Why REDD+ needs local communities, not the other way around

A commentary by Regan Suzuki, program officer at RECOFTC

Focusing on isolated islands of community forestry as entry points for REDD+ is not the answer. But we need to beware throwing the baby out with the bath water. Rather than dismissing community forestry due to legitimate concerns of leakagethe answer is to look for ecologically acceptable strategies that meet the multiple, and sometimes competing, needs of local stakeholders.  RECOFTC calls for an acceleration of the devolution of management rights of land and natural resources to local communities.

The recent series of Go-REDD articles for discussion by UN-REDD Asia Pacific on the topic of community forestry: REDD+ and Community Forestry, revisited (October)”  and particularly, “Pondering the Role of Community Forestry in REDD+ (September),” raise a number of legitimate challenges associated with the design and implementation of REDD+ in community forestry sites.

Serious discussions of the overlapping frameworks for community forestry and REDD+ are timely. As the Bluffstone et al. article referred to in the September Go-REDD article points out, the extent of collective forest management has more than doubled in the preceding 15 years (granted, the starting point for area under recognized community title is low). In addition to its expanding role as a recognized forest management approach, community forestry is being seriously considered as a potential modality for the implementation of REDD+ projects and activities. UN-REDD notes this both in the October Go-REDD article, as well as in its policy brief on benefit sharing approaches for REDD+ which presents Participatory Forest Management (including Community Forest Management) as one of three likely approaches for REDD+ along with Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) and Forest Concession Management. While there is much to recommend community forestry as a suitable approach to REDD+, there is a thicket of difficult issues that surround the marrying of these objectives. Not least, are the arguments mounted on either side of REDD+ debates, either that REDD+ has the potential to strengthen the equity claimed by community forestry, or conversely, to tip the delicate balance away from the rights and interests of local communities.

There are several important omissions, however, that warrant discussion. First, is a clear understanding of what is meant by ‘community forestry.’ In its very first sentence the September Go-REDD article refers to forests under the management of communities and individual households, the subsequent sentence inferring that these are the constituents of community forestry. This is not interchangeable with the definition of Community Controlled Forests (CCF) used in the Bluffstone et al article, which refers to it as a specific form of common property management – an intermediary between public and private forest tenure rights. Nor does it reflect the ‘small c’ community forestry as described in RECOFTC’s strategic plan, which takes a broader view referring to a large range of local management options of forests including: “all aspects, initiatives, sciences, policies, institutions, and processes that are intended to increase the role of local people in governing and managing forest resources.” This ranges from management of sacred sites to small-scale forest-based enterprises, forestry outgrower schemes and company-community partnerships. Community forestry, in its more contemporary, flexible interpretation, encompasses the multitude of sustainable interactions local communities have at the interface with forest landscapes.

Associated with the concerns of fair compensation of local communities raised by the Go-REDD article, are higher-level questions of equity on national and international scales. Legitimate concerns continue to be voiced by civil society and others that REDD+ and even community forestry in some state-controlled contexts, pose restrictions on forest use that in combination with community level labor inputs and foregone opportunity costs, far outweigh benefits attained and rather instrumentally serve state agendas. REDD+ risks bolstering such agendas and offloading to local communities the burden of meeting national conservation goals, sweetened with prospective incentives, under a cloak of ‘empowerment’. Certainly, this is not the case in community forestry contexts broadly where genuine rights and benefits such as those pointed to in the October Go-REDD blog, are well documented., However the restrictions imposed by REDD+ on forest exploitation may be a move in the direction of meeting national and international conservation and mitigation objectives at the cost of real rights at local levels. To take this point on macro level equity further, carbon offsetting to allow continued emissions and energy inefficient development trajectories in developed countries may come directly at the expense of local communities in developing countries. Enhancing forests and afforesting for carbon sequestration goals requires higher consumption of water than other land uses, and where there may be growing threats of climate-related water and food security, these global mitigation goals may come into direct conflict with adaptation and the basic needs of local communities. As articulated in the joint RECOFTC – Global Alliance for Community Forestry submission to the UNFCCC in 2009, REDD+ can and must be additional to basic approaches of sustainable forest management (SFM) with decision-making and benefits devolved to local communities; not the reverse. This may be the most pragmatic ‘safeguard’ to ensuring both social and environmental objectives through REDD+.

