Actions to reduce emissions caused by deforestation and degradation (REDD) also enhance ecosystem services, according to a new report. Using a case study from the Amazon it indicated that REDD support schemes can also help maintain water levels and quality and protect soil from erosion.
The UN post-2012 climate agreement treaty is likely to include a mechanism for compensating nations that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). But some criticise this mechanism for its narrow focus on carbon and neglect of ecosystem services. Using a review of current research, the report investigated the possible ecological damages and co-benefits beyond the maintenance of carbon stocks from five REDD interventions: slowing deforestation, decreasing logging, reducing incidence of forest fires, regenerating native forest and expanding tree plantations.
The report identified only a few ecological costs of REDD interventions. The greatest possible threat would be the leakage of deforestation from high-biomass forests, such as rainforests, to low-biomass native ecosystems, such as savannas and grasslands. Another threat is the replacement of native ecosystems by tree plantations consisting of one or just a few species. In addition, reduced fire incidence could threaten wildlife that depend on periodic burning.
However, REDD interventions produce many more benefits by providing ecosystem services. Deforestation reduces evaporation and increases run-off, which means REDD interventions help maintain water levels and quality. Natural vegetation cover is one of the most secure ways of protecting soil from erosion and maintaining its nutrients. REDD interventions also slow local and regional climate change by reducing CO2 release. Overall, less deforestation helps to maintain higher levels of biodiversity.
The study identified several methods of monitoring ecological benefits that are already used for monitoring and verifying carbon emissions. It recommended a combination of remote measurements (e.g. satellite maps of forest cover) and field-based measurements (e.g. surface run-off of water and soil erosion).
The report also evaluated three REDD plans for the Amazon basin using a model that simulated landscape changes. This indicated that a REDD plan that takes an integrated approach to protecting carbon stocks and ecosystem services would provide greater ecological benefits than one that prioritises protection of specific areas of land or indigenous territories. By providing ecosystem services both directly and indirectly, REDD could play an important role in maintaining quality of life for forest dependent communities.
Source: Stickler, C.M., Nepstad, D.C., Coe, M.T. et al. (2009). The potential ecological costs and cobenefits of REDD: a critical review and case study from the Amazon region. Global Change Biology. 15:2803-2824.