Why social safeguards matter for managing trade-offs under REDD+

Bringing local-level data to the REDD+ safeguards discussions
Local woman in Jambi, Indonesia, where REDD+ safeguards are being put into practice under a national scheme. CIFOR Photo/Icaro Cooke Vieira

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Local people can benefit from climate change mitigation schemes to keep tropical forests standing and enhance forest cover — if the mix of incentives and deterrents is right, a new study shows.

Global climate change mitigation is one of the biggest challenges of our time, and tropical forest conservation is an important piece of the puzzle. But millions of people in tropical countries rely on forest resources for their survival.

That’s why the UN-backed REDD+ scheme — which aims to avoid deforestation and forest degradation and enhance carbon stocks — includes a set of social safeguards for participating countries, to try to ensure local people are helped rather than harmed by the process.

But is it working in practice? Social safeguards can be tricky to implement and keep track of, since monitoring systems are not as well developed as in other aspects of REDD+. And while indigenous people and local communities have gained prominence in the climate change arena, there is little empirical work on the impacts of early REDD+ initiatives on their rights and livelihoods.

Through the long-term Global Comparative Study on REDD+, a team of researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partners spoke with people in about 4,000 rural households in six tropical countries to understand perceptions of local tenure security and well-being, before and after interventions to protect forests began to be implemented in their communities. They also assessed community participation in local REDD+ initiatives.

Their results, by and large, tell a story of “some progress but also missed opportunities” to make sure social benefits are realized in REDD+, says lead researcher and CIFOR senior scientist Amy Duchelle.


There is wide variation in the use of “carrots” (incentives) and “sticks” (punishments) across different study sites — and the balance of these makes all the difference, says Duchelle.

The police helicopter fly-overs and hefty fines that have been implemented across the Brazilian Amazon, and affect farmers at REDD+ and non-REDD+ sites alike, are quite different to restrictions that involve local people in their application, such as community monitoring of forests at several REDD+ sites in Tanzania and Indonesia.

There need to be clear benefits for local people to conserve forests, besides just abiding by the law

Amy Duchelle, CIFOR senior scientist

While there is evidence that command-and-control approaches might be effective in promoting forest conservation, “if you don’t have the incentives, then you really are facing a trade-off between these carbon and non-carbon benefits,” she says. Local people across the global sample who experienced restrictions on forest clearing and access reported a drop in well-being and tenure security when appropriate incentives were absent from the mix.

And that’s not surprising, says Duchelle. “Because there need to be clear benefits for local people to conserve forests, besides just abiding by the law.”

Açai seedlings, nitrogen-fixing legumes, and fishponds might seem more the stuff of country fairs than cutting-edge climate change mitigation, but in the Brazilian state of Acre, they’re one strategy for helping farmers develop more sustainable production systems. Acre is one of the few subnational jurisdictions that has developed safeguards in a System of Incentives for Environmental Services.


However, not all “carrots” are appropriate in all situations, and the researchers also encountered a number of situations in which compensation offers were out of touch with local realities.

In some initiatives, the monetary incentives and technical support that were offered — in the hopes of encouraging farmers to change traditional farming practices — were insufficient to make it worth their while.

There’s a lot of opportunity to enhance local participation

Amy Duchelle, CIFOR senior scientist

To do better at designing interventions that serve both forests and the people who live in and around them, local farmers should be actively involved in the design of initiatives at an early stage, says Duchelle: “there’s a lot of opportunity to enhance local participation”. A critical REDD+ safeguard, meaningful participation was still “elusive at many of the sites that we studied,” she adds.

As the study illustrates, less than 50 percent of households surveyed were involved in any aspect of project design or implementation. And, when they did participate, it usually took the form of attending meetings held by implementers, “to just tick that participation box,” Duchelle explains.

For the most part, local people were not playing an active role in decision-making, or getting the chance to share “their ideas of what would work best to promote conservation and also help with their own development,” she says.


If REDD+ is to work in the longer term, says Duchelle, it needs to serve the well-being of forest people as well as the forests that they rely on. “The data shows there’s an opportunity to bring in that aspect much more strongly — to prioritize local rights and livelihoods.”

That means genuinely involving local people in designing and implementing initiatives, and building better monitoring systems to track how REDD+ social safeguards are working in practice. “The safeguards reflect sustainable development goals … they really do show that REDD+ is much more than carbon,” she says.

This research was supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Enviroment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), the UK Department for International Development (UKAID), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the European Union.
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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Climate change Community forestry