The concluding statement in the September Go-REDD article is misleading: “This is not to say, that the idea of linking community forestry with REDD+ should be abandoned. Rather it means, that focusing on community forests while neglecting key drivers of deforestation and forest degradation may hinder the effectiveness of REDD+ activities. Nobody wants to see that happen.” The message could be misinterpreted to imply that community engagement is instrumental to the successful implementation of REDD+ activities. Rather we understand that the intended point is that targeting isolated community forestry sites as entry points for REDD+ miss the forest for the trees:  real and tangible reductions in forest-based emissions nationally depend on closing the leakage loop. Misguided focus on islands of community forestry will lead to leakage and displacement similar to what has been seen in Oddar Meanchey. RECOFTC’s position is that in order to avoid this, the answer is precisely to accelerate the handover of forest lands to local communities – whether it is for ‘big C’ community forestry or for decentralized management by smallholders. While this may lead to more production oriented forest management strategies in some cases and even forest conversion in others, the strengthened rights and livelihood options of local communities is vital to the long-term equitable and sustainable management of forests in the region.  Focusing on REDD+ while neglecting community (or local level) rights over forests may threaten the most vulnerable communities, and ultimately the global commons. This would be an outcome that nobody wants to see happen.

Conflict and Cooperation in REDD+: Which way are we going?

RECOFTC’s Ahmad Dhiaulhaq, Forest Conflict and Governance Researcher, shares highlights from a recent paper on “Predicting Future Conflict under REDD+ Implementation,” the product of a collaboration between RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and Forest Action Nepal.

Effects of land-grabbing

Effects of land-grabbing. Photograph source: Mak Remissa/EPA, via The Guardian

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) as a climate change mitigation instrument is an attractive way for developed countries to achieve their emission reduction targets, as well as an incentive for developing countries to sustainably manage their forests. While this may seem like a tidy win-win situation, it’s quite a bit more complicated than that. The ongoing discussions have highlighted the risks (e.g. conflict), as well as the opportunities (e.g. cooperation), that are inevitably part of REDD+ implementation.

Conflict might arise because REDD+ is expected to create new zoning regimes, which in turn result in more restrictions to forest access, overlap with other land uses, as well as competing claims over land, forest, and carbon. On the other hand, cooperation is possible if REDD+ implementation can address the array of existing forest management issues, including clarification of land tenure and rights. It is believed that the success of REDD+ hinges on its ability to address these existing challenges.

RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests recognizes the importance of addressing all of these fundamental issues (for the success of REDD+ but also for other forest management interventions) and seeks to address them by developing the capacity of various stakeholders in community-based forestry and natural resource management (e.g. local communities, policy makers, academics, practitioners). One of our approaches to capacity development is through strategically using research by organizations such as FAO, CIFOR, IUFRO, Wageningen University and Gajah Mada University to develop a sound knowledge basis for our capacity development. When our trainings focus on issues regarding which there is no current, relevant research, we conduct the research ourselves, as was the case with our work on conflict transformation.

One of RECOFTC’s recent research projects is trying to look at the existing and possible future sources of conflict in REDD+ project sites. We began by developing a preliminary predictive framework (Patel et al. 2013) to identify possible sources of impairment that may result in conflict over the management of forests and natural resources and then applying this framework to case studies in Nepal and Vietnam, with work ongoing in Cambodia and Myanmar. The study demonstrates that the framework can help in identifying, understanding and to some extent, predicting possible sources of conflict not only in REDD+ sites but also in forest management in general.

The research found that the following can be sources of conflict in the REDD+ sites: access and use restriction; benefit distribution; competing demands; conflict management capacity; leadership; legal and policy framework; participation and communication; quality of resources; and tenure security (Patel et al. 2013). It is argued that unless these fundamental issues are addressed, the battle against climate change through REDD+ is likely to lead to conflict amongst REDD+ proponents, national government agencies, and the communities themselves who are the key guardians of one of the most important tools in climate change mitigation.

Understanding possible sources of conflict is crucial to conflict management (and therefore project management). To reduce the potential for impairment and conflict under REDD+ implementation (and other externally driven forest management practices), stakeholders must be equipped to recognize and address these sources of impairments in a timely manner. The failure to do so will likely have considerable impact not only on the forest-dependent communities but also on the success of REDD+ itself. When forest conflict arises, local communities are often the most adversely affected and withstand the worst of its costs. In terms of REDD+, conflict would disrupt the implementation process and impact the credibility of the REDD+ mechanism and its proponents. Conflicts could also lead to intentional forest destruction, which would be detrimental to efforts to mitigate global climate change.

More information on “Predicting Future Conflict under REDD+ Implementation” can be found here.

Reference:

Patel, T.; Dhiaulhaq, A.; Gritten, D.; Yasmi, Y.; De Bruyn, T.; Paudel, N.S.; Luintel, H.; Khatri, D.B.; Silori, C.; Suzuki, R. Predicting Future Conflict under REDD+ Implementation. Forests 2013, 4, 343-363.

