REDD+ without regrets: CIFOR Director General on where to from here

Itatiaia national park, Brazil. Photo from Flikr

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (05 July 2012)_Until greater certainty about the future of a global scheme to reduce carbon emissions through avoided deforestation (REDD+) is achieved, priority should be given both to actions that build a foundation for REDD+, and to ‘no regrets’ policy reforms, according to a new publication from the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

CIFOR Director-General and contributor to Analysing REDD+ Frances Seymour discusses what must happen to move the scheme forward.

Q: In your chapter of Analysing REDD+, you discuss priority actions that must be taken to build the foundations for REDD’s success. What are some of these actions?

Frances Seymour, Director General CIFOR: I think there are a number of actions that are necessary at all different levels. Clearly progress in the global negotiations, putting together an architecture for REDD+ are still necessary, so we need to have a financing regime, we need to have a common approach to establishing reference emissions levels, we need to have a common idea of how to implement safeguards, for example. But that’s not the only level at which action needs to take place. In fact we need to start thinking about REDD+ more as a cross-scale challenge, and think about how to link all the various institutions from the global level through the national level down to the local level, that are necessary to have information flows about emissions reductions flowing upward, and revenues to compensate land users flowing downward, all through those different levels. And as part of that, I think the jurisdictional scale, which is somewhere between the national scale and the pilot project level, is one that needs more attention. So the roles of provinces for example or subnational level governments is important. In addition to that, the large-scale financing that many of us thought might be forthcoming sooner, as a result of the international negotiations, is probably going to be delayed. And so it’s particularly important to build domestic constituencies for REDD+ as an objective, de-linked from the particular promise of international financial flows. And, in addition, to maintain the focus on REDD+ as a payments-for-environmental-services of PES-type mechanism, but be clear that we’re going to need to bundle that with other ways to improve forest management, be they traditional command-and-control measures or other sources of finance to bridge the gap between the current state of play and future international REDD+ financial flows.

Q: You also talk about a ‘No Regrets’ agenda for REDD+. What do you mean by this?

Frances Seymour: What we mean by a no-regrets agenda is things that make sense to do anyway, even if you don’t care about reducing climate emissions. So we observe in many countries that there are policies in place that either directly or indirectly subsidise activities that lead to forest loss or degradation. By removing those subsidies, or by doing a better job of capturing the rent from forest exploitation-related activities, you can create fiscal space in the national budget – which would be a good thing to do, even if you didn’t care about the climate. So that’s one set of examples of no-regrets economic policy tools. Another good set of examples of no-regrets policies is improvements in governance in general, and in forest governance in particular. There are many reasons to clarify land tenure, to improve the rule of law, to stamp out corruption. There are lots of good things to do related to governance that would also be in support of REDD+ implementation.

Q: You also recommend improving the availability of forest-related data – why does this matter?

Frances Seymour: Forest-related data is necessary for quite a number of forest management tasks. Only if you know about the forest’s status and trends can you make informed decisions about what kinds of policy tools or practices are necessary to put into place. The public needs better data about forests to be able to have input into that decision-making. So in fact better forest data is another example of a no-regrets policy. And certainly for a REDD+ mechanism to work and be able to measure changes in deforestation and forest degradation rates and the carbon emission implications of those changes, we have to have that data.

Q: Another of the no-regret actions recommended is to remove perverse subsidies. Why is this important?

For example, in many countries there are industries that either depend on products from the forest, or produce commodities that replace forests. And to the extent that those industries are subsidised, either by granting concessions to forest area at below cost, or access to forest materials at low cost, those are indirect subsidies to those industries. And so withdrawing those subsidies would be a way to align industrial development to economic efficiency, reduce pressure on the national budget, but also give more space for REDD to be successful, because then it would be more competitive with land uses that aren’t otherwise being subsidised.

Q: You have already mentioned clarifying land tenure. What is the significance of this for REDD+?

Forest land tenure is very important in its own right for a lot of reasons, including the fact that conflict over land tenure is a significant source of violence in rural areas, and clarifying land tenure could arguably reduce conflict and violence. It’s also import for economic efficiency – nobody’s going to invest in a piece of land if it’s not clear they’re going to have the rights to exploit the fruits from that land, and that’s especially important for tree crops, as they are such long-term investments. But forests are particularly important for REDD+, as REDD+ is conceptualised as a payments-for-environmental-services (PES) scheme. In order to have a PES scheme operate you need to know who the seller of the environmental service is. So if you don’t know who owns the forest, it’s hard to make the mechanism work. CIFOR has done some research in Brazil constructing overlays of maps of where REDD+ would be viable as a PES scheme from a financial perspective, and then areas where that might be problematic because of unclear or contested land tenure. It turns out that that unclear land tenure is a huge constraint, and this is even in Brazil, which has gone the furthest in terms of recognising the rights to forest land of small-holders and indigenous groups, so clearly it’s a big impediment to REDD+ around the world.

Q: Who are these messages aimed at?

Different parts of the book are aimed at different stakeholder groups and audiences. I think it’s fair to say that the centre of gravity of the book is aimed at national level policy makers and stakeholders in REDD+ objectives, as well as project level implementers and the things they need to keep in mind, in terms of both dealing with local communities and the more technical side of implementing REDD+ projects. But clearly the international community is involved in developing a global framework for REDD+, in terms of finance, safeguards, reference levels and financing REDD+ implementation, so the international community – donors, negotiators – are part of our audience as well.

Q: REDD+ faces many challenges, but are there reasons for optimism?

I think there are reasons to be optimistic about the future prospects of REDD+. Probably the most important is there is a general appreciation of the fact that the world community will not be able to keep global warming below the 2 degree Celsius threshold unless forests are part of the solution. You really can’t get there from here unless we reduce forest degradation and deforestation. So I think the prospects for continued political will to make this work are good. You might say that REDD+ is an enterprise that is too important to fail, so I think we can expect to see continued investment and efforts to make it work.

We also see continuing attention in the context of the negotiations to keep inching forward on setting up a global framework for REDD+, and we also have a continuing appetite on the part of the donor governments to appropriate real money for this objective while we’re waiting for a global regime that might generate more finance. However would say that for me, the most important sources of optimism are at national and local levels, as an alignment of constituencies are happening under the rubric of REDD+. We have heads of state making commitments to emissions reductions, for example here in Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made a firm commitment to reducing emissions. We have civil society groups who want to see, for example, strengthened land tenure, as part of their rights-oriented agenda, and that aligns with what’s necessary for REDD+. We are beginning to appreciate more the importance of conserving forests for other reasons, including the linkage with food security, and the importance of forests in adaptation to climate change, which is only going to become more important over time. So for all of those reasons, there’s a basis to be optimistic that these various forces in support of REDD+ will be able to come together and help overcome the many obstacles ahead.


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