Degradation of REDD – PART II

The second part of the interview with professor Ole Hofstad from NMBU is focused on, inter alia, deforestation, forest degradation, carbon sequestration and illegal logging in REDD countries. If you have not read the first part of the interview, you can find it here: Degradation of REDD – interview with prof. O.Hofstad

Deforestation and forest degradation

Rafal Chudy:

– How do you understand deforestation and forest degradation? Does climate change bother people in developing countries, especially those who harvest forests illegally?

Prof. Ole Hofstad:

    – Within an economic paradigm, one would understand deforestation and forest degradation as activities undertaken by direct agents because the activities are profitable to these agents. Climate change does not affect those agents much, and the activities of each agent result in emissions that are marginal in the global picture. We may think of GHG emissions as negative externalities of deforestation and forest degradation.


– Why do not people in REDD+ countries initiate forest planting by themselves? Do they need external funding to encourage them to do that?

    – Well, if rural people clear forests for agriculture, or cut trees for charcoal production, these activities must be profitable as seen by those people. If a PES scheme is required to induce tree planting, this is an indication that tree planting is not as profitable without the scheme as the best alternative – often cropping and/or grazing. If it were not for the payment, planting trees would reduce people’s livelihood since it reduces the land available for cropping or grazing. On the other hand, those who pay for REDD+ schemes are concerned with the externalities, but they do not want to pay more than what is required to ensure delivery of the services in demand. This applies both to governments in the North and to NGOs in the South.

– What can be the argument for REDD+?

    – An argument for REDD+ has been that it is a cheap way of reducing GHG emissions.

– One can say that generally projects in Africa did not become popular or even demanded within the CDM mechanism. What was the reason behind such situation?

     One reason for this may be that financial transactions in African countries are seldom transparent and often prone to corruption. Another reason is that long-term storage of carbon in trees is not very safe. Planted trees may easily be browsed, burned, or cut. Leakage is also a problem with small-scale REDD+ projects since deforestation or forest degradation may accelerate in other locations because of the project. If this happens, the overall effect on GHG emissions is zero.

– How are carbon sequestration projects regarded by local communities in developing countries

    -Considering tree planting as an investment by rural households, a peasant investor would be concerned about immediate expenses and future revenues. In a well-established market for forest products like eucalyptus poles or softwood logs, the investor is fairly certain that there will be demand for the output after 10-20 years when trees are mature. In a recently established market for carbon sequestration, future payments are much more uncertain. Rural households do not know whether there will be a demand for carbon storage 20 years from now, much less of the price they may expect. Nobody knows for sure who owns the carbon 20 years from now. The state might even decide to expropriate the forest or the stock of carbon. There is a considerable political risk attached to forest investments in many African states. In this situation, rural households demand immediate payments for the future environmental service of carbon sequestration and storage. Otherwise, there would be no planting. The uncertainty is passed on to the buyer – the financing organization.

Environmental services

So, what are we paying for? Do we really pay for environmental services, and which services?

    If it was REDD+ we wanted to pay for, I am afraid we do not get what we pay for, at least it is highly uncertain whether the planted woodlots will increase the stock of carbon stored in African vegetation permanently. The trees may have other benefits, improving biodiversity (if the right type of trees are planted), reducing erosion, or supplying wood. We have paid for such projects before. We did not call it REDD+.

– What is the attitude for such projects among people who support such policies?

    Many voters in Europe and elsewhere are in favour of policies to support poor people in the South. They may be happy to finance rural development and environmental conservation in Africa. Therefore, a transfer of income implemented as tree planting projects may well be a policy that can be sustained for many years to come. I am in doubt, however, whether it is correct to label those projects as PES. For instance, Frances Seymour said in an interview with Development Today in 2013,

“If you remove the results-based payments, you remove the linchpin of what makes REDD different from traditional forestry projects”.

– Is it not strange that most of emissions are coming from developed countries, and much more attention is on developing countries especially in tropics?

    Rich countries in the North like Denmark and the rest of Europe were deforested centuries ago. Anthropogenic emissions of GHG have increased tremendously since the industrial revolution. Annual CO2 emissions per capita in Norway were in 2014, forty-three times as high as they were in Tanzania. Under such circumstances, poor countries in the South find it obvious that rich countries in the North must pay for reduced deforestation in the South. Some analysts in the North argue that it is cheaper to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation in the South than reducing such emissions from industry and transport in the North. The Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) is an indication that the government accepted this line of argument and has been willing to pay for REDD. This policy was not altered although the Norwegian government changed from a red-green majority to a blue-blue minority coalition in 2013.

– Have you been equally pessimistic about REDD+ for many years?

    Officials of NICFI would probably say that I have been overly pessimistic about the likelihood of reducing agricultural expansion into tropical forests. However, some colleagues would insist that I was terribly naïve in assuming that a market for reduced emissions could be established both internationally and within poor countries in a few years’s time. Also, it should have been clear to me, and others, that fragile states in East-Africa would have serious difficulties implementing REDD policies and controlling what happens in remote forest areas.

Illegal logging

– It is widely known, that one reason behind deforestation and forest degradation is illegal logging. Recently, I have written a post entitled Problem of the illegal logging finally solved! Norway takes a bad way!
My opinions were about Norway as a first country in the world to be deforestation-free. In addition, I proposed a simple economical solution how to solve a problem with illegal logging. Solution was extremely simple, i.e. make illegal activities legal. My idea is to increase the timber supply on the market, and push prices down, what in consequence could make illegal business unprofitable.
Don’t you think that all restrictions, bans, programs in developed countries etc., work contradictory to their desired goals, and in consequence make illegal activities even more profitable?

– I am not sure illegal logging is a very important part of the deforestation process. In many instances, it is what happens to the land after logging which determines whether we have deforestation or not. Li et al. (2008) published a paper on long-term effects of eliminating illegal logging globally. It may give some hints at the effects of your suggestion. Do not forget that some laws that prohibit logging are sound results of environmental concerns.

I am afraid you generalize the situation in developing countries. Such simplified conclusions are not scientific. The situation in many countries in the South has improved tremendously since I started my work in Tanzania in 1977.


Professor Ole HofstadProfessor Ole Hofstad was born 19.03.1949 in Trondheim, Norway. In 1973 he finished his Msc. studies in Forest Economics at the Agricultural University of Norway (AUN). The same year he was employed as research assistant at the Department of Forest Economics at AUN. He successfully defended his Dr. scient thesis in Forest Economics at the same department in 1977. The title of his thesis was “Conflicts in multiple-use forestry”.

Subsequently Hofstad spent two years in Morogoro, Tanzania as lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam (later Sokoine University of Agriculture) and one year as lecturer at the Department of Forest Mensuration and Management, AUN. From 1980 he was employed for two years as director of planning for MADEMO (Post-independence state forest enterprise) in Mozambique. In the period 1982- 989 he was lecturer and associate professor (from 1985) at the Department of Forest Mensuration and Management, AUN. He was elected as Head of Department for 1988 and 1989.

After the merger of all forestry departments at AUN in 1990 he was elected as the first Head at the Department of Forest Sciences, AUN. From 1991 to 1993 he was on leave from the department and spent two years as Woodland Management Advisor to Zimbabwe Forestry Commission on contract with the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hofstad was appointed as professor at the Department of Forest Sciences in 1993, and was later elected as Head of Department for two three-year periods (1996-1998 and 2000-2002). In 2002-2003 he spent his sabbatical at College of Natural Resources, University of California at Berkeley. Since 2003 he has been professor at the Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Photo: Montane forest and agriculture in the Eastern Arc of Mountains in Tanzania.
Photo credit: Meley Rannestad.

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