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Image courtesy of Pacific Forest Alliance. Papua New Guinea, 2015.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, also known as REDD+, is the UN's scheme to bring the world's forests into the fight against climate change. It has the shape of the radical thinking that we have been waiting for. It goes like this: trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. That biological function has an obvious value, so we should pay for it. People who live in forests should be rewarded for looking after them, instead of chopping them down. If REDD+ succeeds as it is supposed to, money will flow to the world's trees and their stewards through carbon markets and international grants, and new kinds of forest economies will emerge.

REDD+ was proposed by the governments of Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica in 2005. It has been—officially—one of the most successful elements of the UN's global climate negotiations since then. The only problem with beautiful ideas is that they don't always work in practice. The technical challenges of measuring forests; the social complexities of forest ownership; and the corruption and power of the logging industry are prodigious and overwhelming.

Papua New Guinea has been a laboratory for REDD+ for the last decade. A land of immense natural riches, it has the world's third largest primary rainforest. It is where a businessman named Kevin Conrad dreamed up the idea in the first place, and where scientists, con men, loggers, forest communities and true believers have struggling over REDD+ ever since. Journalist Sam Knight tells their story.