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Reducing carbon emissions from forest clearing and degradation has become an important part of the international climate agenda. But how can we create incentives to reduce deforestation, and how can we measure success? My guest on this week’s Wonkcast, visiting senior associate Michele de Nevers, tells me that the answers to these questions are more valuable than ever – if we don’t act quickly, our forests will disappear.

“It will take a lot of action to make sure the forests are not continued to be cut,” says Michele.  “There’s enormous pressure on forests due to pressures of land conversion for growing grains needed to feed animals to meet the increasing demand for meat products in middle-income and developing countries.”

Michele tells me if we do not significantly decrease deforestation it will be impossible to reach the global target of maintaining climate change to 2 degrees Celsius. Reducing deforestation is inextricably linked to reducing carbon emissions and lessening the effects of climate change, Michele explains. Because of this, the international community has been discussing including forests in global carbon markets -- an idea that underpins REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation +).

Including forests in carbon markets is a strong step forward, but the idea is rife with technical challenges and controversy, explains Michele.

“Now this is controversial at several levels,” says Michele. “On one level because many people think that if you have a market just based on the carbon values of a forest, that you're underpricing forests, and that there are many other values, including  biodiversity, livelihoods, etc., that would not be captured in a carbon-based market. The second area of controversy involves the various stakeholders engaged around forests. You have indigenous people, other forest dwellers, governments, and the private sector -- each of whom has a different idea on who actually owns the forest.”

Despite debates surrounding REDD+, the international community is continuing to make progress creating incentives to slow deforestation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiators have considered what kind of system would be needed to measure, report, and verify REDD+ activities.

However, Michele tells me, the system of monitoring deforestation is so complex that few developing countries are even remotely near having the capabilities to implement the system.  To address this issue, several initiatives have been launched to help fund countries’ efforts to reach REDD+ goals. The UNREDD fund and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility managed by the World Bank have been working toward this end.

Norway has also shown tremendous leadership in providing performance-based funding in Guyana, Brazil, and Indonesia, says Michele.Norway is rewarding these countries for reducing deforestation against a target baseline that has been agreed between Norway and these countries,” she explains.

Previous research by CGD senior fellow emeritus, David Wheeler, complements Norway’s efforts to pay countries for results, explains Michele. David’s Satellite-based forest-monitoring system named Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) can measure changes in forest cover down to the level of 500- by 500-meter parcels. It is updated twice monthly.

Based on FORMA, our colleagues developed a global score card that allows you to track performance of countries against two benchmarks and could be used as a Cash on Delivery performance-payment system by those parties that are interested in providing money for forest performance,” explains Michele.

Michele tells me the global score card—soon to be available on our website—will be updated quarterly. Viewers can also use these scorecards to see cross-country comparisons on how countries are progressing toward reducing deforestation.

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week. My thanks to Alexandra Gordon for her production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for assistance in drafting this blog post.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.