What Works to Combat Global Deforestation?

A new report offers fresh guidance for a complex issue.

deforestation in Brazilian Amazon

Nelson Grima / IUFRO

As someone who works in reforestation and ecosystem restoration, I understand that working to combat global deforestation is the first and most important step to doing that. I am also well aware that some anti-deforestation measures are more effective than others. So I was fascinated to read a new and comprehensive scientific report assessing global methods to fight deforestation.

A Helpful New Report

This report, prepared by the Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP) Programme led by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), was presented in a webinar during World Forestry Congress week in early May. It analyzes the work of REDD+, a global action plan developed by the United Nations.

REDD+ stands for "reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation," and the plan aims to guide sustainable forest management and conservation, and to enhance forest carbon stocks in low- and middle-income countries. 

The report seeks to inform ongoing policy discussion on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and it highlights both successes and shortcomings in performance of this program over the past ten years. It takes a look at analyses and scientific information published and lessons learned; and it gives us crucial information about what works and what does not as we continue to fight against global deforestation.

clearcutting in Haida Gwaii

Joel W. Rogers / Getty Images

Complexities of Deforestation

One of the key findings is already familiar to those who have spent any time working in this field—the staggering complexity of the relationships between forests, land use, and climate. 

The report confirms that reducing deforestation and tackling degradation is part of the solution to climate change. However, it notes that the role REDD+ plays in reducing emissions is limited, due to the magnitude of the problem and actions required within other sectors. 

Moving forward, the program has the potential to deliver a range of benefits beyond carbon sequestration. But this requires giving adequate attention to both environmental and social parts of the puzzle. It is crucial to move beyond a focus on climate impacts and to look holistically at climate, biodiversity, livelihoods, and other social factors.

Environmentally, tackling deforestation is about more than just carbon. REDD+ programs deliver numerous other environmental benefits. For example, tackling deforestation reduces soil erosion, repairs water systems, enhances water quality, and increases resilience to drought and floods.

Numerous biodiversity benefits can also be derived. However, the report highlights the lack of availability of up-to-date biodiversity data.

Lead author and IUFRO president John Parrotta of the USDA Forest Service states: "Such benefits have significant economic importance and may increase both the value of REDD+ programs and people’s willingness to engage with them. However, in the implementation of REDD+, greater attention to biodiversity and livelihood outcomes is needed."

planting trees in rolling hills

Dougal Waters / Getty Images

We Ignore Social Elements to Our Peril

Where local community has been engaged in efforts to halt deforestation, and where residents can clearly see the indirect and direct benefits of projects, these have been far more successful. Evidence suggests that deforestation is lower in areas where Indigenous peoples' collective land rights are recognized.

And where explicit attention has been paid to rights and tenure issues, there are more transparent mechanisms for reporting and monitoring both environmental and social benefits, as well as fairer and better outcomes—especially for vulnerable communities. Distrust is far less likely to develop between stakeholders and other participants, and local people are more likely to engage in REDD+ activities.

Efforts to halt deforestation must take local and national social and governance factors into account to meet their goals successfully. 

Governance Issues and Overlap With Other Initiatives

The performance of REDD+ could be improved considerably by reducing the complexity of its governance, this study finds. And some confusion arises due to overlap between this and other initiatives in which interest has grown in recent years. 

For instance, as one of the lead authors of the study and IUFRO task force deputy coordinator Stephanie Mansourian states: "There has been growing interest in forest landscape restoration (FLR) since the launch of the Bonn Challenge in 2011. This and other initiatives contribute to REDD+ but also overlap with it and often create confusion among stakeholders. Optimizing synergies with them and with other sectors is both a challenge and an opportunity."

There is an urgent requirement to find synergy, and for those trying to stop deforestation to work together in new and exciting ways. It is only by working together on this and other pressing global issues that we will be able to find solutions to the problems of our age.

View Article Sources
  1. Parrotta, John, et al. "Forests, Climate, Biodiversity and People: Assessing a Decade of REDD+." International Union of Forest Research Organizations, 2022.