Category: Blog


Published: May 26, 2013

Thoughts on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)

John Bates, Curator and Section Head, Life Sciences, Negaunee Integrative Research Center


Friday before last, Camila Duarte and I spent the day down at the University of Chicago.  Camila is a visiting Brazilian student who has worked with colleague Camila Ribas in Manaus, Brazil.  She will be gathering molecular data on several species of birds that inhabit white sand forests in the Amazon Basin over the next five months.  Camila and I were attending a all-day symposium entitled “Conserving more than carbon: valuing biodiversity in a changing world” at the Gordon Center for Integrative Science that was sponsored by the U of C Program on the Global Environment.  Four expert panelists presented perspectives related to the symposium topic and then there was a discussion period at the end.  The panelists included: John Terborgh (Research Professor, Nicholas School of the Environment & Earth Sciences; Director, Center for Tropical Conservation, Duke University), David Wilcove (Professor of Public Affairs and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University), Steven Panfil (Technical Advisor, REDD+ Initiatives, Conservation International), and Valerie Kapos (Acting Head of Programme, Climate Change & Biodiversity, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre). 

REDD (and now also REDD+) stands for: "Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation."  It was a great opportunity to learn from experts about various aspects of this innovative and ambitious program that has the important goal of reducing the substantial greenhouse gas emissions that come from cutting down forest.  This is an ambitious program developed via the United Nations, governments and conservation non-governmental organizations. Here at the museum, our conservation team has been collaborating with and Peruvian NGO on having Cordillera Azul National Park in Peru be part of REDD+.  As an evolutionary biologist working in the Tropics who cares greatly about tropical conservation, I found myself wondering if REDD+ would truly provide the support necessary to effectively monitor biodiversity sensu latu

As I understand it, the REDD+ program has a goal of going beyond REDD with respect to preserving )biodiversity as a goal of equal importance to preventing deforestation.  That’s good, but my concern is that too little attention is paid to building capacity for science and education in the areas where these programs are being implemented, and I think that could greatly influence success in both the short and long term.  Under REDD+, monitoring of biodiversity is considered important as part of the verification required of REDD+ sites, but who will do that monitoring? Experts need to be trained to do this.  This is the kind of things our museum would be great at, but it does not seem to me that the design of REDD+ will provide the necessary funding to implement this critical piece of the puzzle. 

That’s too bad. I looked through Conservation International’s publication entitled: “What is needed to make REDD+ work on the ground? Lessons learned from pilot forest carbon initiatives” by Celia A. Harvey, Olaf Zerbock, Stavros Papageorgiou and Angel Parra.  The word “science” does not appear in the text of the document (but “research” does), nor does “education” (“educational” appears once in reference to all project managers saying they needed more educational materials for local communities).  “University” also does not appear in the text.  “Biodiversity” is used frequently, but the biodiversity benefits to organisms that are listed are limited to flagship species from each region.  I concede that saving flagship species and watersheds will also save much of the rest of biodiversity), but I can’t help but feeling that this is something like saying as long as you have a single star on your baseball team you will have a winning team.  It certainly does not necessarily work out that way and besides, with all the people living in the world today, we can have the human capacity (and technology) to broadly understand and monitor a broad spectrum of the biological diversity in these regions.  We just have to choose to do it.

I talked to Larry Heaney, our Curator of Mammals about this and he mentioned that he has made available his years of survey data on Philippine small mammals to groups associated with developing Philippine REDD+ programs, which is the kind of critical baseline data these groups need to develop their conservation priorities.  I went on-line and downloaded the Philippine national plan.  It is impressive, and I hope it is successful.  University scientists played a clear role in developing this plan which I think is terrific, but here is a quote: “In the Philippines, a successful, sustainable and long-term financing scheme is expected to fuel a robust REDD program to deliver permanently reduced emissions, poverty alleviation and social justice for forest-dependent communities, biodiversity conservation, and protected and improved environmental services.”  I hope what this means is that rolled into this financing scheme is a plan to build the expert capacity necessary to monitor all aspects of biodiversity and educate future generations on how to do it, because this is an essential part of having REDD be successful in my opinion.  It also would mean a lot of support for the academic and museum communities of the Philippines and I really think that this is something that must become an explicit not implicit aspect to such plans.