Forests store carbon, but they also play a vital role in the livelihoods of many people and harbour a large share of the world's biodiversity. REDD+ should acknowledge and incorporate these benefits as well.
Adopting the REDD+ mechanism does not come without risks for local communities and biodiversity. These risks are the subject of heated debates among scientists and policy makers. Forests are crucial to the livelihoods of an estimated 600 million people worldwide, who live in or around the forest and depend on the many products –wood or other– coming from forests. The rights of forest-dependent communities and indigenous people are not always clearly defined or protected. How forests are valued through REDD+ might make these people even more vulnerable. Cases have already been reported in which the rights of the local population to extract forest products were not respected.
Forests are important contributors to the world's biodiversity as well. Forests harbour a large percentage of all terrestrial species. Tropical forests in particular include important ecosystems that sustain this biodiversity. If forests are only viewed as carbon sinks, and the value of biodiversity is not incorporated in REDD+, it is possible that countries will earn emissions rights and money, by destroying fully developed rainforests and replacing them with young trees, at the expense of biodiversity.
REDD+ can however stimulate a win-win situation, by delivering carbon sinks and at the same time guaranteeing the conservation of biodiversity and livelihoods for forest-dependent communities. Biodiversity and local livelihoods are ecological and social co-benefits of REDD+ that can be added to that of climate change mitigation, says Assistant professor Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers. 'These co-benefits should become mandatory conditions in REDD+ policies', she finds.
When co-benefits are integrated into REDD+, payments for protecting forests against deforestation and degradation can be made to communities to conserve and use forests sustainably. This therefore demands policies that include these co-benefits; as well as monitoring systems that not only monitor carbon stored, but also keep track of biodiversity and the livelihoods of local people.
Researchers at Wageningen UR are investigating how exactly to secure the synergies between carbon storage in forests and their ecological and social co-benefits. This subject will be discussed in a special issue of the journal, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST), to be published at the end of 2012. Researchers from different disciplines at Wageningen UR will guest edit this special issue.