Conserve or convert? Pan-tropical modeling of REDD–bioenergy competition
The land competition between tropical bioenergy plantations and payments for forest carbon conservation (e.g., through an international scheme for Reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, REDD+) is modeled using spatially explicit data on biofuel feedstock (oil palm and sugar cane) suitability and forest biomass carbon stocks. The results show that a price on the (avoided) carbon emissions from deforestation at the same level as those from fossil fuel use makes clearing for high yielding bioenergy crops unprofitable on about 60% of the tropical evergreen forest area. For the remaining 40% deforestation remains the most profitable option. Continued profitability of forest clearing is most pronounced for oil palm bioenergy systems in Latin America and Africa, with REDD+ making deforestation for sugar cane plantations unprofitable on 97% of evergreen forest land. Results are shown to be relatively robust to assumptions regarding potential yields and to the addition of a ‘biodiversity premium’ on land use change emissions. While REDD+ may play an important role in stemming biodiversity loss and reducing carbon emissions from tropical deforestation in the near future, in the longer run reliance on a system that values forests solely for their carbon retention capacities poses a serious risk. It is imperative that the institutions and policies currently being established as part of REDD+ readiness activities are resilient to future changes in the incentive structures facing tropical forest countries due to, e.g., climate policy induced demand for biofuels.