CIFOR: New book sheds light on real-world challenges for forests, climate change


3 December 2014 — A new book released today details real-world stories of efforts to reduce carbon emissions in tropical forest countries, a leading option for slowing climate change now under discussion at the UN climate talks in Lima.

“REDD+ on the Ground: A Case Book of Subnational Initiatives Across the Globe,” published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), gives results of five years of fieldwork in 23 project sites in six countries. The book is available in full text, PDF or ePub at:

Tropical deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for up to 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in countries such as Indonesia and Peru. So the idea of paying people in developing countries to protect their forests through an international carbon market generated excitement when it was floated in 2007.

In the ensuing years, as the idea developed into REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, some 300 forest carbon projects, or subnational initiatives, got under way.

“The world is at a crossroads where REDD+ has opened up an opportunity for forest conservation, leveraged by global concern about climate change,” the authors write. “But as this book illustrates well, REDD+ faces a steep uphill climb in reaching its objectives.”

The book highlights experiences from the projects in vivid detail, for example: 


  • Communication problems condemned a REDD+ pilot program in Indonesia to being perceived by policy makers and the media as an utter failure, even though most local people surveyed from the project benefited greatly.
  • One REDD+ project resolved major land-rights issues in a region of Brazil—but in doing so, it made local people eligible for agriculture subsidies, thereby legalizing the clearing of forests for pasture and thus inducing further deforestation in the project area. 

The book offers valuable lessons learned from challenges associated with REDD+ projects, including: 


  • Finance: Only four of the 23 initiatives studied have actually sold carbon credits; others depend on philanthropy or other unstable funding sources.
  • Rights: Uncertainty over who holds rights to land was one of the most significant problems, undermining livelihoods and encouraging deforestation.
  • Jurisdiction: Some initiatives suffered from a lack of coordination among—and conflicting interests within—different levels of government.
  • Monitoring: Capabilities to monitor progress of REDD+ initiatives were highly uneven among countries, many requiring locally tailored systems to gauge deforestation rates and emissions.
  • Safeguards: A key topic at this year’s UN climate talks, safeguards are designed to ensure that REDD+ initiatives offer local people alternatives to forest conversion. But many smallholders surveyed expressed worry that they would be hurt, not helped, by REDD+.


This book was produced with the support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the European Union (EU), the UK Government and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, with financial support from the CGIAR Fund.

All stories, videos or photos for this book were produced with Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike License. Media are welcome to use all content as long as it is attributed correctly to CIFOR.

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