REDD+ was conceived as a unified global mechanism for achieving significant reductions in carbon emissions to the atmosphere while conserving tropical forests and improving the lives of the people that depend upon them. Some tropical nations have achieved remarkable results; deforestation has declined, reducing global carbon emissions by 1.5% or more in the Amazon alone. Some developed nations have also done their part, making generous commitments of finance for REDD+ programs. This important progress towards climate change mitigation and tropical forest conservation is now at risk, however. REDD+ is increasingly viewed in developing nations as a complicated funding mechanism for forest conservation that has failed to deliver the scale of finance that was expected.
To secure and build upon these early successes, REDD+ must be rapidly re-framed. The grand global finance mechanism is postponed. Attention must be re-directed to the substantial local and regional benefits of a “low-emission” rural development (LED) model and the potential for the alignment and reform of domestic policies and finance to support the transition to this development model. LED must be defined broadly if it is to garner deep, durable political support. It should include the steep reductions in deforestation and forest degradation that are the focus of REDD+. But it also should improve rural livelihoods, create jobs, improve services, increase market access and investment, and protect and restore natural capital. All of these aspects of rural development are within reach in many tropical nations.