REDD is controversial: some consider it essential to halt deforestation in forest rich developing countries, others, a danger to biodiversity, indigenous communities and carbon markets. A view from Mexico shows that REDD is not a panacea to solve deforestation and yet, at least in the case of Mexico, it may be able to contribute to existing programmes that strengthen sustainable (community) forest management.
An approximated 70 – 80% of Mexican forests are ejidos, i.e. under communal management. The economic reforms under President Salinas strengthened property rights of ejidos, yet, given strict land use regulations, communities have very little possibility to gain incomes from forestry related activities, not to mention conservation. Thus, the opportunity cost to leave forests standing is too high for many of the impoverished forest communities and (illegal) land conversion for agricultural purposes is one of the main causes of deforestation according to one of the latest reports of the National Forest Commission (CONAFOR).
But the problem is much more complex: deforestation is not just driven by economic need, but also economic greed (illegal logging (supposedly responsible for 25% of deforestation) and tourism developments), public infrastructure development (from highways to oil drilling), forest fires, activities of drug cartels, local power conflicts and unsustainable ideas of economic modernization (these complexities are very well described in an article of the World Rainforest Movement on the devastating forest fires of 1998).
Ejidos although legally holding titles to the land, have lost power over how to manage their resources. Either they convert the forest to productive use (e.g. agriculture) or somebody else will come and do it, in the best case, paying them some sort of compensation, in the worst case, murdering those that try to cling to their land or protect the forest.
In this scenario, REDD earnings could support existing programmes to a) decrease the opportunity costs of conserving forests; b) do justice to communities who protect their forests and pay for their conservation of environmental services; and c) support government and communities in fighting against illegal land conversion and deforestation.
But it will probably not be able to do much more than that, as a little back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests. Mongabay, a site that “seeks to raise interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife” calculates that Mexico could earn some USD70 million for a 10% reduction in deforestation (using an optimistic price of USD30 per ton of CO2 reduced). According to their calculations, this would equal a return of USD2,100 (!) per hectare of reduced deforestation.
BUT what does one hectare of reduction in deforestation imply ? (that is what Mongabay does not calculate).
Mexico’s National Forest Commission (CONAFOR) estimated in a presentation on Mexico’s advances in preparing for REDD (June 2008) that one hectare of reduction in deforestation requires 180 hectares under sustainable forest management and 150 hectares under conservation. Consequently, the various government programmes that are expected to cover almost 20 million hectares of forest between 2007 and 2012 will yield an estimated reduction in deforestation of 310,000 hectares. If REDD pays only for actual reduction in deforestation the per hectare value of REDD earnings -considering the entire forest area under sustainable management and conservation- will only yield: USD34 (not including transaction costs for project development, verification, monitoring, etc). That is maybe better than nothing, it might even be more than what some farmers earn from small scale farming activities, yet, it will not be enough to keep private interests at bay.
Thus, REDD alone will not solve deforestation. However, given that Mexico has created a strong legal and regulatory framework and is working on expanding its market incentives for sustainable forest management, REDD could provide financial support to strengthening these efforts.