Forest clearing and degradation account for roughly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the cars, trains, planes, ships, and trucks on earth. This is simply too big a piece of the problem to ignore; fail to reduce it and we will fail to stabilize our climate. Although the recent climate summit in Copenhagen failed to produce a legally binding treaty, the importance of forest conservation in mitigating climate change was a rare point of agreement between developed and developing countries and is emphasized in the resulting Copenhagen Accord. Language from the meeting calls for developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (nicknamed REDD), and for wealthy nations to compensate them for doing so. For REDD to succeed, forest nations must develop policies and institutions to reduce and eventually eliminate forest clearing and degradation. One of the most straightforward components of such a program is also one of the oldest and most reliable tricks in the conservation book: protected areas. Indigenous lands and other protected areas (hereafter ILPAs)— created to safeguard land rights, indigenous livelihoods, biodiversity, and other values— contain more than 312 billion tons of carbon (GtC). Crucially, and paradoxically, this ‘‘protected carbon’’ is not entirely protected. While ILPAs typically reduce rates of deforestation compared to surrounding areas, deforestation (with resulting greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions) often continues within them, especially inside those that lack sufficient funding, management capacity, or political backing. These facts suggest an attractive but overlooked opportunity to reduce GHG emissions: creating new ILPAs and strengthening existing ones. Here, we evaluate the case for this potential REDD strategy. We focus on the Amazon basin given its importance for global biodiversity, its enormous carbon stocks, and its advanced network of indigenous lands and other protected areas.
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