10. Forest-based approaches to climate change mitigation using REDD+

Author: Carter Ingram (WCS) & Marisa Arpels (WCS)

Contributors: Stavros Papageorgiou (CI) Mario Chacon (CI) Robyn Dalzen (CI-CLP) & Kiragu Mwangi (BirdLife-CLP)


Forests cover around 30 percent of the Earth’s land surface. . Because of ongoing deforestation, degradation and reforestation, estimates of forest cover are by no means static, nevertheless, it has been estimated that the amount of carbon currently stored in the earth’s forests contain exceeds the amount of carbon in the entire atmosphere.  Most of the planet’s terrestrial carbon is in the above-ground biomass of forests, although, considerable amounts of carbon may be found in below ground biomass and in other carbon pools, such as, dead wood, litter and soil organic matter . From 1990-2005, it has been estimated that approximately 13 million hectares of forest were lost per year resulting in approximately 18% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In fact, deforestation is the second largest source of emissions after the burning of fossil fuels and accounts for more than all the emissions from the transport sector.1 Further, for some countries, such as Brazil, Indonesia and many other tropical, developing countries, deforestation and forest degradation are the main source of national greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing emissions from forest loss is therefore a critical component of climate change mitigation.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is a mechanism designed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development, by offering incentives to tropical, forested countries to conserve and sustainably manage their forest resources. REDD incentives aim to make forests more valuable standing than they would be cut down, by creating a financial value for protecting the carbon stored in trees.  “REDD-plus” (REDD+) goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, to include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in reducing emissions and enhancing removals of GHG from the atmosphere.

REDD+ was not included in the 1996 Kyoto Protocol; hence, incentives for avoided deforestation are not allowed under the Clean Development Mechanism.In 2007, at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-13) in Bali, parties acknowledged the importance of deforestation and forest degradation for climate change and agreed to work on the need to address emissions from forest loss. Although support for REDD+ has increased significantly since Bali, demonstrated by its inclusion in the Cancun agreement (COP16), there are still significant questions about how a future global REDD-plus mechanism will be designed.

One of the key questions remaining is at what scale(s) would REDD work effectively: at sub national or national levels.  Proponents of the national approach note that REDD needs to be applied at a larger scale (national) in order to account for “leakage” or displacement of deforestation. Multilateral processes such as the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and UN-REDD aim to help countries to develop national REDD+ strategies that map out how they might reduce emissions from land use change and develop systems for distributing benefits and monitoring change at this national scale.

Proponents of the sub-national approach (ex. projects or provinces) point to the fact that smaller scales are needed at this stage for testing methodologies, building capacity through “learning by doing”, and attracting private sector capital. They highlight the potential of scaling up over time and possibly of creating an approach where projects are “nested” into a national accounting system.

Under both approaches, certain technical steps must be followed in order to calculate the climate benefit of REDD activities. These steps include: calculating the amount of carbon in the forest; estimating the historic rate of deforestation, projecting future deforestation based on a business as usual scenario (BAU, also known as Reference Emission Level (REL) and  estimating future deforestation scenarios resulting from proposed REDD+ activities and/or other potential future changes likely to affect forest cover;, designing and  implementing activities to reduce forest loss or enhance forest stocks; and monitoring and reporting loss over time. In addition, certain environmental and social safeguards must be designed and implemented, including consultation with relevant stakeholders (especially local communities and Indigenous peoples) and impact assessments.

Methodologies for each of these components have been or are being developed to guide project developers and national governments, although guidance is more prevalent for project-based REDD+  efforts than national ones. Most notably the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standards both provide methodologies and guidance on how to measure project-level emission reductions and social and environmental impacts respectively. To be certified as a VCS or CCB approved project, the project must be validated by a third-party auditor.

