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The transboundary displacement of deforestation under REDD+

Problematic intersections between the trade of forest-risk commodities and land grabbing in the Mekong region

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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.