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Equity remains low on the REDD+ policy agenda

Inequalities can have important consequences in terms of who gains or loses from REDD+.
Equity is a social construction, and ideas of what is “fair” vary from context to context.

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Editor’s Note: REDD+ will be a key theme of discussion at the upcoming Forests Asia Summit, 5-6 May in Jakarta, Indonesia. One discussion forum at the Summit, Seeing Green in REDD – sharing experiences on the equity and economics of REDD+ pilot projects, will draw together successful experiences in implementing REDD+ projects on the ground, with an emphasis on the challenges to finding the elusive win-win between social equity, forest protection, and economic growth. The session will highlight practical project implementation, coordination, and support experiences of the United Nations Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia (UNORCID), as well as the regional and global experiences of the tri-agency UN-REDD Programme. The range of projects presented will cover a spectrum of countries in varying stages of development in the ASEAN region, and also along the spectrum of REDD+ implementation. Read more here.

BOGOR, Indonesia (31 March 2014) — Government officials in forest-rich developing countries are more concerned about their nation being treated fairly in international negotiations on REDD+ than about fairness within their own territory, a media analysis of public discourses on REDD+ has found.

REDD+ — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation — is a U.N.-backed international mechanism that provides developing countries with financial incentives to keep their trees standing and hence maintain and increase carbon stocks.

Officials’ failure to address the issues that weaken fairness, or equity, within a country with entrenched inequalities could ultimately undermine the effectiveness of REDD+ and leave marginalized groups worse off, argue the authors of “Equity and REDD+ in the media: A comparative analysis of policy discourses.”

“We don’t expect REDD+ to solve all inequalities, but we do think it is important for REDD+ policymakers to engage with these issues,” said lead author Monica Di Gregorio, a senior associate at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and a lecturer at Britain’s University of Leeds.

“Equity issues will shape policy outcomes. If equity is not taken into account, REDD+ could end up triggering conflicts and forest users may refuse to participate. And if REDD+ is designed without consideration of safeguards, the risk is that it could even worsen inequality,” she added.


Early in the development of REDD+, equity was identified as one of the “3Es” necessary for REDD+ to succeed, the others being effectiveness (the amount of carbon emissions reduced) and efficiency (the cost of reducing emissions).

Yet equity is a social construction, and ideas of what is “fair” vary from context to context.

“Different people have very different ideas of what is equitable,” said Cecilia Luttrell, Senior Research Associate at CIFOR and lead author of a related study on discourses on benefit sharing. That study identified six very different rationales for which groups should benefit from REDD+.

“It’s important to be aware of all these competing views, because they influence not only policy but also whether people can contribute to decision making and how the costs and benefits of REDD+ are distributed,” she added, noting that several aspects of benefit sharing can influence equity.

For example, those involved in designing benefit-sharing mechanisms can support equity by considering the costs of REDD+, which accrue to different groups disproportionately and which tend to be ignored. Furthermore, she added, they need to be aware — and transparent — about the outcomes they want to achieve, as this clarity helps to identify the legitimate decision-makers and decide who is accountable for what outcomes. 


In many REDD+ countries, however, the equity debate is not moving beyond a simplistic understanding of benefit sharing, according to Di Gregorio.

“The root causes of social and political inequality are receiving very little or no public attention,” she said. “But these inequalities have important consequences in terms of who gains or loses from REDD+.”

A common issue is the insecurity or lack of land rights and tenure in REDD+ countries. For example, in a study of 71 villages in five REDD+ countries, more than half of the villagers surveyed reported that their tenure over at least some of their land was insecure.

The fact that there is little public discussion of equity means that the state is not under any pressure to change what is going on in their country

Monica Di Gregorio

As a result, local and indigenous people risk losing control over their land and may have a weaker claim to any benefits from REDD+. This is reflected in the “legal rights” rationale identified by Luttrell and her co-authors — the argument that benefits should go to those groups that have legal rights to the carbon or trees.

Furthermore, those without a recognized right to resources will likely be left out of any decision making about those resources, Di Gregorio added.

“If local people cannot participate in decision making, then it’s likely that the outcomes won’t favor them,” Di Gregorio said.

“The issues of participation, distribution of benefits, and local and indigenous rights are all linked.”


Equity-related issues such as participation and tenure form part of the safeguards included in the Cancun Agreement. The aim of safeguards is to prevent REDD+ activities from causing harm to people or the environment. The findings of the media analysis raise the question of whether policymakers fully appreciate the importance of safeguards.

“Countries may not be taking safeguards seriously, in the sense that the discussions that need to take place are not central in REDD+ policy debates,” said Di Gregorio.

“We can even question whether the international community is taking safeguards seriously, given that overall there is not much focus on safeguards or equity.”

Another underlying reason for the neglect of these issues is that equality and rights inherently provoke “questions of power,” as Di Gregorio put it.

For example, in those REDD+ countries where forest land is under state ownership. If the state were to grant land rights or greater input to local or indigenous groups, it could jeopardize its own position — and this is where the role of civil society becomes critical, the authors argue.

“The fact that there is little public discussion of equity means that the state is not under any pressure to change what is going on in their country,” Di Gregorio said.

“Many countries therefore need civil society to raise the issue, because state officials are unlikely to engage unless they are openly asked to.”

Pushing equity further up the policy agenda requires stronger consultation processes and more involvement by civil society and funders, Di Gregorio suggested.

“There is scope for international actors to get more involved on this topic,” she said. “They can discuss these issues with national actors as well, especially in countries where civil society is weak.”

These studies are published in a special issue of Ecology and Society titled Beyond Carbon: Enabling Justice and Equity in REDD+ Across Levels of Governance. For more information about this research, please contact Maria Brockhaus at m.brockhaus@cgiar.org.

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