International community needs to make space for developing countries to take ownership of REDD+

DURBAN, South Africa (1 December, 2011)_To enable REDD+ policy progress, the international community has to give space to developing countries to be their own “agents of change” and be further empowered to take ownership over the REDD+ development process, said a CIFOR scientist at the UN climate talks in Durban.

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Photo by Charlie Pye-Smith/ CIFOR

DURBAN, South Africa (1 December, 2011)_To enable REDD+ policy progress, the international community has to give space to developing countries to be their own “agents of change” and be further empowered to take ownership over the REDD+ development process, said a CIFOR scientist at the UN climate talks in Durban.

“Our findings clearly show that a country’s progress on REDD+ is slowest where there is limited national ownership. To make progress in defining REDD+ policies [countries must] have a strong agency for change, across governance levels, and be able to fit REDD+ to their own circumstances,” said CIFOR scientist Maria Brockhaus, CIFOR scientist and leader of research on national REDD+ strategies and policies for CIFOR’s global comparative study.

Her comments are supported by the thoughts expressed in a recent interview by William Boyd, a Senior Adviser and Project Lead on the Governors Climate and Forests Taskforce (GCF). The taskforce is a collaboration of sub-national-level leaders who, despite the institutional and governance challenges and slow progress at the national level, are pushing forward with their own ideas of what REDD+ should look like on the ground.

“States and provinces are actually moving much faster on REDD than national governments. In terms of REDD+, they have a key level of governance that gives them the authority to make the changes needed to implement REDD on the ground. If REDD+ is ever going to work, the states and provinces are key to making it happen,” said Boyd.

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus the conservation and sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks) is a pivotal part of the global climate change mitigation strategy.

Many stakeholders hope to see outstanding questions on the REDD+ mechanism resolved in Durban, such as how REDD will be financed, how carbon emissions will be reported and verified, and how safeguards will be reported and enforced.

Given the findings from CIFOR’s global comparative study and the success of sub-national tailoring of REDD+ by the GCF, it is hoped that giving countries room to move on REDD+ and bridging the gap between national systems and subnational and local realities will also be included in the talks.

Using REDD+ to produce social and environmental benefits above and beyond avoided emissions will be the subject of Forest Day, a CIFOR side event that seeks to inform the UNFCCC global agenda and forest stakeholders attending the Durban climate talks.

An edited transcript of the interview with Maria Brockhaus follows.

What do countries need to consider to implement REDD+ strategies at the national level?

First of all, what is REDD? REDD is nothing other than an objective: to reduce carbon emissions through avoided deforestation and forest degradation. If we keep in mind that it’s an objective, then the question is, what is the appropriate policy or the national strategy? And that would require that countries go back and look at their national circumstances. What are the main drivers of deforestation? And what then has to be responded to with an adequate policy or measure?

That requires, for a mechanism like REDD, that we have to think about where we are in the forest transition curve and what kind of policies would be the adequate ones. What are the right strategies in my specific context?

Talking about the capacity to then not only identify or define the right policy or measure, we then have the capacity problem of implementing it. And here we end up in the bigger REDD questions, and the bigger hopes which are attached to a mechanism like REDD, the belief or hope that bigger transformational change would go along the thread.

What is limiting the capacity of countries to implement REDD+ strategies?

Beside the fact that we have to identify and design the right policies and strategies for implementation, then you have to identify where REDD will take place, the eligible forests and forest types I want to incorporate in my REDD scheme. Then I need to know who is eligible for the benefits of such a mechanism. Nowhere in the world do we have this kind of detailed regulatory framework. So how can we solve the problem of identification of the rights holder?

And to set up the whole financing mechanism we need to know that the money, which comes from the global level in one way or another through market or non-market fund systems, triggers down through a national or maybe sub-national system, and then arrives somewhere where there is a forest and where there are forest rights holders, which all have to be identified. And this is just the financial architecture of the whole thing.

And then we have the monitoring, reporting and verifying part of REDD: ‘the measure pleasure’. If you know which forest you are talking about, then you still have to measure carbon. Who will do that? Is it people on the ground? Is it a national system? Is it someone external? In most country cases we are analysing in our global comparative study, the capacity, even at the national level, is very low… so you have the problem of measuring the de facto carbon emissions coming out of your identified forest or forest area. This information needs to be reported into something that has a financial executive arm, but that also understands, so it has a technical ear. You need the capacity to translate this technical information into financial action. There is the next big capacity challenge.

Imagine this whole thing like a clockwork: if one thing doesn’t work, the whole system will break down. The problem is, to make a clock work all the parties and different elements have to play together. It becomes quite obvious, if you look at the recent developments of strategies and implementation proposals in countries like Indonesia or Brazil, that you have very diverse interests at the national level who then fight about what is the right policy measure. And they also negotiate about what are not the right measures, what kind of measures they don’t want to see. A good example for that is the moratorium in Indonesia, where you could see these different diverse interests and actors play out.

Do you think countries will overcome the challenges you’ve just highlighted?

In terms of the negotiations I just described, what you can see, and this is quite amazing, is a lot of progress with this multitude of actors, also at different levels. For example, in a country like Vietnam, that has introduced a PES regulation, a regulatory framework for Payment for Environmental Services. This is now the way the Vietnamese Government wants to move ahead with the REDD mechanism. The government is very central, and because the state has the capacity for enforcement, they might be able to move ahead with their concept and strategy of a ‘Reducing Emissions through avoided Deforestation and Degradation’ mechanism.

Other countries like Brazil have faced the political economy challenge. You have the huge interest of business actors – the ranching community, or in another country it might be the soybean producers – so you have to imagine their claims on land, and then in this whole landscape you have to find a space for this REDD idea.

You have other countries where progress is very slow because they have maybe more important questions to tackle right now. Based on an analysis we did, where we looked at public discourse on the topic of REDD, the country case of Cameroon is quite interesting because there you can see clearly that REDD doesn’t exist for the public. REDD is an elite topic negotiated between a number of stakeholders at the national and international level. However, there may be other issues much higher on the priority list in terms of building policies with the idea of solving problems.

What can the international community do to support countries in building their capacity for REDD+?

The most important thing would be that there is an international framework under which those kind of national, country-specific measures and strategies can evolve. This is not only required in terms of measurement, not only to get agreement on what kind of safeguards have to be in place, but the other thing is the whole financing issue. REDD can be a market, can be a global fund, can be something in between; in the end it should be a market-based mechanism, a performance-based mechanism. But to achieve that again the international community has to make agreements and step forward.

And then besides that, maybe the most important thing is that the international community has to give space for national sovereignty and ownership over the entire process. This is something our findings from our study are showing clearly: progress is slowest where there is limited national ownership. If you have strong agency for change in a country and a strong constituency that has taken over REDD and is creating it so it fits for their country, these are the countries that make progress in defining policies and also in first steps towards implementing them.

I think the international community can support REDD by avoiding making it into an overseas international development aid project. As my colleagues in Cameroon recently explained to me – for them, REDD could be one of those moments when you turn around very established power relationships, and it is Cameroon [and developing countries] that is helping the developed world to solve their self-made problems.

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