REDD at Risk: Could land use change rules and international market drivers sink REDD?

By Barbara Bramble
Barcelona, Spain UNFCCC Climate Talks

REDD at Risk: Could land use change rules and international market drivers sink REDD?

Guaxupe Ranch Brazil

Cattle at Guaxupe Ranch in Acre state, Brazil which employs modern pasture management techniques. Photo by Rachel Kramer

Far from the Amazon rainforest of Brazil and the palm oil plantations of Indonesia delegates from around the world are meeting in Barcelona for final climate negotiations before the Copenhagen’s UN Climate Change Conference. At the top of the list of concerns facing COP15 is how to stop deforestation while empowering forest communities.

One of the key issues being discussed is how the supply and demand for commodities like palm oil, pulp wood, leather and beef would react to the incentives that are likely to be available through REDD to help developing countries stop clearing forests. These incentives are being negotiated for inclusion in Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

Currently, flawed Kyoto Protocol accounting rules allow rich countries to game the system. In certain cases rich countries can deforest without counting the emissions, yet also get credits for carbon storage when re-growing trees! Based on the current REDD negotiations, these same rules run the risk of also be applied to developing countries, where clearing tropical forests is one of the chief sources of greenhouse gases. Here are a few examples that illustrate the dilemma…

Indonesia and Palm Oil
Palm oil is a very profitable industry in places like Indonesia and Malaysia where trees produce tons of oil per acre. As a result this industry is a major driver of deforestation in Indonesia. Businesses deforest land to plant monoculture plantations to harvest the palm oil that serves a global market. The oil produced is used in thousands of processed food and household products, and as the demand for biodeisel expands, the industry is set to explode and become even larger. The REDD incentive payments currently being proposed may not be enough to counter the demands of the palm oil market.

Brazil and Cattle Ranching
Deforestation for cattle ranching produces 44% of Brazil’s total greenhouse gases come while contributing less than 5% to the economy. Brazil has an opportunity to transform this industry’s impact on global warming, as modern pasture management techniques could reduce deforestation to zero. The key barrier to implementing these practices is that these new techniques require an upfront investment in new grass mixtures and improved breeding. The most expensive part is setting fences to divide pastures into small (25-30 acre) paddocks, so cattle herds can be moved from one to another every couple of days, to prevent over grazing. Ranchers need upfront financing to make this investment, either through loans or the assurance they will get a premium for beef or leather produced without new deforestation. If adequte funding is directed towards these types of project, REDD payments could make a huge difference in helping Brazil address is carbon footprint.

More UNFCCC coverage of the REDD at Risk meeting

Barbara Bramble, Senior Program Adviser for International Affairs at National Wildlife Federation

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