REDD+ 101

Submitted by Emilia Pramova | published 9th Aug 2012 | last updated 9th Aug 2012

REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) is based on a simple idea: pay developing countries to reduce CO2 emissions from the forest sector.

The idea of REDD was first brought to the table during the Kyoto protocol negotiations in 1997 which first recognised the important role that forests could play in reducing carbon emissions from deforestation. However formal recognition of REDD was not achieved until 2007 at the UNFCCC 13th Conference of the Parties (COP 13) under the Bali Action Plan. The plan cemented the international community's commitment to reducing deforestation through REDD activities, however decisions over the definitions of REDD and how it would work in practice, were yet to be decided.

As discussions gained momentum, COP14 held in Poznan in 2008, saw the expansion of REDD into REDD+ which was to include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries. It was agreed that funds from REDD+ could support new, pro-poor development, help conserve biodiversity and secure vital ecosystem services.

Successive conferences in Copenhagen (COP 15) in 2009 and Cancun (COP 16) in 2010 saw an international agreement on the REDD+ framework as well commitments from several developing countries to reduce overall emissions. However, further progress on the details of REDD+ such as monitoring and enforcement, transparency, financing mechanisms and the inclusion of indigenous people in the REDD+ process, has been slow. 

Between 2011 and 2015, with support from the World Bank and UN-REDD programme, 40 developing countries are expected to prepare REDD+ strategies. The Cancun agreements provided important guidance for all actors - countries, NGOs, multilateral institutions - to help in the preparation. Organisations such as CIFOR are conducting much needed research into how best to carry out REDD+ policies and the impacts on the ground.


Certified timber in logs pond in PT. Sumalindo Lestari Jaya 2, West Kutai district, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Timber certification is one mechanism for ensuring sustainable forest management. Photo by Michael Padmanaba/CIFOR

But what are the challenges?

The idea behind REDD+ may be simple, but in practice it conceals a host of challenges. For example how do we accurately measure the carbon stored in forests in order to place a value on it? Should national governments, local forest communities or logging companies benefit from REDD+ payments and how can we ensure transparency and accountability in these transactions?

All of these major challenges can be overcome with technical solutions; however these solutions needed to be supported by sound governance and effective policy making, which may be more challenging than the technical solutions themselves.

Preliminary results from CIFOR’s analysis of actual REDD+ design and early implementation, based on a large research project – the Global Comparative Study on REDD+ (GCS), have helped identify the political and practical challenges to designing and implementing effective, efficient and equitable REDD+ policies and projects.

Key conclusions are:  

As an idea, REDD+ is a success story: It is a fresh approach generating hope of significant result-based funding to address an urgent need for climate change mitigation. The idea has been sufficiently broad to serve as a canopy, under which a wide range of actors can grow their own trees.

REDD+ faces huge challenges: Powerful political and economic interests favour continued deforestation and degradation. Implementation must be coordinated across various government levels and agencies; benefits must be distributed and need to balance effectiveness and equity; tenure insecurity and safeguards must be genuinely addressed; and transparent institutions, reliable carbon monitoring and realistic reference levels are all required to support result-based systems.

REDD+ requires – and can catalyse – transformational change: New economic incentives, new information and discourses, new actors and new policy coalitions have the potential to move domestic policies away from the business as usual trajectory.

REDD+ projects are hybrids in high deforestation areas: Project proponents are pursuing strategies that mix the enforcement of regulations and support to alternative livelihoods (ICDP) with result-based incentives (PES). Projects tend to be located in high deforestation and high forest carbon areas, yielding high additionality if they succeed.

‘No regret’ policy options exist: Despite uncertainty about the future of REDD+, stakeholders need to build political support and coalitions for change, invest in adequate information systems, and implement policies that can reduce deforestation and forest degradation, but are desirable regardless of climate objectives.

Source: CIFOR Forests and Climate Change

Further resources

Download the new book on REDD+