The transboundary displacement of deforestation under REDD+: Problematic intersections between the trade of forest-risk commodities and land grabbing in the Mekong region


A key lever to mitigate global climate change is the reversal of forest carbon emissions trends throughout the Global South. Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiatives seek to conserve forest carbon stocks primarily through national and sub-national policies and interventions. Dominant drivers of forest change are, however, increasingly international in scope, tied to global commodity markets and investment flows, and are not easily captured or effectively addressed through nation-based carbon accounting. The fragmentary adoption of REDD+ across forest nations leaves room for the displacement of deforestation from early-adopters and countries with more rigorous carbon-related regulatory regimes to late-adopters of REDD+. While this displacement is expected to be substantial, our empirical understanding of the causal pathways of transboundary displacement remains weak. Our research addresses this lacuna, focusing on Vietnam, an early adopter of REDD+ that has experienced significant reforestation despite exponential growth in exports of key forest-risk commodities, sourced in large part from Lao PDR and Cambodia. We show that over the last decade, the trade of forest-risk commodities was large and accelerating in the Mekong region, concurrent with the rapid expansion of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs), constituting important, inter-related causal pathways for the displacement of deforestation and forest degradation. LSLAs are, however, core of national economic development strategies in the Mekong region, indicating a problematic relationship between REDD+, trade flows and land and forest governance. We explore the problematic intersection between these dynamic processes, their impacts on forests in Lao PDR and Cambodia, and implications for global efforts to manage forest resources and reduce emissions. The inability of REDD+ to address transboundary impacts suggests the need for complementary interventions that address supply- and demand-side dynamics.

Global Environmental Change
Patrick Meyfroidt
Patrick Meyfroidt
Professor of Land Systems and Sustainability Science

My research focuses on how land systems can contribute to sustainability.