The United Nations and project REDD*

Summer Wyatt-Buchan assesses the impact of the United Nation’s REDD programme and what it means for reforestation.

*REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)

Original Artwork by Elena Kostanty

The work of the United Nations REDD programme has been crucial for the growth and preservation of forestry within developing countries. Launched in 2008 this organisation is celebrating over ten years of success; having recruited sixty five countries to benefit from the scheme with the aim of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing nations.

Deforestation is defined as the purposeful clearing of forested land; more often than not this process is carried out in order to free up space for agricultural purposes such as food growth and grazing or to acquire wood for construction, fuel and industry. Unfortunately, this loses the lasting importance of living trees in exchange for a short-term gain. Although forests cover 30% of the worlds land masses, we have lost more than 1.3 million square kilometres of forest since 1990. This is an area larger than the size of South Africa and is just another example of how humanity has exploited the Earths’ resources for personal gain. The Amazon rainforest is becoming the latest victim to deforestation, with rates of destruction increasing in recent years; approximately 17% of this forest has been destroyed since the 1950s.

Forests are worth more alive than dead

The executive director of the UN Environment Programme

Trees are valuable for a multitude of reasons. Importantly, they absorb carbon dioxide and store carbon which slows the rate of global warming. Without trees the hazardous gases that anthropogenic activities produce would remain in the atmosphere for longer, increasing the global issue of climate change. Especially, as each individual tree is capable of absorbing 1.7 kilos of pollutants annually, it means that each time a tree get cut down we remove an environmentally friendly filter. Evidence from a recent study shows that tropical tree cover can supply 23% of the climate mitigation required over the next ten years in order to meet the Paris Agreement goals outlined in 2015.

Over 50% of deforestation occurs as a result of animal grazing, farming, drilling and mining; wildfires, urbanization and forestry practises can be held accountable for the remaining percentage. In Nigeria, where the deforestation rates are one of the highest in the world, subsistence agriculture and the collection of wood for fuel are the main causes whereas in Columbia rates of deforestation are increasing primarily because of illegal mining, hydroelectricity, droughts and for production of cocaine.  Palm oil plants are equally accountable for destruction of forests, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Logging operations are also to blame for the loss of hundreds of thousands of trees per annum. In Russia for example, more trees are destroyed than replanted and over one third of logging operations are thought to be illegal. Russia is the largest exporter of timber and due to the silence surrounding the illegality of their process, it is said to be the largest hidden deforestation globally. Overall, deforestation is caused by factors that vary across differing geographical regions.

The United Nations REDD programme was designed to reduce the emissions that result from deforestation and degradation in developing countries and lead to similar outcomes such as the ones experienced within Nigeria and Columbia. The programme consists of four intersecting themes which have been chosen to ensure successful outcomes: forest governance, tenure security, gender equality and stakeholder engagement.

Forest governance refers to the global, national and local response concerning responsibility across a wide range of sectors which also includes overseeing the arrangements, processes, policies, actors and decisions involved in the implementation of REDD strategies. Tenure security covers the production of clear and concise tenure rights (specific to forests) with the knowledge that legitimate understanding could motivate individuals to sustainably cope with forest management. This would consequently reduce emissions to achieve the goals outlined by the Paris agreement in 2015. Each country where UN-REDD is active will have their own unique tenure agreement specific to individual issues. Furthermore, gender equality is vital for reaching sustainable development, therefore UN-REDD prioritises ensuring that their involvement is gender-responsive both theoretically and literally for both women and men. By achieving gender equality UN-REDD is empowering formerly marginalised individuals with a strong voice. Finally, stakeholder engagement means to amalgamate and shape partnerships considering all the perspectives of actors involved in UN-REDD.  The purpose of these four themes is to ensure that UN-REDD is
long-lasting and transformational in its work.

Nigeria is a developing nation with less than 10% forested land. The UN-REDD programme has been active there since February 2010. The methods used are particularly unique to Nigeria because it is an entirely community-based response. This management technique encourages biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, forest management and the use of sustainable energy alternatives. Approximately 50% of Nigeria’s remaining forests are located at Cross River State, this is where the programme is based and over 300 local family units across twenty one communities have benefited from this programme so far. The purpose of the community-based approach is to revitalise local forest management and conservation techniques while at the same time improving local livelihoods.

Inhabitants local to the Cross River State participated in fighting deforestation by developing sustainable management plans and undertaking reforestation and enrichment planting. The empowerment of women has been vital in the country’s success. For example, women have been included in the new techniques surrounding sustainable growth of cocoa and communities now have semi-mechanised equipment allowing women to produce cassava flour at home; accomplishing in two days what usually takes a week. Mangroves have also been targeted for revitalisation and growth. Over 5 hectares have been rehabilitated already which has positive implications for sustainable fishing and fuelwood. By involving the UN-REDD volunteers’ local household income has increased by at least 10% in some communities.

Panama is another developing nation working alongside the UN REDD programme.  50% of Panama is covered by forests. One third of the forested area belongs to indigenous populations so UN REDD joined forces with the indigenous communities to oversee the forests using advanced technology such as drones. The management of Panama relies heavily on local knowledge due to the vast nature of the land which is why the participation of local communities is so valuable. In early 2016 volunteers from each tribe acquired the knowledge that equipped them with the capability to pilot drones, design flight plans and generate detailed maps of tribal lands using aerial data. Drones are important for sustainable management, they allow for crop monitoring, early detection of forest fires and quick identification of illegal logging and mining. They’re also particularly useful for sustainable management here because for half of the year it is not possible to carry out any ground surveys due to intense rainfall. Overall, UN REDD assisted Panama in achieving their goal of expanding carbon absorption in its forests by 10%. This programme has also improved community-based management and improved independent decision making.

If tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank third in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, only behind China and the United States of America

World Resources Institute

8% of global emissions come from tree loss and deforestation. If this is prevented the same trees are able to provide 23% of the filtration we need to combat climate change by 2030. Newly developing countries such as Nigeria and Panama are struggling to meet their required emission standards and require international help. By managing forests, mangroves and peatlands it is possible to meet the goals outlined in the Paris agreements but to do so we must join forces and acknowledge the problems that deforestation creates, working together to reduce the worlds emissions. The work that the UN REDD programme does is vital to changing the global future and having 65 partner countries is exceptional. However, this is only the beginning to decades of necessary forest restoration and climate mitigation.

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