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The “Aid-ification” of REDD+: How its changed and why it matters

Political gridlock and funding scarcity have pushed the scheme in unintended directions.

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A scheme for reducing global carbon emissions by slowing deforestation in tropical countries has changed drastically and become “aid-ified” since it was first floated in 2005, according to a major new publication on the subject.

From its early days, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) has had a wide appeal, seen as a new and fresh approach to mitigating climate change, by delivering large-scale market-based funding for actors who could prove emissions reductions by avoided deforestation.

Since then, however, the concept has evolved and we have seen the ‘aidification of REDD+’ –  where funding has come mainly from international aid budgets rather than a carbon market –  according to the authors of Analysing REDD+: Challenges and Choices, a new book published this week by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“First it means you bring more objectives,” says Arild Angelsen, a CIFOR environmental economist and professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, and the book’s main editor.

“The primary objective of aid is economic development and poverty alleviation. These are, of course, very nice objectives, but it is part of this dilution or pulverising of the original REDD+ objectives and the REDD+ idea, which is to reduce carbon emissions.”

“Most development aid is bilateral, so it becomes less in the interests of donors to have kind of universal standard to harmonise it – what characterises development aid is that each and every donor will have their own procedures, their own pets of what they want to raise.”

“It’s basically a question of not being as effective in reducing emissions.”

The book argues some of these changes have resulted from a natural learning and maturation process, while others derive from political games and international trends over the lifetime of REDD+.

In the run up to Copenhagen in 2009, it was widely – and optimistically – expected that an international, binding post-Kyoto Protocol climate agreement would be forged that would include REDD+, and would prompt major sources of funding through carbon markets.

Three years on, those expectations have not been met, agreement has not been reached, and the outlook is quite different.

In addition, the commodity price boom since the mid-2000s led to increased competition for forestland, making REDD+ more expensive – and the global financial crisis in 2008 distracted attention away from climate change and put pressure on national budgets.

Taken together, those factors have meant REDD+ funding has not reached the scale originally envisioned – and two-thirds of the funding that has materialized has come not from a carbon market but from developed country aid budgets, with their own objectives and strategies.

The concern is that these changes are undermining what had made REDD+ such a novelty, and bringing it closer to familiar forms of development assistance combined with forest management that have had limited success in the past.

REDD+ has also changed its focus.

A key premise of REDD+ when it was launched was a strong national focus, the idea being it would help usher in a significant shift in forest protection, whereby national governments would now be the leading actors in forest conservation.

However so far, most REDD+ funding has been awarded to local and subnational project-based initiatives.

“They can be successful projects many of them, but if they become conservation islands in the midst of a jungle of deforestation – and that will not make much of a difference,” Angelsen said.


He says broad reforms on the national level – including establishing protected areas, reform of forest concession policies, integrating environmental concerns into road and infrastructure planning, and removing perverse incentives – are important for REDD+, but have been difficult to achieve due to strong opposition from powerful actors who stand to lose.

“REDD+ started out as an idea to change the way we manage tropical forests, change it fundamentally. And in a way it was a little bit idealistic and bold for REDD+ to be really a break, bringing transformational change into the way forests are managed,” Angelsen said.

“So it’s modified, and added some political realism, what it is feasible to do. It is also grappling with how to create these results-based payments – and it is incredibly hard to establish good systems for results-based payments, so it is facing both a political reality and a practical reality.”

“In a way politics is about finding compromises that are acceptable to broad coalitions. And that’s needed to get the support, but you also find that in many areas that compromises may become so diluted that they have limited impact.”

Ultimately, he says, REDD+’s dilemma is that it must evolve in order to build the necessary political support – without losing the elements that made it so attractive and different in the first place.

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