Tropical deforestation contributes about 12% of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity. This figure rises to 15% if you include tropical peatlands, which are also currently being degraded on a huge scale, and which can contain up to ten times more carbon than forests. In the last decade, the largest amounts of deforestation occurred across the humid tropics. Whilst it can be difficult to measure, current global estimates suggest about 13m hectares (an area more half the size of the UK) were lost annually between 2000 and 2010. Causes of deforestation range from populations clearing land to feed their families to agribusinesses clearing huge tracts of forest to make way for monoculture farms producing high-value commodities like palm oil and soya.
Scientists have recognised the value of protecting forests in tackling climate change. In response, policymakers have developed a family of policies – collectively known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd) – to provide a financial incentive to governments, agribusinesses and communities to maintain rather than reduce forest cover. These policies could not only cut carbon emissions but also – given that tropical forests are the most species-rich terrestrial habitat – offer benefits in terms of biodiversity conservation. Where local people are properly involved in the Redd process it may also help alleviate rural poverty. More recently, Redd has evolved to incorporate wider benefits beyond reducing deforestation and degradation alone. The expanded scope, referred to as Redd+, includes moves to manage forests more sustainably and ensure greater conservation efforts.