COP22 Special: REDD+ monitoring is a technical and political balancing act

The success of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) systems lies not only in their technical design, but also in their social and economic implications

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Monitoring deforestation so countries can track their greenhouse gas emission targets might seem like a technical matter of satellite images and data.

But implementing systems for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of programs aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) has proven much more complicated, says Anne Larson, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

That’s partly because of the many layers of decision-making involved, from international agreements hammered out at global climate summits to national government policies and local government programs for forest-dwelling communities.

“We live in a world of multi-level governance,” says Larson, who will present findings from CIFOR’s research at a side event during the international climate conference (COP22) that kicked off in Marrakesh, Morocco this past Monday (Nov. 7).

“If we want to make a real impact on the ground in addressing climate change by controlling land-use change, we have to figure out how to improve communication and collaboration among those various levels of governance,” she says.

How well national and sub-national governments coordinate with each other—and how well they collaborate with international bodies—varies from place to place.

“We need to understand what is behind collaboration challenges, such as different perspectives on the problem and its solutions, different economic or political interests, or different goals,” Larson says. “And all of this is shaped by power dynamics.”

That can make it difficult to implement programs that appear to be straightforward technical solutions.

“MRV for REDD+ has been designed globally, but the systems have to be implemented nationally, and some components probably will have to be handled locally,” Larson says.

This will require a balancing act.


Slowing deforestation and degradation requires good monitoring systems, but must also account for factors such as effective land-use planning, guaranteeing land tenure, and ensuring that local communities share the benefits of REDD+ programs.

While the technical experts who design the systems for measuring, reporting and verifying progress must base their work on unbiased scientific evidence, implementation requires political negotiations that must be transparent and participatory, Larson says.

In Peru, for example, CIFOR research found that government officials sought to centralize data gathering for MRV at the national level, but local and regional government officials also wanted access to the information and a role in decision making.

While the national government’s priority might be data about carbon storage and REDD+, local and regional governments need information for land-use planning. Communities, meanwhile, might be most interested in geo-referencing their boundaries or controlling intrusion by outsiders.

“Sub-national governments may not know what data is being collected and why, who has access to it and how they could use it,” Larson says.


“The system should be designed from the beginning in the way that is most useful to everyone,” she adds. “It takes a lot of effort to bring the various levels of government together to talk about these things, but it is more effective in the long run.”

Communication and coordination are even more important when indigenous communities are involved, because systems must take cultural characteristics into account.

We live in a world of multi-level governance. If we want to make a real impact on the ground, we have to figure out how to improve communication and collaboration among those various levels of governance. The system should be designed from the beginning in the way that is most useful to everyone.

Anne Larson

While MRV systems can be highly technical, the experts who design them must be able to discuss their social and economic implications with policy makers, national and local government officials, and members of civil society groups, Larson says. They also may need to offer training to government officials and representatives of community groups who lack technical experience.

In places like the Amazon basin, which is shared by nine countries, coordination among national governments is also important. In South America, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization could facilitate such collaboration to “strengthen synergies and minimize overlaps,” she says.

“MRV isn’t just a matter of gathering and mapping data,” Larson says. “It’s crucial to pay attention to the political steps. If REDD+ programs are to be successful, they have to be negotiated through this complex political world.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne Larson at
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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Community forestry