Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary

Seeing REDD in the Amazon


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Virgilio Viana Virgilio Viana argues that REDD in the Amazon is a win for people, trees and climate.
The author is director-general of the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation and a visiting fellow with the International Institute for Environment and Development in London in the United Kingdom.

Deforestation remains an entrenched and ongoing issue in the Amazon, the world’s largest and naturally richest rainforest. But Amazonas, Brazil’s largest state, is seeing significant signs of change.

Amazonas harbours some 1.57 million square kilometres of rainforest - six times the size of the United Kingdom. It is also the site of the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve Project, the Amazon’s first independently-validated project where locals are being rewarded for protecting their forests and reducing carbon emissions in the process.

Dubbed REDD for "reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation", such projects are up against a formidable status quo in the Amazon. Deforestation there has an economic and social logic. It is the result of a perverse system that financially rewards those who clearfell, from land grabbers and illegal loggers to agribusiness. Cattle farming, for instance, is a highly profitable enterprise. From 1996 to 2006, numbers of cattle in the Brazilian Legal Amazon - that part of Brazil within the Amazon basin - rose from 37 million to 73 million. Deforestation is not a result of irrationality, ignorance or stupidity: people do get, or expect to get, real benefits from deforestation and unsustainable forest harvesting.

Besides the environmental impacts of expanding agribusiness and poor forestry practices, unsustainable development in the Amazon has also led to significant poverty and social inequality, notably the highest concentration of slavery cases in Brazil. Similar social injustices, targeting indigenous and traditional people in particular, occur on other deforestation fronts throughout the tropics.

Over the past few decades, a cautious optimism has emerged as isolated attempts to curb deforestation have yielded positive results. In Amazonas, deforestation has been in continuous decline, from 1582 square kilometres in 2003 to 479 in 2008 - a 70 per cent decrease. As a result of political change in 2003 with the election of Governor Eduardo Braga, the state enacted a set of public policies aimed at reducing deforestation and improving livelihoods of forest dwellers. Lessons learned there and elsewhere can be expanded, adapted and replicated.

Obviously, the solution is not a simple, technical one. The starting point is no less than a radical change in the development paradigm.

Forests have historically been seen as valueless and forestry as backwards - neither of them worthy of inclusion in "development" strategies or in the usual set of policy instruments encouraging relevant investment, such as tax incentives and credit. Yet the significant problems deforestation causes now suggest that forests need to be regarded as valuable assets to individuals, families, businesses and governments. In short, public, non-profit and private sector policies have to be guided by a simple message: "forests are worth more standing than cut". This paradigm shift has to be translated into broad cross-sectoral policies in areas such as finance, education, health, energy and sustainable land use systems.

Some valuations of standing forests in the Amazon have produced very positive results. On the one hand are the results of public policies aiming to increase the value of forest products - such as honey and managed timber - supporting private sector investment and social-environmental entrepreneurship. In Amazonas, the price paid to producers of andiroba oil, derived from the nut of the Carapa guiansensis tree, increased 3.6 times from 2003 (when sustainable development policies began to be rolled out) to 2008. The more profitable sustainably harvested forest products become, the less attractive deforestation is, and the greater the economic stimulus to conserve forests. On the other hand, environmental services such as carbon sequestration and storage have big potential and are a key part of the equation too. The more valuable environmental services are, the more resources will be available for investment in improving local people’s quality of life and ability to generate income.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries

"Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries and approaches to stimulate action" - REDD for short - entered the agenda of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the eleventh session in Montreal, Canada, in 2005. Reducing deforestation and preventing the release of carbon was recognized as the mitigation option with the largest and most immediate global impact on carbon stock per hectare and per year in the short term.

Subsequently, Decision 2/CP.13 provided a mandate for action to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.

The main commitments are:

  • to further strengthen and support ongoing efforts;
  • to support and facilitate capacity-building, technical assistance and transfer of technology relating to methodological and technical needs and institutional needs of developing countries;
  • to explore a range of actions, identify options and undertake demonstration activities to address drivers of deforestation and enhance forest carbon stocks due to sustainable management of forests; and,
  • to mobilize resources to support these efforts.

The decision also provided indicative guidance for the implementation and evaluation of demonstration activities. The Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is recommended for estimating and reporting of emissions and removals.

