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COP23 Special: Walking the REDD+ line, talking transformational change

Deciphering what works and what doesn’t with deforestation commitments
Balancing on logs from felled trees in Central Kalimantan. Researchers discussed the successes and challenges of REDD+ initiatives on the sidelines of COP23 in November 2017. CIFOR Photo/Achmad Ibrahim

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Has REDD+ worked?

Many at COP23 asked this question, and those in Bonn who were participating in negotiations, hosting discussions and telling their personal climate stories were likely to give a range of answers. But what does the research tell us?

Overall, REDD+ has not yet significantly reduced global forest loss, but Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) studies report positive, albeit small, changes in forest cover, livelihoods and tenure in many local projects.

At the CIFOR side event “REDD+: Where does it stand and what is needed now?”, panelists addressed the emissions reductions mechanism from different angles, with a professor giving out letter grades, a national REDD+ coordinator talking of heightened awareness levels a scientist discussing power relations.

Speakers delved into issues such as implementing and financing REDD+, incorporating indigenous voices and ways forward.

Ethiopia’s National REDD+ Coordinator Yetebitu Moges took an expansive view, saying “[REDD+] is small when we see the history over the last 10 years, but this is just the beginning … In Ethiopia we have lost most of our forest resources over the last two to three thousand years and now we have a plan for restoration.”


He emphasized how REDD+ has and is raising awareness about forests in Ethiopia.

“REDD+ is big because it has a big vision. It has opened our eyes as a developing country…We are now giving the forest sector our highest recognition,” he said.

Norwegian University of Life Sciences Professor and CIFOR Senior Associate Arild Angelsen discussed REDD+’s ambition of radical change with the age-old causality dilemma, “It’s a chicken and egg problem, REDD+ can push for transformational change but REDD+ also needs transformational change to be successful.”

Policy network and discourse analyses have shown that business-as-usual interests, i.e. those profiting from continued forest conversion, still dominate. “But, strong national ownership and performance-based payments have the potential to become a game changer,” he said.

Angelsen went through key findings of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study (GCS) on REDD+, which since 2009 has assessed REDD+ implementation across 13 countries, analyzing essential elements such as national governance and strategies, forest cover, costs, safeguards and well-being at the community level.

The research results he elaborated, published in seven papers and answering seven key questions, included both REDD+ successes and letdowns, which span positive policy changes to the challenge of payments for ecosystem services to the varying inclusivity of the process itself.

Angelsen said that on social safeguards, such as participation, tenure and well-being, CIFOR research found small positive impacts of REDD+ interventions. But, important to note is the difference between types of interventions.

“Command and control measures, such as enforcement of forest regulations, are the most effective in reducing deforestation, but also score lowest on safeguards, suggesting a trade-off between goals,” he said.

One of the cited studies found that for local communities in disparate, forested areas, REDD+ created much uncertainty, especially regarding payments. With this ambiguity, Angelsen posited, “Is REDD+ lost in translation or improved by translation?”, as villagers described feeling like guinea pigs in lab experiments, and not like equal partners and agents of change.


How one interprets and responds to REDD+ depends on a host of factors, with CIFOR’s Anne Larson addressing power structures and discussing the results of a key multilevel governance study, or, as she put it, “the landscape of decision making.”

“Multilevel governance is a term often interpreted normatively as a good in and of itself and it’s often understood as multilevel coordination. We did not take this assumption. In our research we interpreted multilevel governance not as good or bad, but as the nature of institutions driving land use and land-use change, and we wanted to understand how decisions get made across levels and actors,” she said.

The research found that power could be enabling, with entrepreneurs having power to get things done or stakeholders developing shared values and shared learning. But they also found, unsurprisingly, that power could be coercive, with those with power getting their way and taking advantage of ambiguous laws or lack of enforcement.

Larson said, “REDD+ faces massive challenges to be transformative. New alliances can make a difference, and the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force [GCF Task Force] is an example of a good innovation. Yet business-as-usual economic-development interests and models still get in the way. Recognizing these embedded issues, building alternative platforms and addressing demands for representation and rights are fundamental for bridging the gaps and building the bottom-up support necessary for change.”

Panelist Odette Preciado Benítez from the Ministry of Environment and Territorial Development in Jalisco, Mexico, aimed some of her remarks at the GCF Task Force, of which the state of Jalisco is an active member.

“In the experience of Jalisco and the other GCF Task Force member states in Mexico, bottom-up discussions of REDD+ have consistently been feeding into the GCF Task Force and government policies at the top,” she said.


The need to monitor and measure the results of REDD+’s encounters with diverse landscapes, peoples and policies and its core emissions reduction goal is a point of consensus, and CIFOR is pursuing key research to understand how success can be measured.

