REDD+, What Does It Mean?

I am sure you most likely love watching those Discovery and History Channels’ reality TV shows where teams are competing to mine precious metals especially gold and in the process goes about felling massive trees using bulldozers and chainsaws so as to reach the veins below. Perfect examples are Gold Rush Alaska and The Bamazon. As this is what I I’ve been doing to relax in the last few days, it got me thinking, do these guys really appreciate the value of those hardwood, tropical trees and the role they play in carbon storage and emissions? Well, this month’s blog is all about forests and climate change.

Forests play a dual role in climate change. They act as a “sink” removing carbon (IV) oxide from the atmosphere and storing it as carbon in their biomass as they grow. This valuable service lowers the concentrations of carbon (IV) oxide from the atmosphere. Carbon is stored in six places called the carbon pools in a forest, namely the inorganic mineral soil, organic litter and duff, below-ground live tree root biomass, coarse woody debris, non-tree above-ground coarse woody biomass and above-ground live-tree biomass. 

However, a problem arises when trees are cut down and left to decay. Since only a small proportion of the wood is converted into wood products, their carbon is gradually oxidized and released into the atmosphere. Similarly, burning of trees just like fossil fuels releases vast quantities of carbon (IV) oxide into the atmosphere enhancing the green house effect. Cultivation of soils when deforestation has occurred also oxidizes a portion of the organic matter in the upper meter of the soil adding more carbon (IV) oxide concentrations into the atmosphere. This therefore implies land use change can be a significant source of carbon (IV) oxide emissions into the atmosphere. 

Before we dig deeper into this subject matter, it’s important to note that the amount of carbon stored in forests varies by region and forest type. Tropical forests although covering about the same land area as temperate and boreal forests can store about 50 per cent more carbon per hectare than temperate and boreal forests (ConservationTraining, 2013). This underscores their particular importance with regard to carbon storage and reducing enhanced global warming. 

It is therefore troubling that millions of hectares of these forests in Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Malaysia and other countries located along the tropics are being destroyed at rapid rates annually for economic development. Many countries such as the United States and Europe have already undergone this process of clearing their forests as they developed and subsequently replanted cut trees as their economies transitioned. 

In the case of developing countries of the world, the challenge is to avoid going through this similar path as their economies start transitioning. The goal for stakeholders is to provide a “stepping stone” through economic incentives, so that countries develop without necessarily having to undergo deforestation and subsequent reforestation as it would be beneficial for the climate, biodiversity and local people who depend on standing forests. This goal has been discussed and negotiated by countries under the UNFCCC and has been named REDD+. 

REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Put simply, it means protecting forests under threat. Deforestation is the conversion of forests into another use, such as agriculture, space for infrastructure development just to mention a few. Degradation is the gradual loss of biomass in the forest through logging, fire, fuel wood collection and other activities. The forest remains standing but it holds less carbon. A degraded forest is still a forest, but it has lost some trees, has openings in the canopy and it is less dense than an undisturbed forest.
The “+” in the REDD stands for the following:

  1. Conservation, which means the protection of forests that are currently under threat.
  2. Sustainable Management of Forests, which generally means improved logging practices or improved use of forest resources.
  3. Enhancement of Forest Carbon Stocks, which can refer to the reforestation (planting trees on land that had previously been converted to other uses) or restoration (improving the health of existing forests).

REDD+ is an innovative framework for compensating stakeholders for the environmental services they provide when they protect and restore forests instead of cutting trees down and clearing land for alternative uses. This is more so for the 16 billion people worldwide who depend on tropical forests for their livelihoods. Especially critical are the indigenous peoples and local communities in the developing world who frequently depend on forests for many aspects of their livelihoods including food, fuel, medicine, shelter, water, cultural values and other resources. Deforestation therefore represents a direct threat to their livelihoods and future.  

So there you have it guys. You now have an idea of what REDD+ means and its relevance in today’s fast-paced world. You will now start appreciating the value of our forests – especially tropical forests – and possibly not only identify some REDD+ activities near you, but also start to support existing ones and even start your own REDD+ activity relevant to your community. 

Engage in reasonable, convincing REDD+ activities, won’t you?