How and why should equity be addressed within the REDD+ framework?

For climate negotiators, equity should be considered a practical and ethical imperative.
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“Why should countries care about equity in REDD+? Donors are primarily concerned with the effectiveness of the instrument for reducing emissions, so what is the role for equity?” Dr. Michael Bucki, European Union REDD+ negotiator, provoked a discussion on trade-offs between effectiveness, efficiency and equity at a side event at the Bonn Climate Change Conference on 8 June.

The event was hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) and drew on comparative research and experiences across Asia, Africa and Latin America, and from other non-forest sectors.

So, why should they care about equity? The speakers at the event provided some insights, which will become even more valid with the REDD+  framework being concluded in the 42nd session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and moving into countries’ implementation arenas.

Following the side event, countries finally agreed on the remaining items of REDD+ negotiation over the Bali Action Plan: guidance about safeguards, non-carbon benefits (NCBs), and alternative policy approaches including joint mitigation adaptation (JMA).

The negotiations concerning REDD+ will now move into different forums, such as in the negotiations for a new climate agreement and modalities of the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

More importantly, the phase of full implementation at sub-national and national levels begins. Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Malaysia, Mexico have submitted their forest emission reference levels to the UNFCCC.


As REDD+ payments start to take place, the design of effective, efficient and equitable REDD+ benefit sharing mechanisms will need to be put in place.

Equity is addressed in Article 3 of the Climate Change Convention, which is reflected in Option 2 of proposed paragraph 3 of the Geneva negotiating text:  “Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with historical responsibility and common but differentiated responsibilities”, and was highlighted by RECOFTC’s Regan Suzuki Pairojmahakij, in her presentation.

“Differentiation” was one of the key issues discussed throughout the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) negotiation in Bonn and will continue to be an issue in the COP 21 negotiation in Paris.

Speaking at the forum, CIFOR’s Maria Brockhaus, referred to this definition “equity refers to the distributional aspects of the associated costs and benefits, procedural aspects of participatory decision-making and the specific contexts that shape stakeholders’ perceptions of equity” (Angelsen et al. 2009 and McDermott et al. 2013).

She highlighted the various discourses of equity at multiple levels from the global to the local, and argued that an equitable REDD+ will require transformational change in discursive practices, shifts in incentives, and changes in power relations. She also emphasized the need for commitment and action from state actors and the importance of policy learning from REDD+ demonstration sites.

Grace Wong said that there are often trade-offs between effectiveness, efficiency and equity when designing a REDD+ benefit sharing mechanism; for example, having rigorous eligibility criteria for identifying target beneficiaries to achieve additionality (as in conditional cash transfer programs may inadvertently create inequitable outcomes).

The experience from voluntary standards and certification indicates that phased and upfront payments and regular review of costs can be useful for enabling broad participation of smallholders.

Wong also stressed a need for attention to the type of benefits and related equity outcomes when i) applying a focus on development activities and in kind benefits, ii) considering the pros and cons of cash iii) intending to secure rights.

Regan Suzuki Pairojmahakij emphasized capacity building as a key to effectiveness and sustainability of climate responses, and that it needs to be aligned with national as well as regional experiences and needs. Currently, debates around equity focus at international levels, but for climate solutions to be effective and sustainable, these discussions and follow up actions need to take place at all levels.


CIFOR’s Sven Wunder and Jan Börner from the Center for Development Research, spoke on the cost and equity implications of REDD+ policies in Brazil and Peru. Command-and-control (C&C) policies can be cost-effective, but trigger high opportunity costs. In Brazil, a policy mix of C&C with payments for ecological services (PES) can make REDD+ more equitable for landowners, but also more expensive for the state.

Wunder and Börner stress that enforcement quality is key to cost-effectiveness – not only for C&C, but also for PES. Clever PES design requires knowing spatial patterns of deforestation and opportunity costs. From examples in Peru it has become evident that there are simple ‘win-win’ fixes that might boost both cost effectiveness and equity in REDD+, but these fixes will require a change in policy.

A select expert panel of REDD+ negotiators discussed the presentations: Ms. Yasuko Inoue, REDD+ negotiator from Japan, spoke on the potential of public-private partnership and a case study from Mozambique where she conducted a community-based carbon offset project supporting the government. A process to reach a shared view among all stakeholders is important to ensure equitable, fair, rational benefit sharing system in all stages of REDD+ activities, she said.

Etti Ginoga, REDD+ negotiator from Indonesia underlined the importance of benefit sharing – integrated within a broader policy context over longer term, such as in a national low emission development strategy – as a part of baseline REDD+ implementations.

In the agreed REDD+ text the safeguards guidance is minimal.

Therefore, the donor countries or REDD+ implementation body needs to make sure that the procedural equity will take place on the ground.

Returning to Michael Bucki’s comment, discussions highlighted the role of equity in contributing towards the legitimacy of REDD+ and to avoid unnecessary risks.

It is critical not only for the sustainability of REDD+ but it is also an ethical imperative.

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