One CIFOR study compared two methods for assessing whether REDD+ had made progress, by looking at the effectiveness of different approaches to measuring the success of subnational REDD+ initiatives.

The study applied a Before-After Control-Intervention (BACI) method to assess the performance of 23 REDD+ projects. This ‘double comparison’ is seen as the gold standard of performance assessment, but is expensive to implement. Hence, the project also assessed the simpler ‘Before-After’ assessment. Results were more evident when the BACI method was applied, and again better if assessments were done at the village level than at the district level.

Using this approach, on average, annual forest loss is 0.4 percentage points lower in REDD+ project villages than in control villages. “That is an encouraging result,” said Angelsen.

For panel speaker Juan Chang of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), REDD+ has altered what once were depressed national forest sectors. He said, “Having forests on the agenda of national development and having countries developing their forest monitoring systems … that’s already intermediate results.”

Moges offered his own twist on REDD+’s performance in Ethiopia, saying, “The knowledge and understanding that was created has been huge, although investment is small [REDD+] has done a lot for understanding.”

“Understanding is something – that is a result for me.”

Answering his initial question and one posed again by an audience member, “Has REDD+ worked?”, Angelsen said, “It has not delivered as we hoped, but that is because we were too optimistic. We cannot yet see a trend shift in national deforestation rates, but we can observe positive policy changes in some countries.”

Chang, having mentioned earlier GCF’s current funding capacity, said, “At the local level [change] is already happening, but transformational change will take a long time.”

Thus, as it seems, walking the REDD+ line requires time, patience and careful attention to detail.

This research is part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
This research was supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRP-FTA) with financial support from the CGIAR Fund Donors.
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One response to “COP23 Special: Walking the REDD+ line, talking transformational change”

  1. Walking the DEAD+ Red line

    In Norwegian the word REDD means to be AFRAID and the logic to me is then: To be extra AFRAID+++. I’ve had the “professional pleasure” of studying around 120 REDD “projects to be” that s the past 10 years where 98% died in the “infancy” due to lack of funding again reasoned in extremely high development costs. Not only has this monster system grown out of administrative proportions but it has lost the clear pathway from were VCU could be derived from, it has also lost (if it ever had) a “business look” with a clear definition of HOW it will become independent and produce its own money.

    I was involved in quite a few projects from 2008 off and experienced also the destructive “carbon cowboys” destroying REDD as a respected tool for good by their drive for fast cash only. Out of over 100 projects I am not sure if any of those are qualified to call successful due to natures own criteria’s, circulating values in abundance and creating “profit” in cycles. When I saw the very first project deceiving $50 million from the Puma Org I thought it could be the start of something good but it has not been even I am very happy for the hundreds of people and later thousands has benefited from this “donation”.

    But hopefully this is a fully profitable business project today, Puma has received their $50 millions plus profits back and are ready to invest into new projects, but I do not believe so as I have read nowhere about such a huge “business deal” since. Be very clear in one thing: I am not criticising the developers and their economic partners, I am criticizing the long and costly part of the project before one single person would have any benefit from it and that REDD has not shown it’s the “system” to be copied anywhere.

    During the 2013 UN Oslo conference I met many professional and political employed persons from around the world who had the same or similar experience. But, due to the many $Billions given by the Norwegian Government to only huge organizations almost without business criteria’s they would not join me officially with an alternative suggestion. The detailed system we had developed was overwhelmingly positive received by the Foreign Aid personnel [participating on the event but it was stopped higher up in the ranks as it was of no interest even they 6 months later introduced a 99,99% equal “solution” to the one I had handed over.

    As long the UN continue to “Sustain” this planet to death, all commodities are circular to please the industry and not circulating to create a stakeholders economy in abundance as nature does and one are deadly scared of even open the doors to have a real Eco-Social Solution without any hypocritical Green Washing and artificial Green painting simply because of political positions then we have already lost the battle of +4C. REDD and Sustainability has proven of being positive to private economy but deadly to the biodiversity and to only do more of what does not work is not intelligent at all.

    IF there is any serious will to create the needed “Transformation” of our society by politicians then please sit down and listen: There is available a system to be implemented into the positive “Sustainability Idea” and make it deliver positive and measurable results for accountability now. For every tree being planted in Africa 126 is cut down, this is the same all over the world and must stop until new plans are made, China is the main buyer of illegal cut lumber worldwide, main customer for extinction threatened species, Ivory from killed Rhino’s and elephants being a main driver of slavery among poachers and child labour and prostitution by illegal miners.

    There was already a “System” available 5 years a go, which then could stop this, stop all of this madness and “no ones” are interested to listen, not even the Finance Industry that will take the largest economic losses due to their properties is becoming unavailable under water. WHO do you think will have to pay for their losses?

    Thank you


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