Q+A: Can the REDD+ climate change program produce measurable results in the next three years?

Funding questions add another major layer of uncertainty in REDD+.

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Jordon Cooper

If REDD+ fails to produce results in the next 2-3 years, it could be back to business as usual, says Arild Angelsen. Jordon Cooper

BONN, Germany (10 June, 2013)_Policymakers must see REDD+ achieving measurable results in the next three years to ensure the U.N.-backed framework for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation survives, according to a leading forestry scientist.

Although still in early stages, the program has been driving global climate change policy debates and national forest policy revisions since 2008. Yet it faces funding threats from global economic uncertainty caused by the financial crisis.

“There is a limit to how long we can sell a good idea,” said Arild Angelsen, a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) and editor of Analysing REDD+: Challenges and Choices.

“Over the next two-to-three years we need to see reliable evidence of REDD+ actually producing measurable results.”

REDD+ is a mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation by offering land managers conditional incentives to keep forests standing.

While the original goal was to fund REDD+ from carbon emissions trading, about two-thirds of the current international funding for REDD+ comes from development aid budgets, Angelsen said.

Here he shares his views on the scheme’s future.

Q: Where is REDD+ heading?

A: A key factor will be the future source of funding for REDD+ implementation. If the original idea of REDD+ becoming part of a strong global climate agreement where it can be incorporated as a carbon offsetting option (a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions made to compensate for — or to offset — an emission made elsewhere) is implemented that’s potentially the largest source of funding, but it all depends on if we get a new global climate agreement in 2015.

Another, smaller version of that scenario is if REDD+ is included in carbon markets at a national or regional level instead of being part of a global carbon market. That may be more likely than the global market scenario, but the scale of this funding is highly uncertain and many issues need to be resolved concerning standards and reference levels.

A second possibility is that REDD+ becomes permanently mainstreamed into development aid as it to some extent is already. REDD+ is the becoming a key priority area for development aid, but will have to compete alongside other good causes.

The third scenario is if REDD+ becomes part of NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action) — the strategies individual countries use for dealing with climate change. REDD+ is in a sense being nationalised in some countries such as Brazil and Indonesia where policymakers are taking ownership of it.

So there are three main funding scenarios: the carbon market, aid or domestic funding.

Q: Wasn’t Payment for Environmental Services (PES) originally seen as the main scheme to implement REDD?

A: PES is simply the mechanism to incentivize and compensate forest stakeholders for reduced emissions. This ‘compensated conservation’, as I like to call it, is perhaps the key element in the REDD+ idea. But, PES is hard. You need to define exactly the service that’s being traded and bought: emission reductions. To do that, you have to measure emissions and define a reference level and the difference between the emissions and the reference level — that is the emission reduction. You need to have buyers and sellers and you need to build all these institutions around it. In addition there has been political opposition to the PES idea. Some have equated with a carbon market, but funding from government budgets or development aid. Implementing PES is hard, but what are the alternatives? Not reducing emissions? Or conservation without compensation?

Q: Is it a problem that so much is up in the air when it comes to REDD+?

A: Yes, the funding question adds another major layer of uncertainty, on top of all the other uncertainties that exist. But the future is always uncertain, and in the case of REDD+ it depends on the success of getting an international climate agreement. It also depends on the aid volumes, influenced by the economic crisis in Europe. Will a country like Spain continue to give aid to REDD+ when they have more than 50 percent youth unemployment? And it depends on the political battles being fought in key REDD+ countries. Moreover, it depends on REDD being able to demonstrate success. We’ve talked about REDD+ as being big, quick and cheap, that line has been sold for eight years now. We need to demonstrate some results — the money we have put in, the efforts, all the talks. We need success stories.

Q: What would you define as a success story?

A: That REDD is doing REDD in the literal meaning of the term, namely reducing emissions due to deforestation and degradation. Demonstrating lower deforestation compared to historical levels is key, and that is the most easily measured. Degradation is harder to measure and is not an easy figure to present. If deforestation slows down and local communities are getting benefits from REDD+, then we have a success story.

Q: Can REDD+ fail? 

A: It certainly can. International funding can stop or drop significantly, it can fall off national agendas and we will revert to policies that give licenses to convert forests to palm oil and soya, logging will continue, and we won’t stop the charcoal burning that goes on in Africa. We may revert to ‘business as usual’ and to where we were 10 years ago.”

I hope this will not happen, but I also think there is a limit to how long we can sell a good idea. Over the next two-to-three years we need to see reliable evidence of REDD+ actually producing measureable results.

For more information on the issues discussed in this article, please contact Arild Angelsen at

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Topic(s) :   REDD+