Certain key concepts are important to consider when developing REDD+_initiatives:  1) additionality; 2) permanence and 3) leakage. Additionality is required to demonstrate that the REDD+ initiative will reduce deforestation and forest degradation and/or enhance forest carbon stocks beyond what would have happened if the activities proposed were not implemented. Permanence refers to the assumption that projects or countries will reduce emissions for at least the period designated within the contract, and, thus, a tree protected today will not be cut down tomorrow. As noted above, leakage refers to the displacement of deforestation or forest degradation activities to another location, resulting in no net benefit of emissions reductions to the atmosphere. Projects and plans must demonstrate that leakage has been accounted for in project or policy design.  Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) systems must be designed to track potential leakages and permanence of emissions reductions claimed by project developers.

Although these technical steps are important to demonstrate that emissions are real and verifiable, the most important and challenging aspect of REDD+ is designing activities that actually reduce deforestation and degradation in the long term. Financial incentives, while important, often need to be buttressed by other benefits, such as improved resource rights, welfare, and capacity building. Furthermore, the implementation of REDD+ at any scale requires good governance, which is often a challenge in many tropical, developing countries where much of the world’s forests remain.


Case Studies

The Wildlife Works Kasigau Corridor REDD project – Phase One: Wildlife Works developed the first REDD-plus project to be issued Verified Carbon Units (VCUs) under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) in 2011, the most  widely used carbon accounting standard among projects issuing credits in the voluntary  market. In addition, the project has received the CCB standards (CCB) Gold level validation. The project is based in the Kasigau Corridor of Kenya and protects more than 500,000 acres of forest and has designed the project so that the revenues from carbon financing benefit  Kenyan  communities while also securing the entire wildlife migration corridor between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. http://www.wildlifeworks.com/WWCarbon/WWCarbon/Welcome.html.

Makira, Madagascar: The Makira forest carbon project has been developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society working in the north-eastern portion of Madagascar with the Malagasy Government, local communities and other partners.Through carbon credit sales from avoided deforestation, the Makira Project will protect one of the largest remaining blocks of rainforest in Madagascar, maintain ecosystem functions and services, conserve habitat and rare threatened biodiversity and create sustainable livelihoods for local communities. The establishment of the Makira Forest Protected Area is based on an integrated approach to reduce human threats to the region’s forests, while at the same time addressing the needs of the local communities and engaging these communities in the management of the protected area. The project combats the principal cause of deforestation in the area—slash-and-burn agriculture (“tavy”), driven by both subsistence and economic pressures—as well as threats from bush meat hunting, collection/exploitation of timber and non-timber forest products, burning of forest land for cattle. This case study highlights the importance of building and leveraging equitable, effective environmental governance structures and processes to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.http://www.rmportal.net/library/content/translinks/translinks-2008/wildlife-conservationsociety/ForestCarbonFinancingMakira_CaseStudy_WCS_2008.pdf/view?searchterm=makira.


Key Tools:

  • Ecosystem Marketplace website (Forest Carbon Portal)
  • Nested Approaches to REDD+: An overview of issues and options, http://www.forest-trends.org/documents/files/doc_2762.pdf.
  • REDD Desk website (Little REDD book and Intro to REDD)
  • WCS REDD handbook; ONFI or Forest Trends guide to REDD project development
  • CCBA guidance manual
  • VCS Website
  • RECOFT guide to FPIC
  • CIFOR Realizing REDD
  • CI’s Lessons Learned report
  • TNC, WCS, CI report on project level experiences with REDD-plus implementation
  • FIELD website for international negotiations

Key References:

  • Stern report (Eliasch Review)
  • Madagascar Case study
  • UN REDD
  • World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership
  • IPCC GPG 2003
  • GOFC-GOLD REDD Handbook
  • Winrock/BioCF LULUCF manual or GEF manual or ITTO manual
  • UNFCC
  • FRA 2010

1IPCC 2007

2Note that reforestation and afforestation are included in CDM but in limited manner.


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Photo: CIFOR; flickr.com

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