REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries)

By Rhett A. Butler

This article presents the state of REDD+ as of 2012. There are regular updates on REDD+ in the news feed below.

REDD — reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries — is a proposed climate change mitigation mechanism that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing countries to stop cutting down their forests. Tropical deforestation is the source of 12-17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, a share larger than all the world's cars, trucks, ships, planes, and trains combined.

A properly designed REDD mechanism is widely seen as a cost-effective approach to simultaneously conserve forests, slow climate change, protect biodiversity, foster sustainable development, and maintain important ecological services provided by healthy forest ecosystems. The concept of REDD has won support from a wide range of interests, including conservationists, big business, scientists, governments, development agencies, and some environmental and indigenous rights groups. However concerns still remain over how REDD will be implemented and whether benefits will be fairly shared between stakeholders.

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

History of REDD

The concept of REDD is not a new idea. Compensating tropical forest conservation was proposed by environmental scientists in the 1980s and 1990s but it wasn't until the later half of the 1990s that the idea gained much currency at the international level, when it was discussed at various United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) events, including COP3 in Kyoto in 1997. Nevertheless technical concerns and opposition from some environmental groups (led by WWF) resulted in forest conservation being excluded from the Kyoto Protocol by 2001.

The concept of 'avoided deforestation' re-emerged on the international stage in 2005 with the formation of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), a group of tropical countries lobbying for the inclusion of forest conservation as a way to mitigate to climate change. Led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations presented a draft proposal "Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: approaches to stimulate action" at COP11 in Montreal in 2005. Two years of negotiations and technical advancements culminated in the Bali Action Plan of December 2007, which called for "policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries [REDD], and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stock in developing countries." Support for REDD has deepened and broadened since Bali: REDD was one of the only areas of progress during climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Since its inception as "avoided deforestation", the forest protection mechanism has expanded to encompass forest degradation (the second "D" in REDD). It later evolved to include sustainable forest management (i.e. reducing impact logging) and reforestation, becoming known as REDD-plus ("REDD+").

Soy and Chaco forest

Key REDD issues

While there is now substantial support for REDD, many issues remain unsettled, including financing to support the mechanism and provide sufficient economic incentives to stop deforestation; criteria for establishing credible deforestation baselines; technical aspects of monitoring and verifying change in forest cover; concerns over poor governance and illegal logging; international leakage, whereby forest conservation in one country drives deforestation in another; scale of implementation, including the debate over "national" versus "sub-national" projects; equity, including land tenure, ownership, and participation of forest-dependent communities; questions on how to address drivers of deforestation including consumption in rich countries; sustainable forest management (i.e. reduced impact logging) versus protection of primary forests as intact ecosystems; protection of biodiversity and environmental services in non-carbon-rich ecosystems; and controversies over carbon offsets and including forest carbon in market-based trading schemes.

REDD timing

Although an agreement on REDD has still not been signed, projects are already underway in a number of countries and industrialized countries have committed billions of dollars to REDD start-up initiatives via the UN-REDD Programme, the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, and other entities. Once an agreement is finalized, 2013 is the earliest REDD would formally commence, following the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.

REDD Funding

The following overview is from the UN's Reporting REDD.

    Once a system is in place, market-based funding mechanisms such as carbon trading, and private sector involvement, could be introduced. Some proposals back a combination of government and private sector funding.

    Carbon trading is based on the idea that companies and governments may meet targets for reducing their carbon emissions by paying for carbon reductions elsewhere in the global economy instead. REDD could allow credits to be issued which would quantify the amount of carbon saved through 'avoided deforestation' — not cutting trees down. The credits could then be traded on carbon markets.

    An advantage of carbon trading is that it could raise money quickly. A disadvantage is that flooding existing carbon markets with REDD credits could further dilute the already low value of carbon. A low carbon price means there is less incentive for companies to switch to technologies that reduce carbon emissions.

    Developing countries would voluntarily opt in to the REDD mechanism, so for it to work the scheme would have to ensure that there is more money in protecting forests than in logging or agriculture. Because those responsible for commercially driven deforestation often control the forest area in which they operate, they need to be involved in REDD schemes. Typically, this involves paying them to manage the forest sustainably, or at least not to engage in large-scale logging or land conversion. REDD will have to compensate for income lost as a result of stopping forest clearance — known as the 'opportunity cost.' While REDD may be able to match this amount for poor farmers, matching lost income from lucrative agricultural production such as soya and oil palm cultivation or from valuable timber will be very costly. If payments are disrupted, or the amount falls short of the value of the timber in the forest or what could be grown on cleared land, a return to cutting down trees could quickly occur. To avert this problem, REDD would need to ensure a steady flow of funds over long periods. Negotiators concerned that fluctuations in the carbon market would be too erratic advocate a separate REDD fund based on donations from industrialized countries.
Drained, cleared, and burned peat forest in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

REDD Resources

Official documents

Key REDD Programs

Some notable REDD Publications

REDD Glossary

The following overview is from the UN's Reporting REDD.

