REDD+ is not a viable concept of emission reductions in the climate change regime

Climate change has become one of the most defining problems the global community is facing in the twenty-first-century and puts at risk the future of mankind and planet earth. The forest sector has been recognized as one of the major drivers of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCC, 2014) reported that forest loss accounts for 24% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions (see annex 1). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the Copenhagen Accord also reaffirmed the urgent need for reducing emissions from deforestation through REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus).

What is REDD+ really all about? According to UN-REDD Programme (2016), “REDD+ is a mechanism developed by Parties to the UNFCCC to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests by offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development”. It is actually not only formulated to reduce the emissions from deforestation, but also to yield multiple benefits which include better protection of biodiversity, soil, water, reducing poverty and improving forest governance (Brown, Seymour, & Peskett, 2008). Nevertheless, the implementation of REDD+ poses many serious problems, particularly to the indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities whose basic survival, sources of income, tradition and culture rely heavily on forest resources. This essay will put forward arguments to prove that REDD+ brings more harm than good and is not a viable climate change mitigation strategy. In grounding the prima facie case, this essay focuses on four major areas of concern surrounding REDD+, including environmental, economic, political problems, and its implications on the rights of indigenous people and forest-dependent communities.


It is often argued that REDD+ will help to prevent the significant source of carbon emissions and reduce other environmental and social problems induced by deforestation (Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, 2015). It is believed to be the most effective way of dealing with the forest loss and the UN-REDD Programme (2016) claims that it is not only limited to the extent of deforestation and forest degradation, but also comprises the role of conservation, sustainable forests management and intensification of forest carbon stocks. However, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (2011) reported that REDD+ programmes do not tackle the major drivers of deforestation results such as logging, agriculture, and mining and will not yield long-term results. Developed countries, under REDD+ scheme, are basically not cutting down on their emissions. Global warming, therefore, will prolong and inevitably destruct and completely eliminate forests (Goodman, 2010).

Furthermore, Kolinjivadi (2015) maintains that carbon offset from trees is different from preventing the extraction of fossil fuels in the ground due to the unstable nature of trees. They only serve as temporary repertories of sequestered carbon since they will eventually release the carbon into the atmosphere. The absence of robust fire prevention systems may also ruin all efforts and capital invested for conserving the forest. Guido van der Werf from Global Fire Emissions Database reported that Indonesia’s emissions from forest fire exceed those of daily US economy (see annex 2); the US economy is 20 times greater than Indonesia’s. He also stressed that 3 three-week forest fires in Indonesia have surpassed Germany’s total annual CO2 emissions (Harris, Minnemeyer, Stolle, & Payne, 2015). This signifies that offsetting carbon through forest conservation is very vulnerable particularly in tropical developing countries.

Moreover, current best practices in California show that harvested and regenerated forests will provide roughly 30% more total carbon offset benefits than forests left to grow for an equal time (Stewart & Sharma, 2015). It proves that REDD+ does not necessarily play a significant role in the emission reduction compared with sustainable forest practices.


REDD+ has become a promising financial instrument for some developing countries. It offers an additional funding to support sustainable forest management and to boost their development plans and poverty alleviation strategies (Kanninen, Brockhaus, Murdiyarso, & Nabuurs, 2010). As UN-REDD asserts, “developing countries would receive results-based payments for results-based actions under REDD+ scheme”. Jindal et. al. (2008) also emphasize that local communities can benefit from carbon offset projects in the form of cash payment and access to Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) generated through forestry activities.

Many studies, however, have found that there are some gaps inhabiting the achievement of this goal. Gritten et al. (2013), for instance, claim there are commonly unclear or inequitable benefit distribution from forest management. This has been one major cause leading to the failure of REDD+ to contribute to economic development. In Mozambique, for example, under the Envirotrade’s N’hambita Community Carbon Project, farmers only receive an annual payment of $63 per household and bound by a 99 year-contract (No REDD in Africa Network, 2015). In line with this, Brown (2008) affirms that the commercialization of forest land under REDD+ may provoke the government and commercial interest to monopolize the profit from carbon rights and neglect the rights of indigenous people to generate financial benefit from forest preservation. Not to mention the prevalence of corruption in developing countries of which will most likely jeopardize its implementation. These will aggravate rural poverty since most indigenous people rely on forest products for their long-term survival.

