background image

Breaking down REDD+: definitions and issues

author image

By illuminem

· 5 min read

This article is part of illuminem's Carbon Academy, the ultimate free and comprehensive guide on key carbon concepts  

1. Introduction

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a type of avoidance/reduction carbon offset aimed at mitigating climate change by addressing deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. REDD+ is one of the main nature-based solutions aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the credits produced from REDD projects are traded in the Voluntary Carbon Market

One of the key objectives of REDD+ is to promote sustainable forest management practices that enhance carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and community livelihoods. 

2. Current use

Nature-based solutions (NBS) constitute the largest proportion of carbon credits available in the VCM. REDD+ stands out as the most significant project type within the nature-based project category. As of 2022, the volume of REDD credits issued on Voluntary Carbon Markets (VCMs) reached nearly 400 million, constituting a remarkable one-quarter of all voluntary credits ever issued. This underscores REDD+'s pivotal role as the single largest source of credits in terms of project type, as shown in the infographic below.

source: Berkeley Voluntary Registry Offsets Database, data up until November 2022

3. Challenges and flaws

Let us now examine some of the main challenges and flaws that REDD+ projects may incur:

  • Baseline assessment issues: In order to ensure that one carbon credit corresponds to 1 ton of CO2 reduced or removed, we have to know how many tons of emissions are reduced by the REDD+ project. The baseline represents the expected level of greenhouse gas emissions without the implementation of a specific carbon project. The baseline thus serves as a touchstone against which any carbon offset activity is measured.
    Establishing the baseline is an incredibly complex task since it entails knowing what would have happened if the project had not happened. This process involves a comprehensive assessment of three key factors:
    1. understanding the preceding circumstances prior to the project
    2. identifying and evaluating the primary threats faced by the forest
    3. analyzing ongoing developments in proximate regions with similar threats, referred to as 'reference areas'
    Another significant challenge with baseline estimations is the potential incentive for project developers to inflate them. Claiming a higher baseline means suggesting that more deforestation would have occurred without that specific project. This, in turn, enables them to show a bigger impact of their project, issue more credits and generate increased revenue from selling these credits. It is crucial for methodologies to incorporate safeguards against the risk of baseline inflation, ensuring that the calculations accurately reflect the genuine impact of the project rather than being artificially inflated for financial gain

  • Measurement and Monitoring Challenges: Accurately measuring and monitoring carbon emissions and sequestration in forests is a complex task. This used to require a lot of sampling. The emergence of cutting-edge technologies such as satellite imagery and lidar has significantly enhanced our ability to perform this task with greater reliability and precision 

  • Permanence: Ensuring the enduring protection of the trees is a more intricate task within nature-based projects compared to tech-based solutions, as they are inherently more subject to the unpredictable impacts of weather events

  • Leakage and Indirect Impacts: Leakage refers to the possibility that efforts to reduce deforestation in one area may simply displace activities to another location. This displacement effect could undermine the overall effectiveness of REDD+ in achieving its emission reduction goals.

  • Biodiversity and Ecosystem Concerns: Some critics express concerns that the focus on carbon sequestration in REDD+ projects might prioritize monoculture tree plantations over diverse, natural forests. This shift could result in the loss of biodiversity and negatively impact local ecosystems.

  • Social Safeguards and Local Participation: REDD+ programs may face criticism for inadequate social safeguards and insufficient involvement of local communities in decision-making processes. 

  • Corruption and Governance Issues: There are concerns about corruption and weak governance in some regions where REDD+ projects are implemented. If not properly managed, funds allocated for carbon offset projects may not reach the intended communities, leading to a lack of transparency and accountability.

4. Jurisdictional REDD+

Jurisdictional REDD+ is emerging as a different approach to REDD+ initiatives. Jurisdictional REDD+ refers to an approach where efforts to reduce emissions and enhance carbon stocks are implemented at the jurisdictional level, typically within a political or administrative region like a state or province. Accounting, such as baselining and deforestation monitoring, is carried out on a national level. In this approach, the focus extends to all forests within an entire country or sub-national region. This comprehensive perspective makes it more challenging to overstate baseline deforestation figures, as the assessment encompasses all areas. 

5. Conclusion

Achieving the goal of keeping global temperature below 1.5°C depends on a significant reduction of emissions coming from deforestation.The depletion of forests also poses significant threats to biodiversity and endangers the livelihoods of people who depend on forest resources
In this context, REDD+ plays a crucial role, providing a market-based mechanism to mitigate climate change and serving as a more cost-effective alternative to tech-based solutions.
As with any other carbon offset project, the success of REDD+ and the consequent issuance of good quality credits rely on a combination of factors, ranging from effective policy frameworks to robust monitoring and reporting systems.

Are you a sustainability professional? Please subscribe to our weekly CSO Newsletter and Carbon Newsletter


Did you enjoy this illuminem voice? Support us by sharing this article!
author photo

About the author

illuminem's editorial team - delivering the most effective, updated, and comprehensive access to sustainability & energy information.

Follow us on Linkedin, Instagram & Twitter

Other illuminem Voices

Related Posts

You cannot miss it!

Weekly. Free. Your Top 10 Sustainability & Energy Posts.

You can unsubscribe at any time (read our privacy policy)