Missing the forest for the trees?: Navigating the trade-offs between mitigation and adaptation under REDD

Authors: Micah Ingalls, Michael Dwyer

Forested landscapes play a critical role in mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon while at the same time fostering adaption by supporting ecosystem services, the recognition of which is reflected in the recent Paris Agreement on climate change. It has been suggested, therefore, that the conservation of forested landscapes may provide a potential win-win in the fight against global environmental change.

Despite the potential synergies between mitigation and adaptation efforts, recent studies have also raised concerns about possible trade-offs. Our research employs the analytic lens of social-ecological resilience to explore the intersection between mitigation and adaptation in the context of a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) project in Lao PDR.

Drawing on ecosystem analyses, group discussions and interviews with policy makers, practitioners and resource-dependent communities, we identify three potential limitations of REDD for achieving climate synergies. First, by disrupting existing disturbance regimes, REDD interventions run the risk of reducing diversity and structural heterogeneity and thus may undermine functional redundancy core to resilience. Second, REDD-as-practiced has tended to select local, rather than structural, drivers of deforestation, focusing disproportionately on curtailing local livelihood practices, reducing local resources for adaptation. Third, REDD risks redirecting ecosystem service benefits away from local communities toward state agencies, incentivizing recentralization and limiting the scope of local governance.

We argue that REDDÂ’s potential for delivering synergies between climate change mitigation and adaptation in Laos is currently attenuated by structural factors rooted in development policies and broader political-economic trajectories in ways that may not be legible to, or adequately addressed by, current programmes and policy.

Published at Climatic Change, May 2016, Volume 136, Issue 2, pp 353-366 (also at CIFOR)