Extra amount of carbon saved or stored because of projects carried out through climate change agreements.

Baseline or Reference level (RL)
Historical reference point (date or year) against which the rate of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation or forest degradation can be compared.

Carbon rights
The right to use carbon credits or offsets to satisfy limits on greenhouse gas emissions or to reduce penalties for exceeding the limit imposed.

Carbon sink
Ecosystem that accumulates and stores carbon.

Carbon sequestration
Removal of carbon from the atmosphere and storage in carbon sinks through natural or human-induced methods.

Carbon trading
The process of buying and selling carbon credits. Large companies or organizations are assigned targets for the amount of carbon they are allowed to emit. A company that exceeds its target will need to buy carbon credits to offset the extra carbon it has emitted. A company that uses less than its quota can sell surplus credits.

The conversion of forest land to non-forested land through human activity.

Human-induced long-term loss of forest, characterized by the reduction of tree crown cover, but not yet considered as complete deforestation.

Indigenous peoples
Tribe or community native to a particular region and sharing a collective identity who retain some or all of their own social, cultural and political institutions.

Leakage or emissions displacement
When efforts to reduce emissions in one area lead to an increase in carbon emissions in another area.

Obligation on the implementing party to guarantee that the emissions reduction credited in the REDD scheme is permanent.

Actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Payment to emissions reduction projects to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions.

Opportunity cost
The cost of compensating for financial gains from deforestation practices such as logging or agriculture.

The following definitions are from the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The acronym stands for ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation’. This issue was first placed on the agenda of the 2005 international climate change negotiations. At that point the agenda item was called ‘reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries and approaches to stimulate action’. As a result, this is the name of the decision on REDD agreed at the 2007 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bali, Indonesia (decision 2/CP.13). Decision 2/CP.13 acknowledges that forest degradation also leads to emissions and needs to be addressed when reducing emissions from deforestation. The ‘DD’ in REDD now stands for degradation and deforestation.

Along with the separate decision on REDD (see above), REDD is included in the Bali Action Plan (decision 1/CP.13) as a component of enhanced action on mitigation (curbing emissions). Parties to the UNFCCC have agreed to consider policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to REDD in developing countries and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries. It is this last clause on the role of conservation and sustainable management that has added the ‘+’ to the REDD discussion.

REDD baseline
An expected, or business-as-usual, emission of carbon dioxide from deforestation and forest degradation in the absence of additional efforts to curb such emissions — used as a benchmark against which emissions reductions can be measured.

REDD conditions
To deliver real reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, REDD must satisfy the following conditions.

  • additionality - Proof that any reduction in emissions from a REDD project is genuinely additional to reductions that would occur if that project were not in place.
  • no leakage - Leakage is a reduction in carbon emissions in one area that results in increased emissions in another. A classic example is where curbing clearfelling in one region of forest drives farmers to clearfell in another.
  • permanence - The long-term viability of reduced emissions from a REDD project. This is heavily dependent on the forested area's vulnerability to deforestation and/or degradation.



    ‘Non-market’ solutions to deforestation need more support, advocates say (31 May 2024 08:03:54 +0000)
    - In a report released May 29, three environmental groups called for a shift away from carbon markets and toward “non-market” solutions to deforestation.
    - The Paris Agreement has a clause calling for such solutions, which the groups said could include financing for Indigenous groups, payment for ecosystem services, and debt relief.
    - The report criticized carbon markets, saying incentives for brokers and project developers are misaligned with global environmental priorities.

    Are carbon credits another resource-for-cash grab? Interview with Alondra Cerdes Morales & Samuel Nguiffo (22 May 2024 12:29:14 +0000)
    - Indigenous and traditional communities around the world are increasingly being recognized for their stewardship of forests.
    - That’s led to their lands being seen as prime targets for carbon credit projects, the idea being that the carbon sequestered here can be sold to offset emissions elsewhere.
    - While some Indigenous communities have welcomed these projects and the funds they bring in, others say they’re just another example of the monetization of natural resources that’s driving the climate crisis in the first place.
    - Mongabay interviewed two leading Indigenous voices on both sides of the debate, who say the issue is a deeply nuanced one that carries implications for Indigenous land rights, culture and sustainability.

