Last week, I headed to Qatar to join the Rainforest Alliance’s climate team at COP18 and observe the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. In addition to providing a global platform to advance climate change policies and negotiations, the climate talks also serve as the world’s largest climate change trade fair, helping the Rainforest Alliance to spread the word about our important work and keep track of major developments concerning climate change and the world’s forests. One conversation that kept our attention: the emerging role of voluntary forest carbon standards and carbon markets.
Voluntary carbon markets continue to pioneer ways to leverage market forces for conservation, sustainability and climate change mitigation. Forest carbon projects, including Afforestation and Reforestation (A/R), Improved Forest Management (IFM), and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) play a crucial role in demonstrating that carbon projects can have legitimate benefits for people, climate and the environment.
Indeed, the REDD+ Mechanism that the COP to the UNFCCC have been negotiating for several years is a concept tested first in voluntary carbon markets. In recent years, REDD+ has been one of the most successful approaches for conserving forests and biodiversity, and offering benefits to forest-dependent communities to emerge from the yearly negotiations.
Unfortunately, this year’s COP18 includes a possible stalling of REDD+ negotiations. If talks conclude at a standstill, the voluntary carbon markets will continue to pave the way for some time. However, for REDD to succeed, the UNFCCC must accomplish more and more quickly. The finance needed to cut deforestation in half by 2030 is unlikely without an internationally agreed upon REDD framework. Nonetheless, there is much to be gained from the experience of private sector investment in voluntary forest carbon projects, which has broken innovative ground since the emergence of voluntary carbon standards.
For example, in 2012 VCS — the current market leader — developed guidance on how to incorporate individual projects into scaled up national and regional initiatives. Since nested REDD plans seems essential for effective execution, such guidance is extremely beneficial to the UNFCCC. Innovative and complex new methodologies, standards and guidance have also been developed for imperiled and high-carbon forest ecosystems like peat swamp forests and mangroves. There is also an increased appreciation for the need to establish robust safeguards in these projects to ensure benefits to biodiversity and communities, evidenced by the great number of events on this topic often led by the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance.
As one of the leading auditors of forest carbon projects, the Rainforest Alliance helps to bring legitimacy and validity to this market. From US to Peru and Madagascar to Indonesia, our auditors ensure that on the ground these projects have the utmost benefits for people, the environment and our global climate.