A new global movement to spare the world’s tropical forests from complete destruction – in the name of fighting global warming – is known by its acronym, REDD+. The idea of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is energizing and/or agitating people around the world, from conservation organizations, to grassroots networks, to environment ministries to corporate boardrooms. At annual United Nations climate talks, it is one of the major items on the negotiating table; an estimated 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to forest destruction.

For many concerned about the world’s fast-disappearing forests, REDD+ holds much promise. The idea is to store carbon in forest soils and plants rather than in the atmosphere, where too much of it is warming the planet. To do this at a global scale, delegates are negotiating a system to reward tropical countries that can demonstrate fewer tons of carbon released from the forest than would have been the case under ‘business as usual’ management. Many have high hopes that this will be the engine needed to save the planet’s remaining tropical forests. However, high hopes will mean little unless the forests of the region are better managed.

“What we need to do is spend less time in the REDDisphere, and more time on the ground.” says RAFT Chief of Party Jack Hurd. A lot of people are talking about the many elements of a global REDD+ system. “What we aren’t talking about,” adds Hurd, “is actually reducing deforestation and forest degradation.”

In Asia and the Pacific, grounding hopes for REDD+ in demonstrated improvements in forest management is the work of an innovative forest program called Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT). RAFT is designed to improve forest management and bring transparency to the tropical timber trade in the region. The program’s work on REDD+ is focused on three areas: research to quantify the carbon benefits of better forest management, a region-wide REDD ‘learning network’, and getting media in Asia and the Pacific engaged in forests and climate change.

On the question of forests and carbon, RAFT has its sights fixed clearly on the ground, where you find forests growing. RAFT’s message is simple: if there is no responsible forest management, especially in commercial timber concessions, there can be no real progress in fighting destructive climate change.