Author: Kelly McManus
Throughout COP15, forests have proven to be the one issue that all negotiating blocs can (at least generally) agree upon. As we arrive at the end of the this historic meeting, a global deal on climate stands on shaky grounds but REDD+ remains stable, shaping up to be quite possibly, the single success story of the COP.
We may argue that REDD+ without broader emissions targets will fail to create net emissions reductions, and that further warming is a major threat to forests regardless. These are valid points that must be addressed. But nevertheless, late last night a REDD+ text was agreed to by negotiators to hopefully be signed today by the heads of state. As one of the delegates of the contact party on REDD+ said of coming out of the session last night, “Compared to everything else, the REDD text is on schedule. Last night the contact groups reported back and you could almost detect the classroom envy as we were the goody two-shoes who handed in the assignment on time. There was a sense of history that this is finally when REDD became real.”
Why has REDD+ succeeded where everything else has failed? Perhaps it has to do with the incentives, local to global, to maintain forests. Perhaps it is the “+”-the fact that, beyond functioning as carbon sinks and stores, forests provide essential co-benefits including biodiversity, regional water cycling, cultural identity, and local livelihoods. A carbon-centric view of forests might deem REDD+ in the absence of broader targets a failure, but it is only in taking a larger, holistic view of forests that REDD+ could have made it this far. REDD+ has gotten the incentives right for the countries who needed to agree to it, and thus stands poised to become the largest coordinated effort to stop deforestation the world has seen.
The outcome of the rest of the day is, of course, of critical importance to the fate of the forests and the fate of, well, our world. It is perhaps too soon to celebrate this small victory, and the larger and more ominous context of a failed global treaty in which this small victory may occur must not be disregarded. Efficient, equitable, and fair implementation will be challenging, and long term finance must be secured. But I’d like to think that forests everywhere just breathed out a long, oxygen-filled, sigh of relief.