With Tweaks, REDD Represents our Best Chance of Saving Tropical Forest Species

As confidence builds amongst forest-rich countries and the global climate community that a multi-billion dollar mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation will be one of the major achievements to come out of COP15, a new article published in Science this week argues that broadening REDD funds to specifically target protecting biodiversity could simultaneously keep large tracts of tropical forests intact and help stave off large-scale extinctions of rare and endangered species of orangutans, pygmy elephants, and others that call the forests of Southeast Asia and Africa their home.  

“If REDD focuses solely on cost effectively reducing carbon emissions, its benefits for biodiversity are low, protecting only slightly more vertebrate species than if funds were allocated at random among forest-losing countries,” said Oscar Ventor of the University of Queensland and co-author of the paper.

According to the authors, the majority of REDD funding is focused on protecting forests that are most cost-effective for reducing carbon emissions—those with large areas of forest still standing—because areas with more trees will store more carbon. But forest areas that are also biodiversity “hotspots”—like the Philippines, Madagascar, and Indonesia—have relatively little remaining forests, and are therefore less of a priority for REDD funding.

“The problem is that the Amazon basin in South America, where there’s still quite a lot of surviving forest, is the cheapest place to reduce emissions, but threatened species are concentrated in countries where only a few scraps of forest remain,” said co-author Professor William Laurance from James Cook University.

Fortunately, the authors found that a compromise is possible.

“If you tweak things a little, putting some carbon funds into countries that are good value for carbon but also biodiversity-rich, like Cameroon and the Philippines, you can save twice as many threatened species and still do a great deal to combat global warming,” said co-author and director of The University of Queensland’s Ecology Centre Professor Hugh Possingham.

We’ll find out next week if leaders at Copenhagen will make this relatively minor adjustment that could be a major triumph for the world’s biodiversity.

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