Blog Post

Is The Recent Increase In Deforestation A Threat To REDD?

Jun 9, 2011 | Anne Riddle

While international efforts to curb deforestation have been on the rise, recent reports of an increase in deforestation in Brazil, and the signing of Indonesia’s logging moratorium commitment have brought attention squarely back to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

At first blush, these news items seem straightforward, but deeper reading of the activity in these two countries reveals a more complex picture. While news of renewed deforestation in the Amazon seems bleak, Brazil’s swift response is heartening for REDD+ supporters, while Indonesia’s logging moratorium reveals significant weaknesses likely to undermine its effectiveness. Comparing the two unearths many of the issues REDD+ has struggled with since the beginning.

According to newly released satellite images from The National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Brazil’s space research institute, deforestation in the Amazon increased from 103 sq km (39 sq miles) in March and April of 2010 to 593 sq km in the same period of 2011 - nearly a sixfold increase. Much of this deforestation has been centered in Mato Grosso, a center of soy farming in Brazil. Commentators think the recent upswing in Brazilian deforestation relates to renewed global demand for soy and beef and to recent debates in Brazil about relaxing existing laws on forest protection. While INPE has been quiet on relative causality, upticks in deforestation could easily be attributed to both, and it’s not likely a coincidence that the upswing corresponds with recovery from the global recession.

Evidence of higher deforestation rates in such a key tropical forest country may drive future international negotiations, but equally important is the speed of Brazil’s response. Brazil has announced the creation of a task force composed of national and state-level environmental agencies, the Federal Police, and the National Public Security Force aimed at keeping deforestation rates in the Amazon under control through strengthened monitoring and enforcement initiatives. Brazil’s highly ambitious goal of curbing deforestation rates by July suggests a real sense of urgency and commitment to reducing deforestation for climate-related reasons alone—a very positive step from one of the largest tropical forest countries.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="560" caption="Forest Carbon Index: The geography of forests in climate solutions"][/caption]

Meanwhile, last May, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree authorizing a two-year moratorium on new logging concessions in virgin forests, as part of their $1 billion bilateral agreement with Norway to slow tropical deforestation.

On paper, the moratorium represents a big step forward for bilateral REDD+, as it represents progress in one of the largest REDD+ flagship programs. The agreement was meant to take place in January, but was delayed by Indonesia’s oil palm and paper lobbies, which fought to limit the moratorium to primary forests only. The months of hard lobbying appear to have been successful, and the final agreement has been a disappointment for many who hoped it would extend strong protection on forests.

The moratorium itself contains some serious inconsistencies and exclusions that may undermine the quantity of greenhouse gas reductions. Serious differences exist in the restricted forest areas identified by the text of the moratorium versus the government of Indonesia’s map, which was not created in a transparent way. Furthermore, it seems clear at this stage that the area of forest protected is far less than the area left unprotected. The moratorium’s focus on primary forests will limit emissions reductions by excluding extremely important, carbon-rich secondary forests. Indonesia has also granted extensions to permits given “in principle” by the forestry ministry to the energy, rice, and sugar sectors—key industries that sustained Indonesia’s economy throughout the recession. These issues will seriously limit GHG gains from the moratorium and highlight critical issues and tensions inherent to reducing deforestation across tropical forest countries.

Despite all the uncertainties in the moratorium, it should still be seen as a positive step forward. Jonathan Barratt, managing director of Commodity Broking Service in Sydney, said of the moratorium "There are a lot of exclusions there but there is a conscience. It gives the basis from which they can build on to reduce their emissions."

Analysts have mentioned that this moratorium should be seen as “breathing space” to provide time for Indonesia to correct data deficiencies and plan next steps, while taking advantage of some low-cost opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the map is intended to be revised after six months, such inconsistencies with the text of the moratorium would seem to be high priorities. Greater transparency in the map creation techniques would probably increase global confidence in the efficacy of the moratorium itself. Progress on REDD has been slowed by unresolved questions related to monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV). The necessity of transparent, high-quality monitoring to the Indonesian moratorium further underscores the importance of establishing robust, achievable standards.

The moratorium represents the most progress bilateral REDD+ initiatives have shown in recent memory that will likely increase confidence in other countries considering bilateral agreements. This, coupled with Brazil’s exceedingly rapid response to new information about deforestation rates, suggests that REDD+ has legs in the developing world even when international negotiations stall. Forward motion from these two extremely important REDD+ countries can encourage further confidence in action on deforestation, whether bilateral or unilateral, and result in GHG emissions reductions in the absence of an international agreement.