    Sierra Leone cacao project boosts livelihoods and buffers biodiversity (18 Apr 2024 22:26:19 +0000)
    - The Gola rainforest in West Africa, a biodiversity hotspot, is home to more than 400 species of wildlife, including endemic and threatened species, and more than 100 forest-dependent communities living just outside the protected Gola Rainforest National Park and dependent on the forest for their livelihoods.
    - In the last few decades, logging, mining, poaching and expanding agriculture have driven up deforestation rates and habitat loss for rainforest-dependent species, prompting a voluntary REDD+ carbon credit program in 2015 to incentivize conservation and provide alternative livelihoods.
    - One activity under the REDD+ project is shade-grown cacao plantations, which provide a wildlife refuge while generating income for cacao farmers in the region.
    - Independent evaluations have found that the REDD+ program has slowed deforestation, increased household incomes, and avoided 340,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually — all while enjoying support from local communities.

    UN probes controversial forest carbon agreement in Malaysian Borneo (18 Mar 2024 20:01:08 +0000)
    - The government of Sabah state in Malaysian Borneo will continue to move forward with an opaque nature conservation agreement despite concerns raised by the United Nations.
    - In a letter, the U.N. calls in question the transparency of the agreement and the state’s approach to the human rights law principle of free, prior and informed consent.
    - The agreement was signed by state officials and a representative of a Singaporean company in 2021. Shortly after news of the deal became public, some Indigenous groups in the state said they hadn’t been consulted or informed about the deal covering 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) of the state’s forests.
    - The U.N. letter was written by a group of “special procedures experts” with mandates established by the U.N. Human Rights Council, including the special rapporteurs on the rights of Indigenous peoples, on human rights and the environment, and on the right to development.

    New report details rights abuses in Cambodia’s Southern Cardamom REDD+ project (13 Mar 2024 00:01:21 +0000)
    - Human Rights Watch has detailed forced evictions, property destruction and violence against Indigenous communities living within a REDD+ carbon offset project area in southwest Cambodia.
    - Trade of carbon credits from the Southern Cardamom REDD+ project were suspended last year amid similar allegations, and the project’s carbon certifier recently announced it’s expanding its ongoing investigation.
    - Residents told Mongabay that Wildlife Alliance, the NGO that manages the project, has effectively outlawed their traditional methods of farming and livelihood, including restricting their access to sustainable forest products.
    - Wildlife Alliance has denied the allegations, suggesting HRW has an agenda against carbon offsetting projects, but says it’s making improvements in response to the allegations.

    Markets and forests: 7 takeaways from our series on the forest carbon trade (17 Jan 2024 18:59:01 +0000)
    This is the wrap-up article for our five-part series on forest carbon credits and the voluntary market. Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five. Mongabay recently published a five-part series on the carbon trade and its use as a tool to address climate change. The exchange of carbon credits, typically […]

    The future of forest carbon credits and voluntary markets (16 Jan 2024 20:43:38 +0000)
    - Observers predicted that 2023 would be a “make-or-break” year for voluntary carbon markets and “an inflection point” for their role in addressing climate change and global deforestation.
    - Amid criticisms around carbon accounting, carbon neutrality claims, and issues with forest communities, governance bodies say they’ve worked to increase consistency and “integrity” for the voluntary carbon market and specifically the forest conservation strategy known as REDD+.
    - Concerns remain from a variety of observers, including those who say the focus of credit-buying companies should be on eliminating their carbon emissions from across their entire suite of operations.
    - But proponents of markets say that while decarbonizing is absolutely necessary to minimize the rise in global temperatures, the carbon trade allows for the mitigation of pesky residual emissions that it’s either impossible or too expensive to get rid of at this point.

    Leveraging the hypothetical: The uncertain world of carbon credit calculations (12 Jan 2024 18:07:06 +0000)
    - Criticisms of the voluntary carbon trade and forest conservation strategies like REDD+ have centered largely on the carbon accounting methods used to calculate credits.
    - Each credit traded on voluntary markets is supposed to represent the reduction, avoidance or removal of 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
    - But recent science has raised questions about how REDD+ and other types of project figure out the number of tons of emissions saved.
    - The process relies on establishing a baseline rate of deforestation against which a project’s emissions-reducing or -removing success is measured. But critics say the process can be faulty and that the conflicts of interest of the parties involved in setting the baseline have not been addressed until recently.

