Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics


Posted by Danny Morris on December 15, 2009

This post originally appeared on Weathervane, RFF’s climate policy blog.

COPENHAGEN — If there is one topic at the COP that gets people excited, it is the issue of international forests. Many people I’ve talked to, from delegate members of developing countries to negotiators for major corporations, see a lot of potential for REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) to have a major impact on the negotiations. For those not in the know, REDD programs basically would pay people to keep the carbon currently locked up in the trees and soil of forests.  Truth be told, if had I to make everyone at this event decide on something slightly more scandalous than the statement “chocolate is tasty,” it would be “REDD is a vital part of any climate agreement.”

With that in mind, the RFF team has been scouring many of the REDD-related meetings over the past couple days. Though the side events and presentations have been varied, a couple of consistent themes have cropped up:

  • Stakeholders – working with people who are on the ground, especially indigenous groups who can benefit from REDD schemes (paying people to protect their forested land), is a critical component of a successful project. The indigenous people here at the COP are very skeptical about the ability of REDD to improve their lives or protect their lands. This was especially evident in one side event that focused on the social and environmental standards necessary for REDD projects hosted by Nepal. After a series of presentations about how best to involve people living in forests and the importance of their rights, a number of indigenous representative stood up and lamented how no one appreciates their rights and they are not being involved. Ensuring indigenous rights (and convincing them they are a part of the process) will be key for any tropical forest carbon program.
  • Equity – similar to the stakeholder issues, equity among all involved parties in REDD programs is something people here are hammering home. People receiving payments need to be treated fairly for them to maintain standing forests.
  • National strategies – Coordinated national strategies are important, but no one knows quite how to do them yet. The solution, reiterated in multiple events, is to take lessons learned from small-scale projects and eventually upgrade them to the national scale. While it’s not a perfect strategy, options are currently limited.
  • Upfront investment – REDD is not a slow-boil proposition, something you can just sit back and let develop slowly. Without robust investment in critical components (capacity building, monitoring, etc) from the beginning, REDD programs will likely fail. National governments are the only entities with the resources to fully deploy everything necessary to make REDD succeed.

Forestry issues are one of the least contentious issues being negotiated here, but there are still a lot of important considerations and problems to be solved. Don’t count on them being solved in the next ten days.

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