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While the potential contribution of a nationally implemented program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) to developing countries’ budgets remains as yet obscure, two general concerns are that REDD+ will i) incentivize land grabbing and ii) remain financially uncompetitive against current commercial forest uses. However, based on data from Guyana’s, United Nations-approved, Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL) submission and national documents, we found that i) national REDD+ appears not to place value on forest, but financial penalties on forest damage, and ii) would be competitive when viewed from the perspective of the owner of the natural resources (national society), even against high value commodities such as gold and timber (the country’s main emission drivers), and at an intermediate US$5 carbon price. Hidden by the latter is a very skewed sharing of net revenue between the state and private sector supply chains (~1:99).Weak law enforcement, common across the tropics, enhances skewed sharing, and linked political leverage likely undermines any plans that would interfere with private income streams, including rural development, land tenure and conservation plans. We suggest that government or electorate pressure towards more equitable revenue sharing, i.e. ‘cleaning profit chains’, would both be justified and worthwhile, and unlikely to produce job losses. Investing this homegrown finance in better management and law enforcement of finite natural resources (under REDD+, including forests) could return significant REDD+ income while mitigating climate change and aiding rights of forest-dependent livelihoods. Along with cleaning supply chains and moving commodities out of natural forest areas, assessing and cleaning private profit chains may more generally be a promising approach for REDD+ and climate mitigation goals, along with its many associated social and environmental co-benefits.
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