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At COP20: REDD+ emerging—or REDD+ emergency?

REDD+ is messy and complex, but we have a lot we can learn.
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Interlocking problems of finance, land tenure and scare are holding back REDD+ development.
Interlocking problems of finance, land tenure and scare are holding back REDD+ development.

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LIMA, Peru—The concept of reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation—REDD+—is stagnating, although innovations at the sub-national level give grounds for hope, said experts on the sidelines of COP 20 in Lima, Peru.

REDD+ negotiations in Lima have now ended—with word just out there’s been no movement on any of the agenda items under negotiation.

But look beneath the international wrangling, and on the ground, in REDD+ pilot initiatives across the tropics from the Amazon to the dry forests of Tanzania, lessons are being learned and new ideas tried.

“Subnational initiatives are the laboratory where the REDD+ experiment is being carried out,” said CIFOR Principal Scientist William Sunderlin, at a side event presenting a new book that examines 23 such initiatives in six tropical countries.

“This is where we’re going to learn what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what needs to be corrected,” he said.

And it is evolving, added William Boyd, a senior advisor for the Governors’ Climate and Forests Taskforce (GCF).

“The concept of REDD+ is mutating and changing as it migrates across different domains and geographies. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of it all—but I think we can identify some trends.”

Those trends include a shift from project level initiatives to larger jurisdictional level ones covering entire municipalities or states, and moving from a narrow agenda of forest carbon to a broader agenda of low emissions development.

“It’s a harder and messier and more complex place to be—but I think it’s much more realistic,” Boyd said.

Monica de los Rios, a civil servant from the Institute for Climate Change and Regulation of Environmental Services in Acre, Brazil, described the successes and lessons from the state’s jurisdictional REDD+ program (for more, click here).

“Acre has increased its social and economic indicators while also reducing deforestation in the state,” she said.

“But the world that we have made in Acre has given us a new challenge—how do we maintain our low rates of deforestation? At the jurisdictional level, the emissions reductions need to be based in integrated policy—economic, social and environmental policies.”

CHALLENGES

And the challenges are many, Sunderlin says.

“The essential obstacle that REDD+ is facing right now is that we continue to live in a world where those that have interests in converting forests to non-forest uses have the upper hand in land use decisions—and in the age of dangerous climate change we can no longer afford this,” he said.

This problem underlies a host of more immediate challenges facing REDD+, he says.

Ultimately this is a political challenge—how to make sure the investments made in prior administrations will live on beyond a given governor or administration

William Sunderlin

The first is finances. “REDD+, from the beginning, was meant to counter the current situation where deforestation is profitable, by creating a system of rewards and incentives that would match and exceed ‘business as usual’,” he said.

“But the international community simply hasn’t raised enough funds to do this.”

Another significant problem—reported by many project proponents in the field as the No. 1 issue for them—is the lack of clear land tenure.

As a system that distributes incentives, and holds people accountable for protecting forests, REDD+ requires clarity over who owns the land—and whether forest owners can keep interlopers out.  But across the tropics, these conditions are hard to find.

“Proponents are taking the task very seriously of clarifying tenure and trying to strengthen local people’s tenure rights but they are facing very big obstacles in trying to do so,” Sunderlin said.

Scale is another key challenge. Six of the 23 sites featured in the new CIFOR book “REDD+ on the Ground: A case book of subnational initiatives across the globe” are experimenting with implementing REDD+ up at the jurisdictional level.

“Operating as a jurisdictional initiative at least in theory has tremendous advantages, because you’re mobilizing the authority and the power of the state to get things done,” Sunderlin said.

“But working in government also means having to work across sectors, and make compromises with those interests embedded in government and society that aim to convert forests to non-forest uses.”

There’s also the vulnerability of electoral instability, added Boyd.

“We need leadership and governors have to get re-elected. Low emissions development has to make political sense for these leaders. Ultimately this is a political challenge—how to make sure the investments made in prior administrations will live on beyond a given governor or administration,” he said.

WE NEED A ‘BREAKTHROUGH’ 

So what is needed if we are to tackle these challenges and make REDD+ work?

According to Sunderlin, nothing short of a breakthrough.

“We’re living in a situation where we absolutely have to aim as a species to stay within this two-degree limit,” he said.

“There needs to be a policy tipping point that matches the biological tipping point that we’re experiencing.”

A binding international climate change agreement in Paris in 2015 would be an important beginning, he said.

“It would invigorate efforts to move ahead on finances, on tenure, on scale—and on monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) and safeguards, and on every other challenge that REDD+ faces.”

But the public has a role to play, too.

“We need to have civil society voice their concerns about climate change, inform themselves, and understand that forest-based climate change mitigation is an option,” Sunderlin said.

“But it’s only a realistic option if there is a groundswell of civic concern that puts pressure on politicians, on governments, and exerts from the ground up the political will that is necessary for REDD+ to become what it was meant to be.”

For more information about CIFOR’s research on REDD+, contact William Sunderlin at w.sunderlin@cgiar.org.

CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD is supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom, and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests Trees and Agroforestry, with financial support from the CGIAR Fund.

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