Interview

Equitable benefit sharing and better monitoring needed for REDD+ success in Vietnam

Vietnam is the first country in Asia that has legalized Payment for Environmental Services, but they still have a long way to go.
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Vietnam - HANOI, Vietnam (29.0512)_Vietnam, the only Asian country that has implemented a law on payment for environmental services (PES), needs to improve the way its funds are managed and distributed, as well as develop monitoring practices, if it wants to benefit from REDD+, a global scheme that rewards developing countries for protecting their forests.

PES, which has been piloted in two provinces in Vietnam since 2008 and is currently being expanded across the country, does not have the policies and structures in place to adequately monitor whether communities are protecting the forests that they have been paid to manage, and whether environmental services have been improved, said Pham Thu Thuy, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of the recently published paper titled. “The context of REDD+ in Vietnam: Drivers, agents and institutions”.

“REDD is going to be strictly performance-based, and so it must have more support from the legal perspective and a better benefit-sharing mechanism….conditionality is the key,” said Thuy at the sidelines of a journalist workshop on forests and climate change held in Hanoi recently.

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) aims to reward developing nations for protecting, restoring and sustainably managing forests. In 2009,Vietnam was awarded over $4.4 million to prepare a REDD+ programme, and was one of the first countries to have its REDD+ Readiness Plans approved.

Vietnam is one of five countries expected to be most affected by climate change due to its long coastline and stretched natural resources, says the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This blog in taken from an interview with Thuy Pham Thu Thuy, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research, in which she discusses the lessons that REDD+ could learn from current PES schemes in Vietnam.

Why is Vietnam so unique in terms of its forests?

If we look at the forest transition curve,Vietnam is quite different from other countries.Vietnam is already moving into stage 4 of the curve, in which now most of its forests are regenerated from national reforestation and afforestation programmes. However, while forest cover has increased rapidly over the last decades, the forest quality is on decline.

The second thing is thatVietnamis the first country in Asiathat has legalised Payment for Environmental Services (PES). PES has actually been mainstreamed in the national forestry policy – other countries have many projects but nothing has been legalised. There is a strong connection between PES and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). In the political arena of Vietnam, REDD is seen as one type of environmental service.

Another reason is that we are one of only a few communist countries with a strong top-down control system. People often wonder if PES and REDD, which are supposed to be voluntary and market instrument, can actually work in such a system.

Can you outline the history of PES in Vietnam?

Government officials first began thinking about some ideas to implement an instrument to protect environmental services in 2002. They had discussions but did not have the chance to actually formalise it because they did not receive much support from other ministries and politicians.

However, in 2008, there was a big push to protect environmental services. We had donors pushing the agenda and providing a lot of financial support. In 2008, the government issued what is called the Decision 380, which was to pilot PES schemes in two provinces: Son La and Lam Dong. Results from these piloting projects showed positive outcomes and the government issued Decree 99 to   scale up this regulation across the country. WithVietnam’s PES decree, the government forced private companies to pay for environmental providers. However, what has been shown in two provinces piloted is that not many companies want to comply with the regulation.

More importantly, you need to have good governance in all of the provinces to deliver the funds generated by PES  and since it is a very new scheme, the government has only issued general guidelines at the central level and it is up to the local authorities to interpret and apply it. Many provinces want to follow suit and do similar things such as in Son La and Lam Dong, but a lot of people were scared because it means they have to make a decision and bear the responsibility. Some of them are keen to move forward, but some are holding back because they do not want to make a mistake that can cost them their seat.

Currently, the lessons learnt from the two provinces show that it is unclear how the PES money will be distributed among the communities. We have different groups of forest owners in Vietnam. It is quite clear how the money will be distributed if the forests are managed by state enterprises and households. But if forests are managed by communities and the money is allocated to the communities, how are they going to use that? It is unclear. That is why the Center for International Forestry Research is carrying out a study in Son La province. We want to try to understand how communities spend the money, who makes the decisions and how the  benefit sharing mechanism is decided. Is it voluntary or based on village regulation, for example. It is good to have a pilot model but scaling up opens up a lot of uncertainty.

What lessons can REDD+ learn from PES in Vietnam? 

First is the benefit sharing mechanism. The current one is sometimes unclear and raises many questions in terms of equities and efficiency, but that’s where REDD+ should pick up from and improve upon. You do not have to create another mechanism. You have to remember though that even if the money is channeled through different agencies, the bottom line is when it comes to the province, how the money is handed out has to be decided on by the provincial committees and the communities.

Second, with PES, one of the serious limitations is that people are paid to protect the forest, but it doesn’t really matter whether or not they really protect it. They still receive the money. There is no actual monitoring or assessment of whether there is actually improvement in terms of the performance of environmental services. REDD+ is going to be strictly performance-based, and so it must have more support from the legal perspective and benefit sharing mechanism. REDD+ contracts and the conditionalities have to be strengthened

These are the two key points. REDD+ needs to learn from PES, in how the benefit sharing mechanism will work and how to set up an accountable monitoring system to ensure that environmental services are delivered.

Private-sector engagement is another lesson learnt. With PES, the private sector is motivated to pay due to regulations. With REDD+, we should engage the private sector more actively than with just regulations.

This story was produced as part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD project, with additional support from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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