REDD+ challenges as enormous as its opportunities in the Congo Basin

The world's largest rainforest will be a key arena for policymakers.

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Photo courtesy of Julien Harneis/flickr.

DURBAN, South Africa (29 November, 2011)_A new study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) highlights the need for international negotiators to understand developing country perspectives on opportunities and challenges if REDD+ leads to a sudden injection of new funds to the Congo Basin region.

The Congo Basin is home to the world’s second-largest rainforest, creating significant opportunities for REDD+, a global mechanism that could see rich countries channel billions of dollars annually to developing ones in exchange for them safeguarding their forests.

The researchers interviewed 83 representatives from government ministries, civil society, international NGOs, national and international organisations and the private sector in Cameroon, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Not surprisingly, the study found that there was widespread hope that funds from REDD+ could be used for economic development and poverty reduction. The majority of the close to 100 million inhabitants of the Congo Basin sub-region lives in poverty.

“While there is a lot of expectation on REDD+ in the Congo Basin countries, the challenges are enormous,” said Denis Sonwa, CIFOR scientist and a co-author of Institutional perceptions of opportunities and challenges of REDD+ in the Congo Basin published in The Journal of Environment and Development.

Among those challenges is a concern about weak governance, including corruption and misuse of funds, which would be enormous hurdles to the successful implementation of REDD+.

REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, as well as the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

The findings echo the concerns of REDD+ critics who fear the plan could be undermined by poor design, weak governance, corruption and a lack of clarity over land or resource ownership. There are concerns this could lead to land grabs or impinge on the traditional rights of forest-dependent communities.

The countries are among the 35 most perceived as corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, and in the bottom 25 percent for accountability, government effectiveness and control of corruption says World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators.

“The lack of a fair system for sharing of REDD+ benefits could lead to the failure of reduction of deforestation and degradation in the Congo Basin,” said Sonwa. There is a need to develop options for sharing of benefits together with the accountability structures to ensure its success.

Most government departments do not have staff and operating budgets to carry out normal duties, much less additional responsibilities related to REDD+, he said. Communication and travel within countries is made more difficult by poor infrastructure.

Many respondents from the three nations suggested including an educational component, with REDD+ funds from conservation and sustainable forest management set aside to support long-term technical capacity building and governance reform.

“The REDD+ transformation process requires new skills to be able to supervise, monitor and implement REDD+ initiatives,” said Sonwa.

“Implementation of REDD+ is a transformation process that entails facing certain challenges existing already in forest and related sectors. The challenges are difficult but not impossible to overcome.”

Africa’s dry forests will be the subject of a CIFOR side event alongside the UN climate change summit in Durban next week. Register here.

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Community forestry Rights