Legal frameworks for REDD+: a Q&A with British MP Barry Gardiner

DOHA, Qatar (27 November, 2012)_British parliamentarian Barry Gardiner, a passionate advocate on environmental policy, talks to Forest News about REDD+ during the 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP18).

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Legislators must use their oversight responsibilities to ensure that laws on forestry are being properly enforced. Dita Alangkara/CIFOR.

DOHA, Qatar (27 November, 2012)_British parliamentarian Barry Gardiner, a passionate advocate on environmental policy, talks to Forests News about REDD+ during the 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP18) in Doha, Qatar.

One of the key concerns about the U.N.-backed scheme is whether developing countries will be able to implement the legal and policy frameworks needed to make it a success. Legislators in developing and developed countries all have a significant role to play in creating these frameworks and need to use their oversight roles to ensure enough resources are directed towards the scheme, says Gardiner.

Gardiner is also UK Vice President of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International), an organisation that seeks to strengthen the role of parliamentarians in tackling major environmental challenges.

Q. From a big picture perspective, are we on the right track when it comes to putting in place legal frameworks to support REDD+?

A. We are still a long way from achieving adequate legal frameworks…but we should remember that REDD+ is a relatively new and evolving concept, as well as a complex one. What is good is that there is an increasing amount of research being carried out into potential REDD+ legal reforms and a number of new programmes have emerged that are testing these ideas with a range of key stakeholders.

Ever since REDD+ appeared on the radar, the executive branches of government have been engaged with the REDD+ agenda. There has been a focus on preparing national strategies that provide an overview of institutional frameworks, strategic programmes, implementation phases and sub-national activities. This early emphasis was critical for creating a vision and a related set of goals for achieving REDD+. However, there is a now growing shift towards integrating the key elements of these national strategies into countries’ existing legal frameworks.

This is where the hard work really begins.

National REDD+ strategies have often been prepared in the confines of one ministry (or a small group), so whilst they are an important step forward, the true test of their effectiveness is whether the vision that they portray can gather broader political support (in the legislature and parliament). All good REDD+ national strategies highlight existing laws and regulations that will need to be amended or describe legal inconsistencies that need to be fixed as part of addressing deforestation.

This requires not only technical, but political knowhow.

Considering this and based on my conversations with various legislators, I have been concerned by the lack of awareness and understanding of the potential benefits of REDD+ within the parliaments of many forested developing countries. What is even more concerning is the limited effort that has been made to engage with legislators to develop their support for REDD+. Without securing the support of influential legislators, it will be increasingly difficult to achieve the legal reform that is necessary to support REDD+.

Q. What are the essential ingredients needed in such frameworks and why are they so important?

A. As part of the GLOBE Legislators’ Forest Initiative (GLFI), a team of environmental lawyers from Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Indonesia and Mexico have been carrying out comprehensive research and stakeholder engagement to explore the options for REDD+ legal reform in these four countries.

One of the recurring themes from this research is the need to clarify land, forest and carbon tenure as a legal priority for REDD+. Without clear ownership structures in place, it will be impossible to plan and distribute the risks and benefits derived from carbon sequestration activities. This task is often complicated by overlapping systems of state and customary tenure, which will require REDD+ legal frameworks to be based on comprehensive stakeholder participation in order to ensure recognition for indigenous people and forest communities’ rights to carbon.

Another common legal issue that has been recognised is the existing contradictions between sectoral laws, for example forest, agricultural and mining codes. It is critical that there is greater harmonisation between the key land use sectors. This will require spatial plans to be updated at every level of government and for inconsistencies between the concession systems of competing sectoral laws to be addressed in a transparent manner.

Another major legal concern is the coordination between laws at different levels of government. Many REDD+ countries are federal states with varying degrees of decentralisation … A legal priority for REDD+ must be to create clear institutional structures that clarify the mandates of institutions at every level of government.

Q. Which countries have made the most progress in building their legal and legislative frameworks so far? 

A. Earlier this year the Mexican Congress’ advanced a set of amendments to the environmental law (1988) and forest sustainable development law (2003), which harmonised the definitions of key terms, supported the development of economic instruments to promote environmental services that provide benefits to forest owners and forest land users, and included a set of REDD+ safeguards. This legislative process … provides a valuable template that other national legislatures can follow when advancing their REDD+ laws.

Other countries are considering a new REDD+ law to create a broader legal framework. Brazil is an interesting example of this approach, where a REDD+ Law Project is under consideration by both houses of Congress. This law would create a National REDD+ System, clarify which types of activities are eligible for REDD+, establish a National REDD+ Commission to oversee implementation, and differentiate between REDD+ credits for fund- and market-based systems. With regards to carbon rights and ownership, the bill indicates that ownership of the REDD+ credits would likely follow land and forest ownership. This law project currently sits in its third and arguably most crucial Commission at the Chamber of Deputies, the Commission on Agriculture. The amendments put forward by the Rapporteur provide further clarity and protection to the rights of indigenous peoples and traditional communities with regards to tenure, benefit-sharing and the settling of disputes.

Q. What contributions do you think national legislators can make to support the effectiveness of the REDD+ process?

A. The primary way that a national legislator can support REDD+ is by playing an active role in creating a clear legal framework that supports the effective implementation of the national strategy.

Legislators must also use their oversight responsibilities to ensure that laws are being properly enforced. This is an area where GLOBE International is carrying out further research in collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) to explore the formal mechanisms for parliamentary oversight of forest conservation and management in key REDD+ countries.

In countries where the parliament is actively engaged in determining the national budget, legislators can request that sufficient climate-related forest expenditure is allocated to support the implementation of the REDD+ strategy. Often the institutions responsible for managing countries’ forest reserves have inadequate resources to effectively enforce the laws and address illegal activity; so parliamentary pressure to call for greater implementation capacity would support REDD+ goals.

Legislators have the responsibility of representing the rights of their constituents. This is of particular importance for REDD+ as it is critical that the views and concerns of forest communities are heard in national policy debates about addressing deforestation. Therefore, legislators who represent tropical forested constituencies must play an active role in both listening to the people who live in and around the forests, and championing their cause in order to ensure the REDD+ delivers pro-poor development solutions.

Finally, I must add that it is not only national legislators from forested developing countries that can support the REDD+ process. Parliamentarians from developed countries can lobby their governments to provide additional and ambitious financial commitments in exchange for verified reductions in forest emissions. While internationally funded programmes that support policy development, capacity building and strengthening “readiness” are important, without secure, predictable and long-term finance, it is extremely challenging for a forest government to prioritize REDD+ over established, deforestation-enabled development options.

Barry Gardiner MP will be a keynote speaker at the Discussion Forum on Governance Frameworks for REDD+ at Forest Day 6, which will be held in Doha, Qatar, on the sidelines of the UNFCCC COP18 on December 2.

For more stories from the UN climate talks in Doha, click here.

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