Scientists have sounded the alarm about the need to properly design schemes to pay countries to protect their tropical forests as a means of slowing global warming.
Deforestation is estimated to contribute about 20% of global emissions of the heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).
In a paper published in Current Biology magazine, the scientists warned that the market may target forests that are cheap to protect and rich in carbon and neglect those that have less carbon but more endangered animals and plants.
"We are concerned that governments will focus on cutting deforestation in the most carbon-rich forests, only for clearance pressures to shift to other high biodiversity forests which are not given priority for protection," said the team's joint leader, Alan Grainger, of the University of Leeds.
The scientists, from Britain, the United States, Germany, Switzerland and Singapore, said concentrations of carbon and biodiversity in tropical forests only partially overlap.
They said up to 95 percent of damage to REDD-protected forests could be displaced to nearby unprotected forests.
Their report cited the example of the Peruvian Amazon, where the creation of forest reserves contributed to a 300 to 470 percent rise in damage to forests in adjacent areas.
State workers and public money may be switched to REDD forests, leaving unprotected areas at risk, the paper said.
The scientists also fear that REDD could, perversely, lead countries to delay forest protection measures that they might otherwise have taken anyway, as they await the new agreement and the rewards it might bring.
What's the solution, then?
They urged countries meeting in Denmark to add rules on safeguarding biodiversity to the text of any deal and consider giving incentives to poor nations that address the issue.
"Despite the best of intentions, mistakes can easily happen because of poor design," Grainger added. "A well designed REDD can save many species."
Some suggestions on how to get REDD right by including private landowners - From Mongabay.