In national REDD+ policy networks, a bit of conflict is not a bad thing

The Global Comparative Study discovers that competing interests make for better implementation.
We provide snapshots of the policy networks from seven analyzed countries.

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BOGOR, Indonesia—A balance between cooperation and conflict is one recipe for success in REDD+ moving forward, according to a global study of several countries designing or implementing REDD+ strategies.

The Global Comparative Study of REDD+ is under way in 14 tropical forest countries around the world, with REDD+ policy networks being studied in nine of those.

A series of comparative analyses in a subset of seven countries has recently been published in a special issue of the journal Ecology and Society.

The need for some measure of conflict “was somewhat of a surprise—we thought that in countries where there is harmony between stakeholders, there would be easy REDD+ decision making,” said Maria Brockhaus, a senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) who leads the institute’s research on countries’ REDD+ policy networks.

“But in fact, the countries with strong civil society groups and different actors to counteract the main powers showed the best outcomes,” she said.

There were some notable patterns, perhaps most prominent among them: Countries in the early stages of national REDD+ policy debates are characterized by cooperation, the “honeymoon period.” It is not until later, in the stage where stakeholders must bargain over specific policies or measures and options for benefit-sharing, that power struggles and conflict tend to arise—particularly as decisions regarding how to address the drivers of deforestation and degradation are contentious. Most REDD+ countries are somewhat stuck in this phase of REDD+.

Here are snapshots of the policy networks from each of the seven countries analyzed.


In Brazil, the team noted the presence of polarization implying the need for better negotiation among actors if REDD+ is to move forward effectively. Furthermore, the absence of coordination between types of actors—private sector, government and NGOs—suggests that achieving optimal REDD+ governance in Brazil will be difficult.

But, like Indonesia, Brazil has achieved a good balance of conflict and collaboration of actors and their interests and this has enabled a certain level of REDD+ decision-making. Brazil has a strong civil society, and NGOs are identified as the main actors in networks, acting as bridges or brokers between other actors.


In Cameroon, international actors were central in controlling and facilitating information flows between organizations involved in REDD+.

Some government ministries (including the Ministries of Environment and Forestry) were important in getting parties to communicate, interacting mostly with international actors and not with other state agencies and civil society organizations. The limited information flow within the state agencies and between them and other national actor groups indicate that the national ownership of the REDD+ process, deemed necessary for REDD+, is very limited.

The REDD+ policy process in Cameroon is repeating the weaknesses of the earlier forestry law reform in terms of minimal ownership and low inclusiveness among domestic actors.


REDD+ is a priority issue for forest and climate policy in Indonesia, and REDD+ policy-making has been characterized by considerable public consultation. Despite this engagement, discussions on REDD+ in Indonesia are reported to have remained top-down, a disconcerting pattern when adaptive governance and transformational change require cross-scale and cross-sectoral communication.

The team in Indonesia found that organizations perceived as most influential in REDD+ policy formulation are often those with institutional authority over particular aspects of REDD+, who tend not to seek information from other actors. Organizations exchange information primarily within three clusters of similar organizations, with weak connections between clusters.

This evidence suggests a lack of information exchange between the national government, national civil society, and transnational actors. The researchers contend that the emergence of brokers able to connect these different clusters will be crucial for effective and inclusive REDD+ governance in Indonesia.


The Nepal case discusses the implications of the REDD+ policy networks for decentralized and deliberative forest governance. Specifically, the team’s research examined the extent and nature of influence and interaction among actors, highlighting those groups and actors who interact most frequently and are therefore most central to policy processes.

Results indicate that REDD+ policy-making is dominated by a “development triangle”, a tripartite coalition of key government actors, external organizations (international NGOs and donors), and a few influential civil society organizations. All other actors, including many civil society organizations, government actors outside of the forestry sector, and all actors from the private and educational/research sector, are found in the periphery.

Thus, the views, interests and roles of other important stakeholders have been marginalized, threatening to recentralize forest governance, and to hamper the equitable and effective implementation of REDD+ in Nepal.


In Papua New Guinea the team identified four advocacy coalitions in the REDD+ policy domain and estimated their influence on the REDD+ process. They found the most influential advocacy coalition was promoting business as usual which explains why, despite the large amount of REDD+ rhetoric, there has been only modest change in formal policy or practice in PNG to date.

The coalition consisted of organizations seeking to maintain or extend their existing control over, or access to, forest resources, rather than aiming to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. This coalition consists of government and private-sector actors, such as logging companies and those seeking agricultural expansion.

The team did find coalitions calling for transformational change, that is, the governance reforms capable of reducing deforestation and forest degradation, but these are currently in the minority.   This was termed ‘the Sustainable Livelihoods coalition’ and consisted of international and domestic NGOs and one private-sector actor involved in REDD+ as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility initiative.

The coalition’s position on the rights of customary landowners is particularly salient among the public, thus earning it resources in terms of public opinion and potential supporters that can be mobilized. Many of the domestic NGOs also have links with international networks, which bring information and financial resources to the coalition.


The team in Tanzania investigated the most polarizing policy discourses and assessed the influence of competing discourse coalitions on the drafting of the national REDD+ strategy.

The findings indicate that the national REDD+ strategy largely reflects the positions of the discourse coalition that is controlled by powerful state actors who support central control of REDD+ financial mechanisms. The competing coalition, led by civil society organizations, has limited influence on the national strategy, despite concerted political action.

The findings further indicate that discursive practices and institutional rules co-determine policy outcomes.


In Vietnam the team found a dominant role of government agencies in REDD+ policy-making, leaving less political space for non-state actors, such as NGOs and civil society organizations, to exert influence on final policy outputs. Yet Vietnam was also a country where much collaboration was reported between actors.

REDD+ in Vietnam is one of the few policy processes where actors other than the state are vocal and take part.  However, the interests of communities represented by civil society groups are marginalized. Further, the actual decision making is centralized within a few government agencies (e.g. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) and donors (e.g. UN-REDD) as indicated by their level of influence, frequency of information-sharing with other actors and level of collaboration with other actors.

Ensuring inclusive decision-making and accountability in the Vietnam context requires a shift in current governance from traditional top-down approaches to a more participatory form of decision making, according to the team.

For more information about this research, please contact Rachel Carmenta at or Maria Brockhaus at

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Community forestry Rights