Thursday, December 9, 2010

The debate over REDD

REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, has emerged as a central focus of the COP negotiations. Its premise is appealing: paying people to conserve forests in less developed (especially tropical) nations. This sounds like a win-win-win: land cover change like deforestation is a major contributor to atmospheric carbon (20-30% of emissions - see Jon's recent post and mine from Copenhagen) so the REDD program would eat into that number; local peoples would be financially compensated for sustainably managing these environments; and biodiversity would be preserved to boot. But it has also drawn fierce critcism (see some of my prior posts about protests in - cancun, copenhagen)

Geographers are becoming actively involved in this effort, because REDD uses estimates of historical land cover change and modeled future scenarios developed through biogeographic fieldwork, GIS & remote sensing. It has the support of many governments (for instance, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa) and many international conservation groups, and is drawing major corporate interest.

REDD also resonates with some of the critical work done by geographers involved in political ecology (you can find a number of examples in the Annals of the AAG in recent years, such as these- a b c) - which shows how conservation interests often are pitted against the livelihoods of local peoples.

There is perhaps good reason for local and indigenous groups to distrust REDD, despite the intent that it benefit them (and it should be pointed out that some indigenous groups do support the concept). How the payments are structured is an issue: will they actually make it to the local peoples managing the land, or siphoned often through government corruption? Land tenure is also critical: will the high economic value that REDD will place on forests lead to the dispossession of its inhabitants by wealthier interests, particularly in places where title to the land is often an issue?

More fundamental complaints about REDD are that it does not address the root causes and driving forces of climate change. It is partially an offset scheme: nations or corporations that do not meet their carbon-reduction targets can buy credits through forest preservation. This shifts the burden from fossil fuel consumers (who can go on with business as usual) to tropical forest inhabitants (whose forests are "locked up" as carbon preserves). Once again we are quickly back to the rich versus poor and climate justice dilemmas that make dealing with all this so fraught with difficulty.

Here is an interview with Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project, where she thoughtfully lays out many of the objections to REDD.

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