REDD+: Protecting tropical forests on a large scale

Reducing deforestation by increasing the economic value of living forests

  • 1/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions come from forests, agriculture, and other land-use activities from 2008-2017.1
  • 63.7 million hectares of tropical forests were lost from 2002-2020, an area near the size of France.2

The process of cutting and burning trees adds as much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere as all the cars and trucks in the world combined.3 Therefore, any realistic plan to sufficiently reduce GHG emissions to prevent global warming from reaching catastrophic levels must include eliminating the loss of tropical forests within the next decade.

Forests provide the Earth's climate with critical stability through carbon storage, as well as rainfall and climate regulation, at local and regional scales. Unfortunately, forests today are worth more dead than alive. The exploitation of the tropical forests for timber, pasture, cropland, mining, and land grabbing is contributing significantly to climate change, jeopardizing indigenous peoples' land, and wiping out biodiversity in the Amazon and other rainforests.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we want to transform the profit equation by creating economic value for healthy, living forests and the communities that protect and depend on them. Our goal is to continue advancing a global policy framework we helped pioneer, known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, or REDD+, particularly at the national or state level.

Benefits of REDD+

REDD+ policies provide important economic incentives for forest conservation. EDF's economic and policy analyses demonstrate that REDD+ produces the following benefits:

  • Cuts carbon emissions substantially right away. With the right economic incentives for forest protection, deforestation can be reduced drastically in the short term. The world's sixth largest overall emitter, Brazil, has from 2006 to 2016 reduced emissions resulting from deforestation to an amount equivalent to a year's worth of emissions from the entire European Union.
  • Enables greater climate ambition. Since protecting tropical forests is such a large source of relatively low-cost mitigation potential, REDD+ represents the single largest opportunity to increase the current level of global climate ambition through the use of international carbon markets. Protecting and restoring tropical forests is indispensable to ensuring Paris-aligned climate ambition and offers trillions of dollars of potential return on global climate investments.
  • Ensures high-integrity emissions reductions. REDD+ reductions at the national or state level, known as jurisdictional REDD+ (read more below), align with international frameworks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Jurisdictional REDD+ provides the strongest assurance of environmental integrity because it enables systemic policy and institutional changes and is tied to large-scale performance in reducing emissions in absolute terms, which can be monitored and verified with remote sensing.
  • Supports indigenous and other forest peoples' struggles to protect their forests & resources, and helps to develop income alternatives that allow these communities access to markets and technology without destroying their forests. Indigenous and local peoples have rights to half the Amazon, and similar proportions of other tropical forests. Recognizing, respecting, and defending their rights and territories is the best way to achieve large-scale forest protection.
  • Protects unique ecosystems. Since tropical forests are home to at least half of all land flora and fauna, deforestation threatens the biological diversity of the entire world.

National- and state-level REDD+

In a jurisdictional REDD+ program, a country or large subnational jurisdiction that commits to reducing deforestation below an established baseline would receive payments for verified emissions reductions through carbon markets or other pay-for-performance systems. Requiring a national baseline eliminates the shortcomings experienced in a handful of local one-off forest projects. Independent satellite observations and spot ground inspections of forested areas would reliably verify that the performance is in fact being met.

Jurisdictional programs are those that correspond to the boundaries of a political jurisdiction, typically either a nation or state, and in some cases Indigenous territories. Governments, unlike private landowners, can implement policy and work across large-scale geographies, which greatly facilitates achieving real, verifiable, and permanent emissions reductions from protecting forests.

Jurisdictional REDD+ programs are getting off the ground around the world. The governing Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) — the United Nations agency that sets standards for global aviation — recently approved jurisdictional REDD+ credits for airlines to use under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), marking the first time REDD+ credits have been approved for use within a global compliance carbon market system.

We have partners and staff working in Brazil to help develop a jurisdictional approach there, including by piloting a program known as CONSERV to demonstrate how incentives can be efficiently channeled to farmers on the ground. To jumpstart a large-scale market, we helped to establish Emergent, a non-profit market intermediary, which guarantees demand and facilitates transactions of jurisdictional REDD+ credits. To further increase demand, EDF, the United Nations REDD+ Programme, Emergent, and partners launched the Green Gigaton Challenge, which aims to scale high-integrity tropical forest carbon credit transactions to at least a billion tons of annual emissions reductions by 2025.

Indigenous peoples and REDD+

Central to the success of REDD+ are the Indigenous communities who inhabit and protect much of the world's tropical forested area. Their livelihoods and cultures are put at risk when forests are destroyed, so they have a great deal to gain from the REDD+ approach.

As stewards of their lands, indigenous peoples must not only play an active role in developing and implementing REDD+ programs but must also receive a significant share of benefits from these initiatives.

Media contact

Raul Arce Contreras (212) 616-1428 (office)
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  1. IPCC, 2019: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.-O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.)]. In press. (hyperlink to report)
  2. Global Forest Watch. 2021. World Resources Institute. Accessed on 4/16/2021.
  3. Environmental Protection Agency Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.