    ‘Cowboys’ and intermediaries thrive in Wild West of the carbon market (09 Jan 2024 18:22:56 +0000)
    - A host of different players have crowded into the voluntary carbon trade as its value has grown.
    - Motivated by the potential for profit, a concern for climate change or some combination of the two, these companies and organizations link the credits generated by projects, such as those that fit in the forest conservation scheme known as REDD+, with buyers, often companies and individuals in the Global North looking to compensate for their climate impacts.
    - Some groups say they help shoulder the burden of tasks like marketing so that the communities and project staff on the ground can focus on the “change-making work.”
    - But others, sometimes called “carbon cowboys,” seem interested in the money to be made from trading carbon. Some have faced allegations that they don’t bring the necessary expertise to their work, or that they don’t adequately inform local communities about the intended projects and the potential pitfalls.

    How will we know when local communities benefit from carbon offset schemes? (commentary) (05 Jan 2024 19:44:01 +0000)
    - Carbon credit schemes face a crisis of legitimacy and often struggle to demonstrate the support of communities who must forgo land uses not compatible with the production and retention of carbon.
    - At the very least, such projects should not negatively impact affected communities, but community support is also not a simple matter of just obtaining free prior and informed consent (FPIC), but rather it is a matter of building relationships and assessing impacts on communities over the life of such projects, which can span generations.
    - “We have proposed a framework for measuring, assessing, and improving community benefits and impacts from carbon projects [which] includes a subjective data collection survey instrument that measures holistic well-being as a critical measure of community well-being in climate projects,” the authors of a new op-ed write.
    - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

    Do carbon credits really help communities that keep forests standing? (05 Jan 2024 15:51:07 +0000)
    - Communities play a critical role in REDD+, a forest conservation strategy that aims to reduce emissions that can be sold as credits to raise money for forest protection.
    - REDD+ projects often include components for the benefit of the communities, such as a focus on alternative livelihoods and provision of health care and education.
    - But reports that REDD+ communities have faced abuses and rights violations have emerged recently in connection with high-profile REDD+ projects.
    - Several Indigenous-led organizations have voiced their support for REDD+ because, they say, it provides an avenue to fund their climate-related conservation work, while other groups say it’s not the answer.

    Forest carbon credits and the voluntary market: A solution or a distraction? (03 Jan 2024 17:13:21 +0000)
    - Voluntary carbon markets and forest carbon credits have faced widespread criticism that reached a zenith in 2023.
    - Media reports detailed concerns about their dubious climate benefits, respect for communities and land rights, and their use by Global North companies to avoid the difficult task of decarbonizing their operations.
    - Supporters of forest conservation strategies like REDD+ say that they can and should play a role, as healthy forests can absorb a significant amount of atmospheric carbon. They also say REDD+ brings much-needed funding to protect and restore forests, not only for their carbon, but because of the biodiversity and communities they support.
    - As 2023 draws to a close, and with it the U.N. climate conference in Dubai (COP28), proponents of the voluntary carbon trade are working to increase the “integrity” of markets in ways they hope make them a viable tool to deal with climate change.

    The year in rainforests: 2023 (29 Dec 2023 03:26:19 +0000)
    - The following is Mongabay’s annual recap of major tropical rainforest storylines.
    - While the data is still preliminary, it appears that deforestation declined across the tropics as a whole in 2023 due to developments in the Amazon, which has more than half the world’s remaining primary tropical forests.
    - Some of the other big storylines for the year: Lula prioritizes the Amazon; droughts in the Amazon and Indonsia; Indonesia holds the line on deforestation despite el Niño; regulation on imports of forest-risk commodities; an eventful year in the forest carbon market; rainforests and Indigenous peoples; and rampant illegality.

    Indonesia remembers Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, rare policymaker who stood for nature (22 Dec 2023 19:04:49 +0000)
    - Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, a respected Indonesian policymaker and environmentalist, passed away earlier this month, leaving behind a legacy of dedicated and direct leadership.
    - Kuntoro’s lifelong dedication to environmental causes, including his support for Indigenous rights, was rooted in his early years as a nature lover.
    - His former colleagues and collaborators recall Kuntoro’s integrity and commitment to balancing developmental and environmental interests.
    - His ability to find common ground among diverse stakeholders, address challenges with innovative solutions, and emphasize the well-being of Indigenous communities showcased a practical leadership style with a lasting impact.

