The framework to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) is designed to provide tropical forest countries with incentives to reduce forest carbon loss and conserve forests. Some argue that designing REDD+ as national mechanism should resolve the problem of deforestation leakage and the displacement of emissions. The larger scale of REDD+ – compared to individual conservation projects, protected areas, or avoided deforestation projects – would make the problem disappear.

What is deforestation leakage?

Leakage refers to emissions or deforestation spillovers, i.e. the case where a policy or project designed to protect forests leads to a shift of deforestation to another region. It is true that the larger accounting area ensures that more leakage may be accounted for – leakage that, without proper monitoring, may be go undetected at the project scale. However, measurement is not equal to avoidance, and the larger the accounting area the more complex the attribution of leakage effects becomes. National accounting fails also to acknowledge the effects of international leakage. Overall international and national policy leakage can be magnitudes larger than project leakage.

Leakage will only disappear entirely if the level of regulation, and the benefit and cost of deforestation, are the same across all geographies and jurisdictions. Until this happens, collaborative efforts that support tropical forest countries, communities and private entities in their efforts to halt deforestation at all levels of governance across all geographies, even more important.

At the project level, all major forest carbon standards demand that avoided deforestation projects must anticipate the increase in greenhouse gas emissions linked to the project interventions, actively address leakage, monitor the remaining leakage and discount it from claimed emission reductions. Applying these measures, projects can minimize and monitor local leakage effects. For example, projects that aim to stop the harvesting of forest products for local needs, or to prevent forest clearing by smallholder farmers, can control leakage by involving local stakeholders in the management of conservation areas. However, projects are in most cases unable to avoid leakage driven by commercial agriculture or forestry. Driven by investments and large companies, these highly-mobile drivers of deforestation have no problem to move from one forest frontier to another. This means that projects, while playing a part in the overall effort, will never be able to address deforestation. Policies and government action are essential to ensure that the world’s appetite for agricultural and forest commodities ceases to destroy tropical forests.

Measures to reduce deforestation leakage

In an ideal REDD+ implementation strategy, multi-level, multi-actor leakage management would occur working across national and international levels of management. Working towards that goal, I propose in my paper published in the Climate Policy Journal a number of measures that can minimize deforestation leakage:

  1. National REDD+ policies adopted in tropical forest countries should be complemented by private demand-side standards and public regulation in countries that import forest-risk commodities (e.g. soy, palm oil, beef, cocoa, timber and wood products). There should also be investments in additional research to better understand how leakage effects the market and price of commodities that drive deforestation.
  2. Leakage occurs across all sectors and at all levels of implementation, i.e. projects, programs and policies. Local leakage can largely be controlled through a project design that analyzes and addresses the proximate causes of leakage and monitors any remaining leakage. REDD+ policies often lead to more complicated displacement effects which are more complex and harder to manage than activity leakage, but can – to a certain extent – be modelled and accounted for.
  3. Jurisdictional programs that link government interventions, supply-chain efforts, conservation efforts and avoided deforestation projects may lead the way toward holistic efforts to address deforestation. This could include national budget allocations of public funding, development assistance support, climate finance, private project investment and public-private finance.
  4. It is important to catalyze positive spill-over effects. Success and positive experiences can lead to the adoption of activities by actors outside project or program areas and can change the culture to increase acceptance for forest protection and conservation activities.
About the Author
Charlotte Streck

Prof. Dr. Charlotte Streck is co-founder of the climate consultancy and think tank Climate Focus and a Professor h.c. at the University of Potsdam in Germany. Charlotte Streck serves on several advisory, and investment panels, is a former lead counsel for climate change with the Center for International Sustainable Development Law with McGill University, and a former Chair of the Board of the Climate Strategies research network. Charlotte Streck holds a Masters of Biology from the University of Regensburg and a PhD in law from Humboldt University in Berlin. Charlotte is an associated editor of the Climate Policy journal.