Over 2008 and 2009, policy approaches and positive incentives relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries and, under REDD-plus, the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries have been considered under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Secretariat

The biggest challenge is not how to reduce deforestation, but how to finance the reduction. The agricultural frontier in the Amazon is pushed along by a multi-billion dollar per year economy. If the nature of the battle is predominantly economic, irreversible success will come only with sustainable finance - public, private and non-profit programmes aimed at stopping deforestation for carbon stored, biodiversity conserved, water supply protected or poverty eradicated. Financing a new development paradigm in the Amazon is relatively low in cost compared to the environmental services produced by its standing forest ecosystems.

REDD has opened up the possibility of valuing carbon-based environmental services in the Amazon. Sceptics say there may be methodological problems with REDD, but Amazonas’s groundbreaking Juma project, spearheaded by the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS), overcame all such barriers, including the establishment of baselines - benchmarks for calculating emissions reduction. In 2008, the scheme was validated according to standards of the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance by the international verification service TÜV SÜD. It passed the methodology test with flying colours.

The goals of the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve Project are:

  • to avoid the degradation of 366,151 hectares of rainforest and the emission of 210,885,604 million tones of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050;
  • to generate carbon credit out of 189,767,027 tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions;
  • to halt deforestation in a forest area that is under severe land conversion pressure; and,
  • to improve the well-being of forest peoples living in the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve and its surroundings.

Communities in the reserve will be rewarded for their stewardship. Amazonas State will invest resources generated by avoided carbon emissions in controlling and monitoring deforestation within the Juma reserve and improving the region’s living standards. Investments are also expected to generate sustainable economic activities and to sponsor a research and conservation project in and out the Juma reserve.

Bolsa Floresta

The Juma Sustainable Development Reserve Project is part of a broader initiative focused on payments for environmental services: the Bolsa Floresta (forest conservation grant) programme. Initiated by the Amazonas government and Brazilian private banking giant Bradesco, this is now funded by a range of players. The Marriott hotel chain, for instance, is financing Juma through voluntary contributions from guests.

The total investment of US$8.1 million per year supports 6000 families committed to zero deforestation in all Bolsa Floresta projects. Families receive direct cash payments through a highly efficient instrument: an electronic debit card accessible in banks and post offices in any town. Communities also receive investments for income generation activities, social programmes and supporting local associations. Poverty eradication is a key component of environmental conservation.

Bolsa Floresta is now ready to be scaled up, and the International Institute for Environment and Development is assessing a wide variety of schemes for their potential.

What is needed to ensure the benefits of REDD? REDD financing mechanisms should be flexible so they can incorporate both inter-governmental funding (at national scale) and market-based funding (at project level). REDD should be allowed in the carbon credit market with a quota to avoid flooding the market. Even a small quota of 10 per cent would generate more resources than any other international financing mechanism for tropical forest conservation and poverty. REDD could tip the financial and governance balance in favour of sustainable forest management. Finally, REDD funding should use instruments such as certification and validation to ensure appropriate benefit sharing for indigenous peoples and local communities.

The global carbon market reached US$118 billion in 2008, but very little of it was invested in protecting tropical rainforests. Meanwhile, the international community faces a process of great strategic importance: the new international climate agreements, to be agreed in December 2009 in Copenhagen. If these include forest carbon as both a market instrument and a mechanism for intergovernmental funding, they will set a historic precedent.

Forest conservation and greenhouse gas emission reduction targets must top the list of priorities in the new climate agreements. REDD can become a significant catalyst of change to stop deforestation and eradicate poverty in many regions of the planet. As Nelson Mandela has said, "Those who are hungry are in a hurry." We urgently need to start a revolution in the world’s forests. Time is running short.


This article is derived, with permission, from an opinion paper published by the International Institute for Environment and Development. The opinion paper was produced with support from the Danish International Development Agency, the United Kingdom Department for International Development, the Dutch Directorate-General for International Cooperation, Irish Aid, Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

Further information

Virgilio Viana, International Institute for Environment and Development, 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, United Kingdom. Fax: +44-20-73882826. Email: virgilio.viana@fas-amazonas.org. Web: www.iied.org and www.fas-amazonas.org/en.

On the Web

A video interview with Virgilio Viana is available. Details of the methodology developed to quantify reduction emissions from deforestation can be downloaded. The REDD Web Platform provides access to information and resources on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries.

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Updated: May 15th 2015