Design benefit-sharing carefully, or risk undermining REDD+, researchers warn

Failure to give local people a voice in decision making and design can undermine the legitimacy of benefit-sharing mechanisms.
Diantara risiko REDD + adalah ketidaksediaan pengguna hutan untuk berkomitmen jika mereka tidak yakin akan menerima setiap imbalan atas upaya mereka, pendapat dari para Pusat Penelitian Kehutanan Internasional. Gambar kredit: CIFOR / Kate Evans

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BOGOR, Indonesia (9 August 2013) — Mechanisms for sharing the benefits from REDD+ must be well designed or they could create problems in the long term, researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) advise.

Benefit sharing is an important component of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), a climate change mitigation scheme that aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by creating incentives to conserve, restore and sustainably manage forests. Since REDD+ is based on conditional rewards for reducing emissions, it requires a system—or mechanism—to designate who gets rewarded, why and in what proportions.

“There’s a risk that REDD+ could end up having negative impacts if benefit-sharing mechanisms are not carefully designed,” said Pham Thu Thuy, CIFOR scientist and lead author of a comparative study on benefit sharing in 13 REDD+ countries.

“Many solutions for REDD+ are looking at the immediate effects, but they need to look at the long-term consequences as well,” she added.

Pham and her colleagues assessed approaches to benefit sharing that are being proposed or tested in REDD+ countries. Models include fund-based approaches, forest concession agreements, market-based instruments (such as payments for environmental services), land rent fees and community forestry. The benefits distributed may be monetary, such as for the sale of carbon credits in the market or from donor or government funds, or non-monetary, such as technology transfer or improved ecosystem services.

They analyzed whether the approaches were likely to have outcomes that are effective, efficient and equitable—established criteria for the success of REDD+—given the political-economic conditions of each context.

In all countries, factors were identified that could weaken benefit sharing and hence undermine the longevity of REDD+ outcomes.

Two of the most serious issues are unclear tenure and land rights and under-representation of local people—problems that, according to Pham, “tend to arise out of the political setting and the design of institutions”.



Among the risks for REDD+ caused by unclear land tenure and local people’s limited understanding of their rights is that forest users may not be willing to commit to REDD+ if they cannot be sure of receiving any reward for their efforts, the study argues.

“If people have no sense of ownership over their land, they look for short-term gains only,” Pham said.

“If they ask about their entitlement to REDD+ benefits based on their land rights, and they don’t have clear rights, they could lose any incentive to reduce emissions.”

Failure to give local people a voice in decision making and design can also undermine the final benefit-sharing mechanisms, which must be seen as fair, or they will threaten the legitimacy—and acceptance—of REDD+.

“Many countries take a top-down approach to forest management and people don’t have much opportunity to voice their opinions or influence the decisions,” Pham said.

“In many of these countries, a small, powerful group dominates the debate. A lot of other people who will be affected don’t get to have their say. This could mean that they won’t support the final mechanism or don’t have incentives to protect the forest, and so REDD+ might not be successful.”

Mitigating these risks will require reform in REDD+ countries, to achieve clearer tenure regimes, improved coordination among actors, greater transparency and accountability, improved information exchange and stronger capacity of actors, especially those at the local level.

“When we talk of reform, we talk of reform not just in the forestry sector or of land tenure,” Pham said. “It’s really in terms of a country’s development strategies and priorities.”

Furthermore, reform must be what is known as “transformational change”—a dismantling of business-as-usual practices, added Grace Wong, senior scientist at CIFOR and leader of a new CIFOR project on benefit sharing.

“If there is change, it needs to be major change,” she said. “If there is only a minor tweak, then that could actually serve to reinforce the status quo, under the guise of change.”



So what does a well-designed benefit-sharing mechanism look like?

“There’s no single recipe,” Pham said. “It will depend on the context, that is, the country’s political regime, national priorities and the capacity of government agencies. But there are some important features for the design.”

First, she said, the mechanism has to be based on mutual understanding, with equal negotiations and power and the interests of all parties considered.

A benefit-sharing mechanism must also be flexible, so it can be adjusted to reflect changes over time, and have a built-in grievance mechanism.

“Benefit-sharing mechanisms tend to cross levels of government—from local up to provincial and national—and it might happen that households miss out because someone further up the chain has taken someone else’s share,” Pham said. “Most existing models have no system for reporting and stopping this behavior.”

The design must also allow for balance—or even trade-offs—between the “3E” goals of effectiveness, efficiency and equity. Pham cited a project in Vietnam that favored one “E”—equity—over the others, with the result that it was not efficient or effective.

“They said they would distribute the monetary benefits among everyone in the village, but then everyone would receive less than one dollar a year. It seemed highly equitable but it did not provide enough of an incentive.” she said.

“So you have to look at all three Es and try to find the best harmonization based on country context.”

For more information on the topics discussed in this paper, please contact Pham Thu Thuy at

This work forms part of the CGIAR research program on forests, trees and agroforestry and is supported by NORAD, AusAID, DFID and the European Union. 

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