How are we Doing so Far? An Appraisal of Experiences in Implementing REDD+ Initiatives

One of the main reasons for establishing the REDD+ program was to reduce carbon emissions associated with deforestation in developing countries. Photo by CIFOR.
One of the main reasons for establishing the REDD+ program was to reduce carbon emissions associated with deforestation in developing countries. Photo by CIFOR.

C03: Understanding the Relationships Among Biodiversity, Carbon, and People for REDD+Forests

One of the main reasons for establishing the REDD+ program was to reduce carbon emissions associated with deforestation in developing countries. The program offers incentives for those countries to invest in low carbon paths to sustainable development, and emphasizes the role of conservation and sustainable management of forests as a means to enhance carbon stocks.

There haven’t been many opportunities for countries that have implemented the REDD+ agenda to get together and exchange ideas and experiences. This technical session brought together researchers to share their experiences since the Global Forests Expert Panel held a IUFRO workshop in 2012.

Ian Thompson (Canadian Forest Service) started off the session, emphasizing the concept of resilience within systems and the need to avoid tipping points that could adversely affect the capacity of these systems to function optimally. He enumerated some of the major drivers of degradation and the effects these have on the ability of forest systems to provide ecosystem services and material resources to local communities.

Thompson pointed out that considering these drivers is vital within the context of the REDD+ agenda, since they form the basis for designing realistic projects at the regional and local levels to meet the REDD+ goals. For example, quantifying differences in carbon stocks within different systems (e.g., primary forests) allows for the designation of landscapes where such resources occur as priories for management.

The session also focused on the importance of tackling the social and economic aspects of REDD+ agenda. Bashkar Vira (University of Cambridge, UK) addressed this topic in a rather philosophical way, pointing out that realistically, there is no “win-win” situation as it relates to the REDD+ initiatives. There will always be trade-offs; the goals of conservation will not always align with the aspirations of the local communities.

Vira warned that we need to learn from the experiences of 150 years of forest interventions documented worldwide. For example, the REDD+ agenda needs to emphasize the security of land tenure, because studies have shown positive correlations between tenure security and biodiversity management. How to balance these seemingly conflicting interests should guide the REDD+ agenda as it moves forward, with special emphasis on the flow of benefits to the local communities, especially the most vulnerable.

Vira’s admonition tied in well with the presentation of Constance McDermott (Oxford University), whose overriding message was the need to tone down the multiple bureaucracies that underpin the implementation of REDD+ agenda. Power, McDermott pointed out, needs to be aligned with the seven safeguards as outlined in REDD+, from the international level down to local situations. How achievable this is can be the subject of another discussion, he noted.

Attendees were given glimpses into actual research on pilot projects focused on the implementation of the REDD+ agenda through presentations from Brazil, Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Ghana. The common theme among these presenters was the fact that REDD+ implementation seems to underpay the initiatives of local communities. Quantitative evidence showed that although the REDD+ agenda promoted biodiversity, the stringent rules that the participating communities need to comply with collectively undermined their financial bottom-lines.

In Vietnam, for example, the issue of access to forest resources remains thorny, and in Indonesia, Nepal, and Ghana, the financial value associated with implementing the REDD+ agenda is well below that of the non-participating communities. Kwame-Antwi Oduro stated that in Ghana, for example,  the net revenue under REDD+ is five times lower ($200/ha for participating farmers vs $970 for non-participating).

These findings portray the achievements of the REDD+ agenda, at least so far, as a mixed bag.

While REDD+ has resulted in substantial achievements in the area of biodiversity conservation, the program has fallen short in terms of compensation to local efforts. Those at the heart of implementing this noble agenda would do well to learn from the expert knowledge presented in this session.

At the heart of any reform will be adequate compensation and work to improve tenure security, which will also sustain support for the REDD+ initiatives. At the end of the day, it’s the target landscapes and the resources therein, as well as the surrounding communities, that will benefit.

Maybe then we can talk about the “win-win” situation referred to by Bhaskar Vira.

Written by: Humphrey Kalibo

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