Forests and REDD+

Copyright under Creative Commons by Daniel Beilinson

Deforestation in tropical countries is contributing some 20% to global greenhouse gas emission, as carbon stored in trees and soils is released into the atmosphere. The UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol call for sustainable management of forests and enhancement of carbon sinks, including forests. However, the destruction of tropical forests has continued, and has been further exacerbated by the conversion of forest land to plantations of agrofuels.

Whether forest conservation should be eligible for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was one of the controversial issues during the debates on the implementation of the Kyoto Mechanisms. In the Marrakech Accords issued at COP7 in 2001, it was finally decided to exclude forest conservation projects due to substantial problems with baselines and leakage.

In 2005, at COP11 in Montreal, a group of tropical countries (the Coalition for Rainforest Nations) proposed a mechanism for considering the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases stemming from tropical deforestation and forest degradation as a climate change mitigation measure. It was adopted in 2007 and a year later, the United Nations launched its first UN-REDD Programme.

Now referred to as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation “plus” Conservation), this instrument aims to develop policies and financial incentives to ensure that forest conservation becomes economically more attractive than forest destruction. While the number of pilot-initiatives is rapidly rising, the REDD+ instrument is still not fully operational under the UNFCCC and has been subject to widespread criticism.

Gender dimensions

Among the hundreds of millions of people who are depending on forests for their livelihood, women are in the majority. The gender roles existing in societies are reflected in the different ways women and men use forest resources. In many countries, women’s livelihoods and social roles rely directly on forest resources to meet the nutritional, health, and cultural needs of their families and communities. They gather forest products such as fuel wood, food for the family, fodder for animals and medicinal plants.

Forest resources are also crucial to women’s income-generating capacities, while men are more likely to be involved in timber extraction and the use of non-timber forest products for commercial purposes.

In these contexts, intact forests are often a question of survival, particularly for women and indigenous peoples. These groups are often disproportionately harmed by deforestation and have a stronger inherent interest in forest preservation. Within communities, it is often the men who are more likely to benefit in the immediate or short term from deforestation in many forms, through jobs in the timber industry, or other ways of participating in the commercial use of the cleared land.

Women are virtually invisible in formal forestry, particularly in decision-making positions. Thus, policy-making in the forest sector is male-dominated and tends to neglect women’s needs and interests.

At the same time, women’s specialised knowledge of forestry, botany, biodiversity, and water management makes them critical resources in combating deforestation.


Climate change is just one, though severe, problem related to forests. It is therefore not adequate to pursue a one-dimensional approach to forests, which only takes into account their carbon content and their value as a commodity. Instead, a truly sustainable forest strategy needs to focus on the preservation of forests and their biodiversity while maintaining and enhancing the livelihoods of forest peoples, and creating co-benefits for the global climate.

Expanding the carbon market to tropical forest preservation therefore is not a viable or just solution. Response efforts need to shift their focus to addressing the direct and underlying causes of deforestation, such as overconsumption, agrofuel expansion, fossil fuel extraction, the replacement of natural forests by monoculture tree plantations, and the lack of respect for indigenous peoples’ rights.

An international regime to protect the forests must be an outcome of a broad consultation process of indigenous and forest communities ensuring an effective participation of women. Forest women’s experience and needs must be duly taken into consideration during all further deliberations on REDD+.

Any policies and measures related to tropical forests need to be ruled by a set of principles ensuring the recognition of the contribution of indigenous peoples and other forest dependent communities to forest protection, and their legal and traditional rights over forests. In particular, the historical role and positive contribution of women in the governance and nurturing of forests must be recognised and their full participation in decision making must be ensured.