce deforestation and empower individuals with social and economic benefits through an affordable bio-gas technology.

Nevertheless, top-down large scaling policies are also important in conjunction with the bottom up approach. I commend the delegates and participants at the COP16 for their invaluable efforts to implement REDD and support climate change and poverty alleviation.  However, we must implement these policies with caution and resilience-we must make sure that the negative impacts do not perpetuate poverty.

Thanks for your time =)



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