Although it may be easy to forget, forests affect everyone. Forests, particularly in the tropics, provide a home for millions of people, support 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, and drive many of the earth’s local and global climatic and hydrological cycles. Forests also seriously contribute to climate change when they are cut down. In fact, deforestation and forest degradation activities emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the entire global transportation sector. Unfortunately, the increasing demand for agriculture and timber products, among others, requires the land that forests occupy, which in turn drives deforestation. This especially rings true in developing countries, where land-use changes are often associated with economic development. Recognizing the crucial role that trees play in climate change mitigation, in 2009 the international community presented the Copenhagen Accord at the 15th session of the Conference of Parties (the decision-making body of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change). A large portion of the Accord emphasizes Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) as a viable climate change mitigation strategy. The concept of REDD+ is simple: developed countries, as the main emitters of greenhouse gases, will provide financial incentives to developing countries to keep their forests standing. REDD+ attempts to give an economic value to the carbon stored within the biomass of trees. This article aims to give an overview of the issues that surround deforestation in developing countries, the history of the REDD+ solution, current initiatives that support it, and a suggestion for a phased-implementation approach that will ensure that REDD+ is financially feasible in the long-term. REDD+ has the potential to be the most rapid and cost-effective solution in the fight to mitigate climate change. If implemented, REDD+ will have impacts that reach beyond reducing carbon dioxide emissions: ultimately, REDD+ provides an economic solution for enhancing the sustainable growth of developing countries.
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