Moreover, the role of forests in the economy of developing countries and the extent to which forest protection should be subsidized to provide environmental services remain contentious (Luttrell, Resosudarmo, Muharrom, Brockhaus, & Seymour, 2012). It remains a concern whether REDD+ can align with the economic agenda of developing countries. In Indonesia, for example, although it has strong rhetorical presidential backing during President Susilo’s leadership, this might contradict with the current economic development plan since the ruling president, Joko Widodo, has set a considerably high-target for annual economic growth by 7%. The Ministry of Forestry of Indonesia also suggests that moratorium might risk a loss of US$3 billion in revenue (Burhani, 2011). Hence, the transition to a low-emissions development in a developing country like Indonesia might be unrealistic.

Human Rights: Indigenous People and Forest-dependent Communities

From the human rights perspective, REDD+ recognizes the need to take into account the rights, knowledge, and involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities (Raftopoulos, 2016). Some successful stories have been identified such as the Oddar Meanchey project in Cambodia, which helped some communities benefit from new decentralization reforms and gain rights to manage community forests (Lawlor, Madeira, Blockhus, & Ganz, 2013). Indigenous People’s Alliance (AMAN) also expressed its expectation that REDD+ in Indonesia will serve as a platform to reinforce indigenous peoples rights to land titling (Pye, 2012). What happens on the ground is somehow paradoxical. There have been breaches of the protection of human rights related to land and property rights, exclusion from their native land and/or territory, unfairness of financial distribution, and loss of social and cultural life of indigenous people.

First of all, land tenure security and the eviction of indigenous people in many parts of the world have become prevalent as repercussions of REDD+ projects. The Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon found out that the REDD readiness proposals (RPP) failed to substantially address land rights, indigenous territory, and land tenure needs (Brettonwoods Project, 2011). Far worse, in Uganda, over 22,000 peasants, some with land tenures were forcedly evicted from the Mubende and Kiboga districts to open up a way for a UK-based New Forests Company to operate (No REDD in Africa Network, 2015). This is a substantial violation of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous people that has seriously taken into account the right of indigenous people to their land and access to it. As stated in Article 26 of the declaration, “Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use” (United Nation, 2007).

Lack of awareness, understanding and the absence of consent from the indigenous people and local communities add to common breaches in the implementation of REDD+ worldwide. Indigenous people are very vulnerable due to lack of lands and resources security governance systems that do not recognize their institutions and customary law, limited access to information, poverty, and inadequate and ineffective participation in decision-making processes stipulating the plans for climate change mitigation and adaptation to be implemented on their areas (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2010). In fact, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the Cancun Agreement[1], acknowledged the need to ensure full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, particularly indigenous peoples and local communities (Gritten et al., 2013) . Birrel (as cited in Raftopoulos, 2016), however, argues “the agreement does not provide a specific legal mechanism through which to achieve these rights and there is still no agreement on the inclusion of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC[2])”. A study case conducted by Granda (2005) in Ecuador shows that the indigenous people and local communities were never properly informed by the carbon forestry company regarding actual cash payment they will earn, social and economic risks, possible costs, and their legal liability under the project. What is more, they have not been advised of how the certified carbon credits work in order to generate income. As regards this issue, Patel et al. (2013) emphasize that the failure to ensure social safeguards such as FPIC, could make REDD+ a course of conflict.

An important matter that is sometimes missed in the discussion on REDD+ is how it affects the social and cultural life of indigenous people and local communities. Corpuz et al. (2008) contend that preserving forest for carbon offset and trading does not only hamper the indigenous people’s access to the forest, but also may prevent them from practicing their traditional or customary system in forest management. Based on the author’s experience working for an REDD+ project in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, the indigenous people (the Dayaks[3]) and local communities are prohibited from practicing their shifting agriculture system in the project sites because it involves the slash and burn method for land clearance. Such restrictions can also lead to a loss of cultural heritages for some ethnic groups who use the forest for traditional ceremony and ritual purposes.