    New dams in Cambodia pit ‘green’ hydropower against REDD+ project (20 Dec 2023 08:02:32 +0000)
    - The recent approval of two hydropower dams in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains could undermine a REDD+ carbon project in the area.
    - The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project relies on keeping the forests in this region standing — a goal researchers say is “completely incompatible” with the forest clearing and flooding necessitated by the new dams.
    - The lack of transparency inherent in both the carbon market and the Cambodian government means that the fate of the Cardamoms remains unclear for now.

    Indigenous land rights are key to conservation in Cambodia (commentary) (01 Dec 2023 15:29:57 +0000)
    - Indigenous peoples are effective custodians of biodiversity, lands, and seas, while sustaining distinct cultural, social and economic values of their communities.
    - Upholding the legal land rights of these communities is therefore increasingly at the center of international climate and biodiversity commitments and agreements.
    - “Strengthening Indigenous custodianship by expanding, reinforcing, and fully implementing these legal recognitions is essential for the protection of Cambodia’s forests, and would create further confidence among donors and carbon markets that customary rights are being upheld, enabling greater access to finance,” a new op-ed argues.
    - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

    Carbon credit certifier Verra updates accounting method amid growing criticism (28 Nov 2023 12:25:57 +0000)
    - The world’s largest carbon credit certifier, Verra, has overhauled its methods for calculating the climate impacts of REDD projects that aim to reduce deforestation.
    - REDD stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
    - The emissions reductions from these projects can be sold on the voluntary carbon market to individuals and companies, which proponents say provides a vital stream of funding for forest conservation.
    - The update changes the process for calculating deforestation baselines, which help determine how effective a project has been at reducing forest loss and keeping the carbon those trees contain out of the atmosphere.

    How Indigenous peoples and local communities can make the voluntary carbon market work for them (commentary) (27 Nov 2023 15:30:44 +0000)
    - The voluntary carbon market has the potential to address $4.1 trillion in nature financing gap by 2050 and support Indigenous peoples and local communities — when done right, argue a cohort of Indigenous leaders in a new commentary.
    - The voluntary carbon market can work for and support Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPs and LCs), and them for it, but these communities have not been adequately engaged or consulted to participate in this carbon market.
    - The Indigenous leaders announce the new IPs and LCs Voluntary Carbon Market Engagement Forum that is taking shape and will try to address these IPs and LCs’ priorities. The Forum is now coordinating open calls for Governing Board members and Forum partners.
    - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

    U.N. carbon trading scheme holds promise and peril for tropical forests (23 Nov 2023 12:08:21 +0000)
    - Suriname is one of the first countries to announce it aims to use emissions reduction results through a forest conservation scheme known as REDD+ to trade almost 5 million carbon credits underArticle 6 of the Paris Agreement.
    - Article 6 of the agreement establishes a framework for emissions trading through market and non-market mechanisms, which are poised to play a central role in delivering the pledged emissions cuts of many countries.
    - Around 85% of countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement have indicated their intent to use international carbon markets to achieve their updated or new emissions reduction targets.
    - While some experts see Article 6 as a valid way to channel finance into REDD+, others are wary that it could compromise the integrity of the system.

    Jurisdictional REDD+ ready to fund forest-positive, socially-inclusive development in the Amazon and beyond (commentary) (20 Nov 2023 15:10:48 +0000)
    - Jurisdictional REDD+ (JREDD) is designed to fund regional transitions to forest-positive, socially-inclusive rural development. It is fundamentally different than private forest carbon projects, which have come under scrutiny for overstating their climate benefits.
    - JREDD rewards forest carbon emissions reductions already achieved across entire jurisdictions–states and nations–and provides a platform for the full participation of Indigenous peoples, local communities and farmers; it features a leadership role for governments that are becoming more transparent and inclusive in the process.
    - The steep decline in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon means that several states are poised to issue a large volume of high-integrity, verified JREDD credits from 2024 onward. If the demand for these credits is sufficient, sales revenues could help states tame extensive forest frontiers with transparency and accountability, inspiring other regions to do the same.
    - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

    Participants in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility as of 2012
      Argentina, Bolivia, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Congo, Suriname, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.
    For a more current list, see

    UN-REDD Programme - Countries receiving support as of 2012
      Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Tanzania, Viet Nam, and Zambia.
    For a more current list, see