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Should REDD payments chase old grievances or prevent likely future harm?

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
May 2010
Publisher Name: 
James Clarke and Jeff Haskins
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New study says REDD payment mechanisms could halve forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon, but significant amounts of cash to conserve forests could go to wealthiest landholders.

Owners of larger tracts of land, thought to be responsible for 80 per cent of current deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, would benefit most financially if direct payments are used to curb climate emissions from forests, according to a new study by researchers with CIFOR (the Center for International Forestry Research) and their partners.

‘When four-fifths of a major environmental problem is caused by large landholders, then any solution will have to provide some compensation to this group for their losses,’ says Sven Wunder, CIFOR scientist and co-author of ‘Direct conservation payments in the Brazilian Amazon: scope and equity implications’. ‘And if that achieves the desired emission reductions, perhaps this is a necessary evil.’

The report’s authors suggest that if an estimated US$6 billion was invested in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD, this could halve the forest loss projected between 2008 and 2019 in the Brazilian Amazon at current per ton carbon prices. This could conserve about 12.5 million hectares, an area roughly half the size of Ghana.

Yet the authors also note that, to the extent that direct payments to landowners are implemented with REDD funds, a large share would go to already wealthy owners of large holdings, 100 hectares and larger. These same landholders have been responsible for much of the deforestation in the region. However this is by no means certain. Funds might also be used for related issues such as straightening out ambiguous land tenure and enforcing conservation in already protected areas. 

Worldwide, at least 40 per cent of rainforests have been destroyed in the last 30 years. The Brazilian Amazon is a principal candidate for REDD because most of the globe’s largest remaining rainforest lies in a country with the world’s largest absolute forest loss every year. This is important for climate change because up to one-fifth of annual global carbon emissions come from land use change such as clearing forests for agriculture.

According to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), between 2000 and 2005 roughly 13 million hectares of Brazilian Amazon forest were felled. Reducing the carbon emissions associated with continuing deforestation of this kind may secure important co-benefits such as conserving biodiversity, cultural values, and regional climate regulation, according to the authors.

But the study notes that around two-thirds of future deforestation will take place in areas that have ill-defined or insecure tenure, mainly on unclassified public lands or private land without clear boundaries. Another quarter of future deforestation is projected to occur in strictly protected areas, indigenous territories, sustainable use areas, and land reform settlements.

‘The way the Brazilian government has devised payment schemes for environmental services, payment cannot be used to stop deforestation on illegally appropriated lands, nor on lands where private tenure is disputed,’ says Jan Börner, CIFOR scientist and a co-author of the study. ‘Land-tenure chaos represents the single largest impediment for using on-the-ground payments to implement REDD in Brazil on a large scale.’

Despite the logic of ranking payments according to the scale of deforestation-related threat, general insecurity in the tenure system means funding smallholder-related schemes may often be a safer and more pragmatic short-term bet to pilot carbon reduction payment schemes.

This is because many big players have only shaky tenure claims to the forestlands they operate on, the papers’ authors suggest.

‘Among many large landholders, tenure rights are poorly defined, which is why it will take a while to include them in large-scale REDD+ payment schemes’, says Wunder. ‘Many smallholders live in relatively well-established tenure systems, (and so) may be the first-best entry point for pioneering REDD+ schemes, many of which may also be pro-poor.’

The research was largely funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment with additional support from the German agency for technical cooperation, Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), the European Union, and the Centrum für Internationale Migration und Entwicklung (CIM).

Direct conservation payments in the Brazilian Amazon: Scope and equity implications. Jan Börner, Sven Wunder, Sheila Wertz-Kanounnikoff, Marcos Rügnitz Tito, Ligia Pereira, Nathalia Nascimento. Ecological Economics 69 (2010) 1272–1282.



Extpub | by Dr. Radut