[1] The Cancun Agreements ”a set of significant decisions by the international community to address the long-term challenge of climate change collectively and comprehensively over time and to take concrete action now to speed up the global response” (UNFCCC, 2010).

[2] FPIC: “a system to strengthen social equity in resource management by requiring consent from indigenous and/or local communities prior to actions that affect their land and resource rights” (Nery et al., 2013).

[3] Dayaks: the native people of Borneo.


Developing countries where REDD+ is expected to bring substantial carbon emission reductions tend to have complex democratization and decentralization conditions with serpentine political economies surrounding forests (Luttrell et al., 2012) . Hence, the establishment of national bodies for the reforms and associated institutions has become a defining challenge. REDD+ requires a strong consensus among political elites and the broader public over its implications for the domestic economy. Rai (2009) argues that many REDD+ projects are managed by governments, large non-government organizations and international agencies which may use a top-down management approach. This system can lead to unfair benefit distribution and Indigenous people would have limited access to the cash benefit generated from their work in protecting forest and biodiversity. This complex political scenario may potentially lead to corruption, elite captures, and unscrupulous corporation. In 2012, Vía Campesina declared its opposition to REDD+ activities taking place in the Lacandón jungle in Chiapas, Mexico, because it leads to appropriation, commodification, and control of the natural resources on indigenous and peasant lands (Lang, 2012).

The credits derived from carbon sequestration basically serve as “rights to emit” — a reward for conserving forest in developing countries. The polluting companies or countries, who have been accountable for the majority of carbon emissions as of today, suddenly have the “right” to continue burning fossil fuels and releasing CO2 as before (Kolinjivadi, 2015). This might be considered a hidden agenda to dominate global economy by the first world countries and lead to widening gap between rich and poor countries. Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project, stressed that “REDD is being pushed as a way for industries and Northern countries, industrialized nations, to avoid actually reducing their emissions at the source. Countries and companies can therefore continue polluting by claiming they are protecting forests somewhere else that will supposedly sequester the carbon that they released into the atmosphere” (as cited in Goodman, 2010). Some critics have gone as far as labelling REDD+ as “CO2lonialism”, claiming that REDD+ is a tool to benefit developed countries at the expense of developing countries (Srivastava, 2011).


While the international climate change mitigation strategy such as REDD+ may be a stepping stone for countries of the world to address the issue of climate change, it has been proven an ineffective scheme for a number of reasons. Firstly, REDD+ fails to tackle the major driver of emissions such as industrial sector in developed countries and developing countries with emerging economy such as China, India and Russia. There also seems to be inadequate understanding of the vulnerable nature of forests as carbon sequester. Besides, it also fails to acknowledge the roles and flaws of forest in the global economic development, where there is a positive correlation between economic growth and the increasing rate of deforestations and forest degradation. Furthermore, REDD+ has disadvantaged indigenous peoples including land and property rights, eviction from their native lands, unfair benefit distribution, and loss of social and cultural life of indigenous people. The international government should learn not to see forests merely as carbon storage, but as diverse, complex and interdependent ecosystems. The following recommendations should be taken into account for a better future of climate change mitigation strategy;

1. The UNFCCC should change their direction in the climate change mitigation framework. Countries should focus on reducing domestic carbon emissions rather than offsetting carbon through forest conservation;

2. Developed countries need to make a genuine reduction of their own emissions;

3. States need to carry out consultations with indigenous peoples at all levels (grassroots, national and international) and ensure that their traditions, customs, views and concerns are respected and taken into account, especially in pilot areas and in the formulation of National REDD+ and other possible climate change mitigation strategies;

4. The formulation of REDD+ and other climate change mitigation strategies should employ a bottom-up and not a top-down approach. Otherwise, any proposed strategies will not only fail but will also cause more conflicts, marginalization and impoverishment of indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities who are very vulnerable and exposed directly to the impacts of climate change.


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