1 December 2010

Study: REDD can save thousands of species from extinction

The Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus (REDD+) can do more to mitigate climate change, says a new study.

The study, "Biodiversity co-benefits of reducing emissions from deforestation under alternative reference levels and levels of finance", is authored by scientists with Conservation International (CI) and published in the scientific journal "Conservation Letters".

The study models national deforestation rates across 85 countries and assumes the REDD+ mechanism had been in place over the past five years (2005-2010). It studies the links between REDD+ as a climate mitigation tool and its potential benefits to forest biodiversity.

In the study scientists analysed samples of 2,500 forest animals including mammals, birds and amphibians. They found REDD+ could reduce the rate of extinction among these species by 46-80 per cent over the next five years. The fluctuating levels of effectiveness in the program depends on the amount of funds devoted to REDD+, with greater funds helping to preserve more forest land and more species.

One of the key conclusions of the study is that, had REDD+ been in place, it would have reduced deforestation substantially across all 85 countries, when compared to actual deforestation. The other conclusion is that with full financing of US$30bn per year over five years REDD+ would have contributed to a drop in total deforestation of 68 to 72 per cent, according to study simulations.

Some of the reductions were credited to the fact that countries with endemic species also had the highest carbon storage capacity, from tropical rainforests, and it is these countries who had the greatest incentive to join the REDD+ scheme, according to the study. The study adds that 25 countries collectively harbour 94 per cent of globally unique forest-dependent amphibians, mammals and birds.

"What this research tells us is that REDD+ can be a win-win for the protection of our climate and the preservation of biodiversity," says Dr. Jonah Busch, Climate and Forest Economist at Conservation International, and the report's lead author, speaking to the Conservation International website.

"While any reduction in deforestation and extinction rates would be a welcome achievement, the takeaway is this: the level of REDD+ financing will be the main driver of true progress. Greater financing will lead to greater reductions in deforestation, greater storage of carbon in forests, and greater benefits to biodiversity," adds Dr. Busch. "They're all linked."

Due to increasing deforestation, species inhabiting tropical forests are under particular threat. The clearing and burning of tropical forests contribute to about 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, says the study. Dr Busch warns that the study model may not be a completely accurate representation of future events.

"Although we can't be sure of the exact number of species that could be saved by a REDD+ mechanism that hasn't been agreed to yet, it could be a great many. We'll have a clearer picture of the benefits of REDD+ as climate finance starts flowing to countries that reduce deforestation."

REDD+ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The report concludes by calling for climate talks in Cancun to deliver a REDD+ mechanism that is fully financed and designed to incentivise forest nations.

"A detailed REDD+ decision in Cancun would mark a pivotal moment in climate mitigation efforts," Rebecca Chacko, CI's Climate Policy Director said in a statement on, "But it's just one part of the solution. We also need progress on all the aspects of a climate agreement and a timeline that puts the world on track for achieving that agreement before 2012."

Chacko added that the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16), running from 29 November to 10 December, has the opportunity to take decisive action and accomplish large-scale and long-term climate change solutions. For those pushing a REDD+ agenda the conclusions of the study are encouraging.

Author: Leroy Robinson | Climate Action

Image: amandabhslater | Flickr

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