Executive Director and Founder, Emergent
Extensive research suggests that to halt deforestation and meet climate targets, prevention is the most effective measure we can take.
But implementing the protection of forests locally is not enough — it must be done at scale and with effective financing.
The jurisdictional approach can deliver this much-needed scale, and has already seen success in Brazil, Indonesia and Costa Rica.
When it comes to tropical forests and climate change, two things are clear: we must protect our forests, and we must do it at scale.
The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund released a study late last year in Nature Climate Change that outlined why it is so critical that we prioritize the protection of threatened carbon-storing landscapes, such as rainforests. It also outlined and endorsed the hierarchy of how we must do it: protect ecosystems, then improve their management and lastly begin to restore them.
This approach is the most cost-efficient, timely and impactful for removing or preventing carbon emissions.
Protecting forests before managing or attempting to restore them is the most time and cost effective way to meet sustainability and biodiversity targets. Image: Nature Climate Change
We must prioritize protecting standing forests. Ending tropical and subtropical forest loss this decade is a crucial part of meeting global climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals, and, in fact, offers one of the biggest and fastest opportunities for climate action in the coming decade.
We must also find new ways to operate at scale. A project-based approach, where forest conservation efforts are confined to a relatively small area, provides important localized benefits. It is not, however, a complete solution to the problem. We need to find ways to catalyze much larger-scale action.
Scaling forest protection requires a jurisdictional approach
A 2021 study by The Environmental Defense Fund showed that emission reduction policies and programmes that attain a sufficiently large scale — including large-scale tropical forest protection programmes — can drive lasting reductions in carbon dioxide, even if governments and markets change in the future.
The jurisdictional approach to tropical forest protection, or JREDD, addresses protection and scale by mobilizing action across an entire country or state. It seeks to create a new business model for forests that incentivizes governments to take the decisions and perform the actions that only they have the authority to implement, including policy reform and strict law enforcement. A whole-of-landscape approach also creates the opportunity to factor in ecosystem services of the region, the protection and restoration of biodiversity and recognition of Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ rights and full and effective participation.
Over the past two decades, support for forest protection at the jurisdictional scale has largely been left to public donors, while most corporate support has been directed through voluntary carbon markets to standalone carbon projects. But this is starting to change, and there is a significant amount of new momentum for mobilizing both public and private finance to support JREDD. This, in turn, is catalyzing a significant response from tropical forest nations.
Not only that, but the world’s largest and most respected environmental organizations have reached unprecedented consensus on the need for companies to support a rapid shift in demand toward credits from jurisdictional-scale programmes, including fully nested projects, through the Tropical Forest Credit Integrity (TFCI) Guide. This joins similar guidance from the World Resources Institute and the Science-based Targets Initiative.
Case studies in counter-deforestation success
But where does all this confidence in the jurisdictional approach come from? This concept isn’t a new one, and there are a number of persuasive examples that demonstrate how effectively a country can turn the tide on deforestation with the appropriate mix of policies, enforcement and incentives.
Brazil succeeded in reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 84% between 2004-2012 through public interventions using law enforcement, monitoring, soy and cattle moratoria, credit restrictions and protected areas. These gains have largely persisted, even as the country goes through economic upheaval and recession. They have also withstood periods of political pressure to reverse the environmental agenda.
While some trends in Brazil remain a concern, in 2021, deforestation was still at just 30% of its 2005 peak. Many believe this is due to a large-scale jurisdictional approach.
Indonesia has successfully reduced forest cover loss in recent years in large part through enforcement of measures to prevent forest fires and land clearing, a moratorium on new clearing for oil palm plantations and a well-structured national REDD+ Strategy.
Primary forest loss decreased by over 50% from 2017-2020 compared to the period between 2013-2016. Indonesia reduced primary forest loss for a fifth straight year in 2021 following government action on palm oil, fire management and an updated national climate plan which committed the country to becoming a carbon sink by 2030.
3. Costa Rica
Costa Rica reversed a decades-long trend of deforestation with early conservation and restoration policies, including eliminating cattle ranching subsidies and implementing a payment for an ecosystem services scheme. Between 1986-2013, annual deforestation decreased while forest regeneration substantially increased. The country became a pioneer in reversing tropical deforestation.
In none of these countries has the deforestation challenge been fixed. Brazil and Indonesia, for example, still rank among the top five countries losing the most tropical forest cover. But what these examples do show is the ability of jurisdictional approaches to deliver impact at the pace and scale required to protect intact forests around the world.
The LEAF Coalition
The question now is how to support and accelerate these efforts. The answer, in large part, is finance.
Initiatives like the LEAF Coalition, which has already mobilized $1 billion in public and private demand of JREDD credits, mark an encouraging new chapter in efforts to dramatically change the economics of intact tropical forests to help make them worth more alive than dead.
We’re off to a good start, but helping to change economic incentives at the scale required is going to require much more in the months and years ahead — the world is fast running out of time.
License and Republishing
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.