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Scientists attending the U.N. Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP24 climate talks in Katowice, Poland, discussed potential solutions to slow global warming and stay below targets laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Since 2005, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) has been part of the negotiations, given the importance of forest protection and recovery in keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

So how much mitigation has REDD+, and other forest-based mitigation efforts achieved to guide efforts, so far?

To address this question, Center International of Forestry Research (CIFOR) held an official side event at COP24 with partners from the Independent Evaluation Unit (IEU) of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), Wageningen University and the UN-REDD Programme to discuss the need for rigorous evidence on the impacts of forestry and land use interventions to promote transformational change.

"I thought... all of these answers would now be known...I was wrong"


The moderator of the side event, Arild Angelsen, a Professor of Economics at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and lead editor of CIFOR’s new book on “transforming REDD+,” highlighted the need for better evidence.

“When I got involved in REDD+ more than 10 years ago, I thought that we’d have a number of good impact studies on whether REDD+ works or not” Angelsen said.

The economics professor expected to know what policies work better than others, which type of interventions work in which contexts – that all of these answers would by now be known, “but I was wrong”, he said.

There have been few rigorous assessments of REDD+ impacts. Angelson continued to explain how there are still a few key questions that cannot be fully answered properly to ‘guide us’.

“When REDD+ was launched it was intended to be transformational, but we now know we need more time to adequately measure impacts”, said Malgorzata Buszko-Briggs, a FAO programme officer with UN-REDD, which has worked in 64 partner countries since 2008.

While REDD+ may not have achieved its target of rapid and inexpensive solutions to emissions reductions in tropical forests, it has delivered important intermediate results, including improvements in national forest monitoring capacity. While overall progress has been made, there are remaining gaps in capacity development, said Buszko-Briggs.

“We can direct resources in a strategic way to fill those gaps” she said, before expressing a need to identify interventions that can be scaled up.

In terms of forest monitoring- open sharing of land use change information is fundamental for engaging stakeholders, offering opportunities for participation and learning, and aiding transparency and accountability in the land use sector, said Martin Herold, Professor of Geoinformation Science and Remote Sensing at Wageningen University..

“Spatially explicit tracking on what’s happening on the ground in real time is something that is becoming feasible” he said. Herold added that available data is currently underused.



In her presentation, Amy Duchelle, senior scientist at CIFOR discussed the need for rigorous impact evaluation of different types of forest interventions to really understand what works best, “including where, when, why, and at what cost,” she added.

Duchelle highlighted the lack of available studies that use a ‘counterfactual’ – or what would have happened in the absence of a policy, program or initiative – which are needed to determine which outcomes can be attributed to different interventions.

A Before-After-Control-Intervention (BACI) approach adopted by CIFOR has been used to evaluate the environmental and social impacts of 22 local REDD+ initiatives over time. This has shown ‘moderately encouraging’ results at the local level, both in terms of forest conservation and protecting local livelihoods, said Duchelle.

“We need more reliable evidence on impacts of forest-based mitigation efforts to promote learning and inform future efforts. She continued: “While there are huge challenges in evaluating impacts of real-world policies and programs, it must be done”.

Jyotsna (Jo) Puri who oversees the GCF IEU is attempting to do just that. Puri and her team are leveraging rigorous impact evaluation methods to understand the impacts of GCF-financed forestry and land use programs through an initiative known as LORTA (Learning-Oriented Real Time Impact Assessment).

Puri’s presentation focused on addressing the influence of bias in research and results reporting, and how behaviour change can achieve climate and development goals.

“Let’s consider bias and how we produce evidence” Puri said.

An evidence gap map on the impacts of forest conservation interventions produced by Puri, showed the audience that many researchers are not evaluating the costs of these interventions. “This seriously limits the capacity of policymakers to decide how to apply funds” she said.

Scientific evidence is ‘not enough’ to change behaviour patterns. Despite evidence, people continue to try and implement the same programs and approaches when tackling climate and development issues.

“We need to think about the last mile and what changes behaviour,” Puri concluded.



Mr. Karma Tshering of the Royal Government of Bhutan’s National Environment Commission opened the side event with a reminder that while the focus of REDD+ is on mitigation, it is important to not lose sight of support for adaptation. “This includes the need to increase the resilience and improve the livelihoods of the most vulnerable people, increase health and well-being, enhance food and water security, and improve the resilience of ecosystems and ecosystem services”, he added.

Helen Magata of Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education in the Philippines continued to ground the debate by emphasizing the need for a focus on human rights, including indigenous peoples’ rights, when evaluating the impacts of conservation and development initiatives.

“When we talk about forests, we don’t just talk about carbon, and how it is going to mitigate climate change, but we also talk about sustainable livelihoods, land tenure and access of indigenous peoples,” Magata said.

Magata urged scientists to consider evidence that demonstrates how REDD+ policies and programs have changed local lives, and what has been their impact on communities’ empowerment.


"be brave and assess impacts"


Despite progress in understanding what REDD+ has achieved, there is consensus among the scientists that the road is still long when it comes to providing high-quality evidence to help guide decision makers.

One of the conclusions of CIFOR’s new book, Tranforming REDD+: Lessons and new directions, launched at a previous COP24 event, is ‘be brave and assess impacts’ said Christopher Martius, leader of CIFOR’s climate team. Why does one have to be brave for this?

“Because rigorous impact assessment could show that your policy didn’t work and you need to change course” he said. “But this is what impact assessment is about – finding what works, so you can change course in due time.”

In 2017 the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board approved a five-year pilot program for REDD+ results-based payments amounting to USD 500 million. The stakes are high for forestry and land use interventions to provide climate and development benefits. Amy Duchelle concluded “the rigour in the evidence base should be just as high”.

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