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Saving the rainforests: REDD or dead?

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The REDD plan
  • U.N.-REDD program has received widespread support from countries at Copenhagen talks
  • The incentive system would mean that trees are worth more standing than cut
  • Critics argue that REDD allows rich countries to meet targets with cutting emissions

(CNN) -- The U.N.'s forest carbon scheme which has formed part of the negotiations at the climate talks in Copenhagen has been one of the few areas where countries are broadly in agreement.

The U.N.'s REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) program is a collaboration between the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Environmental (UNEP) and Development (UNDP) programs.

Yemi Katerere, head of the U.N.-REDD program explained to CNN how the REDD program proposals would work.

"In theory REDD is a system to provide incentives for countries not to cut their forests," Katerere said.

"The incentive system is essentially that your trees are worth more standing than they are cut. You get a reward for not cutting your forests."

The idea is straightforward; If the function of rainforests -- capturing carbon, water catchment, weather regulators and biodiversity -- is recognized their value will rise.

The destruction of the world's rainforests is estimated to contribute to as much as 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

REDD envisages a situation whereby "different services can be marketed and paid for, boosting the incomes of other wise marginalized communities". Many pilot schemes are already underway.

Back in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, the part rainforests play in carbon storage wasn't recognized. Proposals to reduce emissions from deforestation were first introduced by the governments of Papua New Guinea in December 2005 at the COP11 talks in Canada. Talks at Copenhagen are hoping to build on the progress made since.

REDD say that more than 30 models of how the program should work have been put forward by countries, groups of countries and NGOs. Katerere wouldn't be drawn on the outcome of negotiations at Copenhagen when CNN spoke to him on Thursday.

Critics of the REDD program argue that it allows richer countries to meet -- to buy essentially -- some of their emissions obligations without cutting them at all. Others argue trying to measure what is being preserved and how much carbon is being stored will prove incredibly hard to quantify.

But Katerere said an imperfect program which can be improved is better than none at all.

"We should stop focusing on the negatives issues of REDD and start looking at the positives. In the short term, REDD offers use the greatest mitigation potential at an affordable price and is the most cost effective."