Building Natural Capital – How REDD+ Can Support a Green Economy (2014)


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Forests and the services that they provide are key to sustainable development and to human well-being, whether in terms of storing carbon, supporting the world’s richest bank of terrestrial biodiversity, regulating water flows, reducing soil erosion, or providing a source of nutrition, timber and valuable genetic resources. The ecosystem service value of tropical forests is estimated at US$6,120 per hectare per year, while the cost of losing forests at the current pace amounts to US$2.5 trillion per year, if all ecosystem services were accounted for. Despite this clear macro-economic case, the total yearly forest loss averages about 13 million hectares per year - representing the surface of one football field of forest being destroyed every three seconds. This continued loss and degradation of forests represents a massive market and policy failure.

The United Nations approach for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was strengthened in 2008 with the addition of sustainable management of forests and conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks to the scope of activities. This expanded approach is known as REDD+. With the adoption of the ‘rulebook’ for implementation of REDD+ in 2013 at the 19th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, REDD+ is gaining momentum and seeks to attract more public and private investments.

This latest report from the International Resource Panel, on the current status and future potential of REDD+, describes the many benefits of forests and other ecosystems as a way of demonstrating that forests have multiple values beyond carbon sequestration and indeed are a foundation for sustainable societies.

In doing so it provides a summary of the elements necessary for integrating REDD+ into a Green Economy, providing policymakers with innovative ideas for supporting economic development while maintaining or increasing forest cover. Those promoting a Green Economy can see how REDD+ can add important momentum to their efforts, especially complimenting pro-poor strategies. Business leaders will learn how REDD+ and the Green Economy can improve investment conditions, leverage their investments, and ultimately increase long-term returns on investments. Students and the general public will increase their understanding of why REDD+ and the Green Economy together provide a new pathway to sustainable development that benefits all countries.

The report advocates placing REDD+ into a larger landscape-scale planning framework that can, and should, involve multiple sectors (especially those that are driving deforestation, sometimes inadvertently). This would go beyond forests to also serve the needs of energy, water resources, agriculture, finance, transport, industry, trade, cities, and ultimately all sectors of a modern economy. REDD+ would thereby add value to the many other initiatives that are being implemented within these sectors. No longer simply an intriguing pilot effort, REDD+ would take its place as a critical element in a green economy.

Reflecting on the efforts already underway in some countries, the report closes by suggesting some of the next steps in what will surely be a long process of societies adapting to new conditions: REDD+ will need to be part of the social response to increasing agricultural and forestry outputs to meet future needs, while at the same time enhancing conservation of forests and ecosystem services.

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