Safeguarding Safeguards: How do we ensure REDD+ safeguards work for local people?

As my colleague Jim noted, the REDD+ debate is now in full swing in Durban with a range of side events, a number of presentations, and many engaging discussions outside the side event rooms. One of the much-debated issues has been around REDD+ social and environmental safeguards.

Subsequent to the Cancun Agreement, a number of multilateral and bilateral initiatives have developed various sets of provisions for promoting social and environmental safeguards in REDD+. However, discussions in Durban so far clearly reflect the contentious nature and practical challenges of implementing and monitoring the safeguards on the ground. A sense of complexity has emerged particularly around how social and environmental safeguards can be contextualized at the national level. Of concern is how to respect socio-culture values and ensure the livelihoods of forest dependent communities while harmonizing the many different sets of standards, principles, and criteria for safeguards developed under these various initiatives.

Resolving this dilemma will require meaningful and genuine engagement on the part of concerned stakeholders and rights holders. However, it is easier said than done. Murky land rights coupled with elite capture make it a challenge. In many countries there is evidence that decentralization has not helped much in resolving tenure issues, as state ownership over land continues to be the prevailing model. Further, overlapping mandates of government agencies and poor coordination among them create confusion and do not help much in clearly defining and negotiating rights issues in both setting standards for social safeguards and their implementation. Clear land tenure therefore is a crucial prerequisite for effective REDD+ implementation.

Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) featured very prominently in these conversations, frequently cited as one of the most important tools to catalyze greater stakeholder participation and improve transparency in the whole REDD+ implementation process. However, there is a need to develop the FPIC capacity of stakeholders across the vertical and horizontal systems of forestry management—including integrating the process right from the planning stage itself—followed by continuing attention to FPIC throughout the implementation stages of REDD+.

While some countries, such as Nepal, Brazil, and Ecuador, have taken a few tentative first steps to nationalize REDD+ safeguards, it remains to be seen how effective these measures are in implementation and monitoring on the ground. Clearly there is a need for capacity building in this direction to ensure countries receiving funds both from the World Bank under FCPF and from UN-REDD will be able to harmonize among different sets of standards and criteria and appropriately adapt them for each national context.

Moreover, it will be interesting to see what additional mechanisms are developed by countries while nationalizing REDD+ safeguards to look beyond carbon benefits and explore opportunities for additional economic incentives, including maximizing co-benefits, to improve buy-in from and benefits for local people.

This blog was contributed from Durban by Dr. Chandra Silori, Program Coordinator for RECOFTC’s Norad-funded Grassroots Capacity Building and REDD+ project. Read more about RECOFTC’s presence at Durban on our website, and check back regularly for more blogs throughout the conference. 

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