Getting REDD right

Gro Harlem Brundtland, CREDIT: Neil Palmer, CIAT

The opening plenary session of Forest Day 3 (FD3), a side event held today in conjunction with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, left no room for doubt about the important role of this event in rapidly evolving global efforts to mitigate climate change through the reduction of deforestation and forest degradation, commonly known as REDD. This was evident both from the content of the session and from the eminence of the speakers delivering the key messages.

At the first forest day held 2 years ago, the link between forests and a new global climate agreement was still merely a prospect, as pointed out by Francis Seymour, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in her welcome remarks. By FD2, the key question had become how forestry would be included in the negotiations. But participants at FD3 were already looking beyond Copenhagen to the “challenges that countries and communities will face, as they begin to implement mitigation and adaptation strategies related to forests.”

While acknowledging the potential of REDD and the progress that has been made, all of the speakers sounded a note of caution about what could go wrong. In video-recorded remarks, former US president Bill Clinton urged that measures be taken to avoid undermining the livelihoods of the rural people who depend on forests for a livelihood.

Likewise, the first keynote speaker, Elinor Ostrum, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Economics, warned against “simple formulas that may sound good but don’t have the desired result.” Such has been the case, for example, with the classical top-down approach of establishing government protected forest areas. Far more effective, Ostrum stressed, are adaptive approaches, which gain the trust of forest communities, respect their rights and involve them closely in forest monitoring, a practice that is positively associated with maintenance of forest density.

Focusing more on the policy arena, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, together with former US vice president Al Gore, observed that in recent decades forestry professionals have “yielded too much space to others.” He urged them to “think hard about how to correct this institutional imperfection,” as a prerequisite for better enabling forestry to serve as a “huge provider of goods and services,” including that of climate change mitigation.

Echoing Ostrum, he also warned against unworkable top-down approaches, calling for a bottom-up forestry movement, or “religion.” He also highlighted the need for wider and more effective use of scientific knowledge as a means of creating the conditions by which the political will needed for climate change adaptation and mitigation in forests can “bubble up to the top.”

Also acknowledging considerable risks, Gro Harlem Brundtland, chair of the commission whose 1987 report, Our Common Future, coined the term “sustainable development,” spelled out the “overarching commitments” and key steps needed to get REDD off the ground. Industrialized countries, for example, must provide compensation for reducing deforestation, while developing countries must carry this out in a transparent and sustainable manner, respecting the rights of forest communities.

Conveying a message of urgency and optimism, Brundtland stressed the importance of learning quickly how to implement the new and ambitious concept of REDD, a role that CIFOR and others must fulfill with true excellence. She called also called on government leaders to make the right decisions and avoid the embarrassment of leaving Copenhagen, like the incompetent emperor of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, with no clothes on.


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