REDD+, free coffee, and a dive in the ocean: a day at COP23

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve stopped by the German pavilion for a free coffee this week, but I did so again this afternoon to ensure my brain was ready to pack in a bit more information. I was headed to the ‘REDD+: Where does it stand and what is needed now?’ side event. I was particularly excited about attending this event because I hoped that it would provide a critical overview of the UN REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) program, which has been a hot topic in a number of the side events at COP23. The event was hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the Norweigian University of Life Sciences, and Wageningen University.

CO2 released as a result of deforestation and forest degradation makes a significant contribution to climate change. The concept of REDD+ first came into being under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through improved forest management in developing countries. While it is a promising concept, several experts at COP23 have spoken of the many difficulties associated with REDD+ implementation, including land tenure uncertainty, ensuring the fair distribution of benefits, and making forest conservation economically preferable to alternative land-uses such as agriculture.


At the event, professor Arild Angelsen, from the Norweigian University of Life Sciences, presented the findings of research undertaken by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on the first decade of REDD+ programs. Professor Angelsen’s concluding message reflected the sentiment that, while the initial expectations for REDD+ have not yet been met, there is hope that the concept still can, under the right conditions, provide positive outcomes both for people and the environment. He suggested that instead of asking, ‘Should we continue with REDD+ or not?” we should ask, “What have we learned that can make our current and future effort to reduce forest emissions more effective, efficient and equitable?”. He also made it clear that results have not come as quickly as many had hoped: “When do we expect to see results? Three years ago I said 2 or 3 years time.” Let’s hope that in a few years time we will be able to look back and say that significant improvements in forest conservation have been made.

On many occasions this week I have walked past the French pavilion and had a chuckle at the people wearing funny clothes and reaching out to touch invisible objects. Today, I became one of them. Visitors to the French pavilion are able to take part in a virtual reality experience that is designed to give people the feeling that they have been plunged 20m under the ocean surface. It provides a comparison between what our oceans looked like in 1950 and what they might look like in 2100 if we are not able to halt climate change. It was a strange mix between a fun and slightly scary experience.

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The IFSA representatives finished the day in true student style by scoping out the pavilion area for some free food and drinks. We were very successful in this endeavour and ended the day as a happy bunch of IFSA students with full stomachs and minds.


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Clare Duck is from Australia and recently completed the Master of Forest Ecosystem Science at the University of Melbourne. She has a particular interest in the complex interactions between people, politics and forests. She is also a big believer in the healing power of tree hugging.

The official profile of IFSA. The International Forestry Students' Association is a non political, non religious and non for profit organization that brings forestry students from all over the world in a wide spectrum of activities.

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