Dilemmas within REDD+: It’s Hard to be the Good One

In theory REDD+ is simple: Communities are paid to conserve their forests instead of logging them. Further up, countries get credit for reducing their rate of deforestation.

In practice, it creates some moral dilemmas for the virtuous community that conserves its forest. Consider a hypothetical group of 100 communities in a forested area.


There is a 3% rate of deforestation. It’s easy to identify the communities who did log their plots. Here’s the kicker: which of the 97 communities that conserved their forest should get the credit? Should the credit go to communities who were going to log but decided not to or the communities who planned to keep their area forested? How do we know who was telling the truth?


Credit can be given based on how much a community has improved (reduced its deforestation rate). Here, the virtuous community is screwed. A community with a baseline of 30% deforestation can easily improve to acquire REDD+ credits. If a community has conserved fully, it has a deforestation rate of 0%. It can’t get any better, so it gets nothing.


Moreover many drivers of deforestation are beyond the control of local communities. A farmer sitting on marginal soil next to the Amazon may slash and burn the rainforest to grow enough food so their family doesn’t starve. Meanwhile, a nearby rancher decides to log the rainforest to increase grazing land for her cattle and get a slightly higher profit on her beef. Should they be treated the same?