Vol. 3, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Wil de Jong

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 1

Redeeming REDD: Policies, Incentives and Social Feasibility for Avoided Deforestation
Michael I. Brown
London: Routledge and New York: Earthscan, 2013, xii+330p.

In September 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN global authority on climate change, presented its fifth assessment report. Its main message is that more solid evidence proves that human caused emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) indeed drives climate change. Global average temperatures will likely rise with more than 2°C. Global weather patterns will change, causing more severe droughts in dry regions and more severe storms and downpours in wet regions, for instance in the typhoon prone region of Southeast and East Asia.

Experts have realized that forests can and should be considered in climate-change mitigation efforts. According to FAO (2011; 2012), forests worldwide contain 650 billion tons of carbon and absorb about a quarter of carbon that is emitted into the world’s atmosphere. Indonesia and other countries of mainland Southeast Asia have vast forest stocks or extensive peat lands that can significantly influence future climate change, depending on how they are being managed. To lose the capacity of forests to absorb atmospheric carbon, or allow the carbon stored in them to be released into the atmosphere would be disastrous and should be avoided. The Kyoto Protocol, which is the implementation program for the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), only allowed permanent afforestation and reforestation activities as measures eligible for compensation under UNFCCC. At the 11th UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) in 2005 a new measure was proposed to compensate countries to prevent deforestation through Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Through the program, proponents of REDD aim to reduce tropical deforestation and forest degradation by half which should roughly reduce global emissions of atmospheric carbon by about 10%.

Michael Brown’s book makes a well informed and thorough assessment of how complex the global REDD program has become since it started seven years ago, and of the apparently insurmountable challenges that lie ahead to make it work. The book reviews the program’s history, analyzes its scope and magnitude, and introduces the reader to the many actors involved, their stakes, tasks, and strategies. Redeeming REDD analyzes with much detail the complex science that lies behind the REDD program, but also the multiple discourses and politics that shape how the program is being implemented. The United Nations, World Bank, and other international organizations execute the UN-REDD program, relying largely on ODA funds to compensate for avoiding deforestation. However, at the same time a parallel stream of REDD projects is implemented by NGOs and BINGOs (big international non-government organizations), other civil society groups and the private sector. In addition to implementers, there are those who set standards, who develop tools, and who conduct research. As a result, REDD has—from an innovative idea—that galvanized much enthusiasm and interest among the global climate change community, transformed itself into a new global action behemoth.

However, Redeeming REDD has a clear main message. In Brown’s view, and in the view of many others, REDD can only become successful if and when it is fully supported by local forest communities, the people who live in and depend on the tropical forests that are targeted in REDD projects. He argues that at present the REDD deliberations and planning excessively focus on technical issues, like Measuring Reporting and Verification (MRV). MRV basically assures correct carbon accounting by calculating how much carbon emission reduction is achieved, how that is being reported to bodies that pay for reduced emission, and how to verify that the amount of carbon is indeed being stored permanently. At later UNFCCC-COP meetings, measures were adopted to minimize negative impacts of REDD initiatives on local forest communities and biodiversity identified as “safeguards.” In addition it was demanded that in new REDD projects, those affected will have given free and prior informed consent (FPIC), before implementation can start. Countries that want to qualify for the UN-REDD program, like Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, and others in Asia need to submit so called Read Readiness Proposals (RPP), and in them they need to clarify how safeguards and FPIC are assured. Projects that operate outside that UN-REDD mechanism are expected to be certified, for instance by the Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) and this certification only happens if safeguards and FPIC are adequately addressed.

In Brown’s view, the rigor to judge whether RPPs or REDD projects comply with safeguards or FPIC standards is too weak. For instance, FPIC, in many cases, only implies that project developers subject people affected by future REDD projects to one or a few meetings where the project is explained using PowerPoint presentations. According to Brown, the REDD community is using very much the same approach as used in development projects and biodiversity conservation projects since the late 1980s. There is a considerable literature on why the majority of development and biodiversity conservation projects have had poor results. These highly valuable experiences and reflections are ignored by almost everybody who is involved in REDD projects and as a result the same mistakes are made. The results of REDD projects in which those experiences are not considering are not hard to predict.

REDD, if it is to be redeemed, needs to be done in a fundamentally different fashion, according to Brown. It is not sufficient to assure that the people who live in or next to the forest, and who will be affected by REDD projects, are not negatively affected. Rather it is necessary that REDD projects have a clear positive impact on local forest communities’ livelihoods, and that as a consequence they will actively support these projects. This means, for once, that the FPIC principle needs to be taken serious and that all those that are affected by prospective REDD projects, in particular forest dwelling communities, are a true part of significant decision making in their planning and implementation. A grand transformation of the REDD discourse and practice is needed. The way to achieve this is through a “new social contract” to which all those involved in the global REDD project should commit themselves.

The Redeeming REDD volume is written by an author who is extremely well informed on the subject, because Michael Brown has been involved in REDD issues since its beginning, and because he has reviewed a remarkable amount of references on the subject. This is reflected in the many details that are covered in the 11 chapters of the book. The book, however, is not always easy to read. This is in part because of the ground it covers, which is a result of the complex matter that the global REDD program has become. Yet, it also appears that the book has been written too hastily or at least with insufficient attention to its readability. Some of the chapters lack a natural flow, as they sometimes contain a sequence of disjointed topics under consecutive subheadings. The writing itself could have been improved as quite often sentences are too long and their meaning is not always easy to grasp. A sign that the volume suffered editing attention is, for instance a four line direct quote from a “high placed senior manager at a major conservation organization” who expresses quite a pessimistic view on REDD on page 58, and the very same quote is repeated on page 112.

But despite these imperfections, Redeeming REDD is a valuable contribution to the REDD literature. Even if one does not share the main views and message that Brown tries to convey, the book will allow any reader to get up to speed on where we are with trying to re-direct global forestry and promote awareness of, and help formulate adequate responses, to its important role in mitigating global climate change.

Wil de Jong
Center for Integrated Area Studies, Kyoto University


Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 2012. Building Bridges between REDD+ and Sustainable Agriculture: Addressing Agriculture’s Role as a Driver of Deforestation. Rome: FAO.

―. 2011. Climate Change for Forest Policy-makers: An Approach for Integrating Climate Change into National Forest Programmes in Support of Sustainable Forest Management. Rome: FAO.



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