By Aline Mosnier, IIASA Research Scholar

Aline Mosnier

Aline Mosnier

Deforestation and forest degradation contribute substantially to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in developing countries. The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus forest conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+) Initiative, launched in 2008 by the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), aims to help developing countries prevent such deforestation and degradation. It creates a mechanism that would provide financial compensation to developing countries that make efforts to address these problems. Some funding has started to flow to build REDD+ readiness plans and forest monitoring capacity. However, many methodological issues stand in the way of reaching agreements and attracting enough funding for the initiative to succeed.

One of the core ideas of REDD+ is that payments should be based on results. But particularly in Congo Basin countries, where I recently spent three weeks meeting with stakeholders and policymakers on REDD+ plans and goals, determining results is not an easy task.

How do we measure performance? First, we must agree on a benchmark to which the future efforts can be compared. The simplest benchmark is perhaps just to compare current efforts to the past: using past data has the advantage of being based on facts and consequently less prone to inflation. But for this to work, one has to believe that the past is the best predictor of the future.

The Congo Basin countries have a problem: they have high forest cover and low historical deforestation rates… but fast-growing needs.

Yaounde, Cameron. Photo credit:  Aline Mosnier.

Yaounde, Cameron. Photo credit: Aline Mosnier.

The low historical deforestation rates in the Congo Basin countries result from several factors. Some argue that conflicts, unfavorable investment climate, lack of infrastructure, and low levels of economic development have led to a “passive protection” of the forests. But the context is changing. Presidents of the Congo Basin countries have big plans–they want to become emerging countries within the next two decades–and they are looking for new opportunities. Foreign investment projects in mining, oil, agro-industrial plantations, and large-scale agriculture are now flourishing in the Congo Basin, and protected areas are under threat. Local communities could be threatened by expropriation and pollution from large scale projects, but at the same time these communities are also eager to see new employment opportunities.

What does this situation tell us about REDD for the Congo Basin? First, payments for living forests are necessary to avoid deforestation because this is the only way to convince developing countries that forests are valuable. These payments have to benefit both local communities who are living next to the forest, and governments who are making the decisions about large-scale conversion of forests.

Second, if payments are conditional to reduction compared to past deforestation, we can’t expect much from REDD in the Congo Basin countries. If payments are delivered based on lower future deforestation rates and are not underestimated compared to what could be foreseen according to countries development needs, the international community has a chance to make a change.

But this needs trust. Trying to quantify future emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is challenging and undoubtedly involves large uncertainties. However, by engaging with stakeholders to understand the local context while having independent funding, by building the models under the necessary scrutiny and scientific rigor, and by clearly communicating the results to the international community, scientists could play an important role in finding a fair deal to fight against future deforestation.

At IIASA, we are contributing to this objective under our REDD-PAC project by combining land use and systems analysis tools from IIASA, regional expertise of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil and the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) in the Congo Basin, and the experience of UNEP-WCMC on the multiple benefits of REDD+.

Aline Mosnier contributed to work that will be presented at a special session organized by UNEP-WCMC and IIASA at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) at the COP 19th in Warsaw, highlighting the role of land use change models in supporting landscape-scale planning. She recently returned from travels through the Congo Basin, where she met with stakeholders and policymakers.

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