On September 18th, 2013 Code REDD along with UN-REDD Programme hosted REDD+ Talks: NYC. The event brought together leaders from the private, public and civil society sectors to discuss their experiences of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and the role of the private sector in advancing this critical mechanism to tackle deforestation and climate change.

Held at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo, the event provided a platform for high-level REDD+ practitioners and leaders of the business and policy worlds, indigenous peoples, and forest communities, to exchange experiences and explore the contributions the private sector can make to REDD+ through finance, sustainable operations, project investment, and sharing expertise.

Hundreds of invited guests gathered to hear high-level speakers including Edward Norton (Oscar-nominated actor and UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity), Heikki Holmas (Minister for International Development, Norway), Achim Steiner (Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme) and TJ DiCaprio (Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft). The programme was followed by a reception in the zoo’s spectacular Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit.

Climate change is one of the most pressing problems currently facing humanity. Overwhelming scientific evidence concludes that we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 13 billion tonnes by 2020 in order to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

Tackling deforestation is central to this challenge, as deforestation and forest degradation currently contribute approximately 15 per cent of global GHG emissions – more than the entire global transportation sector. Deforestation has other devastating impacts such as endangering biodiversity, reducing fresh water supply, and threatening the livelihoods of communities who live in and around forests.

REDD+ offers an innovative and effective approach to tackling deforestation and reducing emissions without massive investment in unproven technologies. REDD+ is therefore rapidly emerging as a key strategy in climate change mitigation.

In contrast to previous attempts to save forests, REDD+ aims to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to protect forests, reduce emissions from deforestation and invest in low-carbon pathways to sustainable development.

REDD+ Talks: NYC was significant in bringing together leaders from many of the sectors that are key to REDD+’s success. Representatives from forest country governments, forest communities, major corporations, investment institutions and project development companies, explored the various roles the private sector can play in REDD+ and considered the many ways that companies can help to achieve the environmental and social gains that REDD+ promises.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said, “By some estimates, the world will need to invest US 40 billion a year to halve the rate of global deforestation–and in doing so play a pivotal role in tackling poverty, combating climate change and catalyzing a transition to an inclusive Green Economy.”

“REDD+ has over 5 years achieved a great deal and has secured support and finance from several governments such as Norway. But if the self-evident and multiple benefits of this initiative are to be fully realized we need a scaling up and acceleration of ambition from governments but also responsible investors prepared to support safeguards for local and indigenous peoples.”

TJ DiCaprio, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft, said, “We are part of the problem. We also need to be part of the solution. We needed to get our own house in order first and clean-up our own operations. In order to do that, our reductions in carbon emissions had to go to zero.”

Almir Narayamoga Suruí, Chief of the Suruí People, Brazilian Amazon noted, “REDD+ is a bridge between the indigenous world and the non-indigenous world, so it’s an appropriate way to begin this process” says Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, who spearheaded a REDD+ project in the Brazilian Amazon. “It creates a vehicle through which the capitalist system can recognize the value of standing forests, and indigenous people can be rewarded for preserving them.”

Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society confirmed, “REDD+ is an exciting and powerful tool for forest conservation with triple bottom-line benefits to help wildlife, local people, and fight climate change. WCS is proud to host this event at our Bronx Zoo headquarters and is a dedicated partner on REDD+ efforts.”

Mike Korchinsky, Founder and CEO of Wildlife Works stated, “Forest communities must be given the final say over what happens to the forests they call home. It is our experience that most will make a clear choice to protect their environment if they are given a competitive economic alternative.”

“We have already demonstrated that we can overcome the many technical, financial and social challenges of implementing a REDD+ project. We are already protecting threatened forests by bringing unprecedented benefits to forest communities, and our work has already generated millions of tons of real avoided emissions. The biggest challenge now is getting more corporations to voluntarily offset their unavoidable emissions with REDD+ emission reductions. Reducing emissions through REDD+ is a pay for performance, ecosystem service. The sale of REDD+ emissions reductions is critical to allow this transformative model to work.”

Mama Mercy Ngaruiya, Chairlady of the Tumaini Women’s Group in Kasigau, Kenya on the benefits her community has seen from its REDD+ Project, said “When the carbon (project) came, oh wow- there was a change…We have education. Most of the children have started going to secondary school and university. We are going to have a different nation!”

See additional photos and event highlights here.

Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher © Wildlife Conservation Society