REDD+, So Long as “the Poor Sell Cheap”

Jacob Phelps, National University of Singapore, discusses his recent research on the costs of REDD+ in the context of increasing opportunity costs among small-scale and subsistence farmers.

There are a number of reasons why REDD+ forest carbon has received such widespread attention. Perhaps the least romantic reason…

Low-cost REDD+REDD+ is cheap (at least on the surface).

There are strong economic arguments for implementing REDD+. Forest conservation and sustainable management are potentially large-scale, arguably low-cost strategies for reducing greenhouse gases to mitigate climate change. Low agricultural yields, geographic isolation and widespread poverty in many tropical developing countries often mean that small incentives can motivate governments and individual landholders to protect land for conservation.

Financing a large-scale REDD+ mechanism may depend on these comparatively low costs, driven by efforts to find lowest-cost emissions reductions. This potentially places subsistence farmers, smallholders, and community forestry groups at the center of REDD+ initiatives, particularly where they are willing to “sell cheap.”

Swidden agriculture, northern Vietnam (Courtesy A. Ziegler, 1998)

Swidden agriculture, northern Vietnam (Courtesy A. Ziegler, 1998)

But the poor won’t sell cheap forever.

In a recent study, my co-authors and I considered the costs of REDD+ in the context of increasing opportunity costs among small-scale and subsistence farmers.  We used the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as an example for considering how costs among smallholder farmers can change over time.  The trends we uncovered are particularly relevant in the context of the current Asian agricultural boom.

Cassava farming, DRC (Courtesy Ollivier Girard, CIFOR, 2012)

Cassava farming, DRC (Courtesy Ollivier Girard, CIFOR, 2012)

Our analysis confirmed that many small holders in the DRC would potentially be willing to participate in conservation given very small incentives.  Indeed, many subsistence farmers in the DRC suffer from low farm yields, low incomes, and high food insecurity, similar to smallholder and subsistence farmers across much of the developing tropics.

At the same time, however, many smallholder farming communities in the DRC are being targeted for agricultural support.  As in many other developing countries, farm yields could radically improve with the introduction of new disease-resistant plant varieties, increased fertilizer use, and improved transportation and market access.  This support could bring dramatic, necessary benefits to local farmers.

“Hidden” costs of REDD+

However, increasing farm yields would also increase the costs of conservation.

Farmers who were once willing to protect forests for a pittance could begin to demand more for their conservation actions. Small-scale farmers might also be displaced by immigrants and larger commercial agriculture as farming becomes more lucrative in areas that were previously less productive and/or isolated from markets.

Based on our scenarios of agricultural improvements among small farmers in DRC, we modeled that conservation costs could increase 8-20 fold within 30 years. While these were hypothetical scenarios, they illustrated how, as farmers’ costs increase, so too must REDD+ payments.

While our focus was on the Congo Basin, the findings are easily reflected and magnified in the Asian context. Rapid agricultural expansion and the recent boom in high-value coffee, oil palm, and rubber production mean that farmers’ opportunity costs in Asia are already increasing.

Further intensification of these high-value crops could reflect even greater increases in the costs of conservation.

Conservation spending may have to dramatically increase to compete with future agriculture.

Many conservation groups are actively linking agricultural improvement programs to conservation policies.  These are attractive because they promise win-win solutions for conservation and rural development, at least in the short-term. We suggest that these efforts may be overlooking the impacts of these policies on long-term conservation.

Will REDD+ still be attractive if costs increase in the future? Or will tropical developing countries and small-scale farmers only prove viable REDD+ and conservation partners while they sell cheap?

Linking conservation to agricultural intensification

To read more about this research, please visit:

Building Rural-Urban and Cross-generational Bridges to Discuss Climate Change, Forests, and REDD+

Project Officer Simone Frick reflects on a recent visit to Lao PDR, where RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project is carrying out activities on the ground with the assistance of local CSOs. 

During a recent visit to Lao PDR, I had the opportunity to participate in a grassroots level awareness raising event initiated by RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project and conducted by the Lao civil society organization PADETC (Participatory Development Training Centre).

In a first step, PADETC organized a national training event about climate change and REDD+ for 20 students. The students came from various disciplines and with different motivations. Ms. Thatsany for example explained that she is studying business management and is very interested in development issues. When she completes her studies she would like to apply her gained knowledge and skills in a social enterprise. She highlights that during the training she learned about considering different perspectives in a structured way to achieve a joint goal.

Students interviewing villagers at Nong Waeng village on the second day of the event.

Students interviewing villagers at Nong Waeng village on the second day of the event.

After participating in the student training and feeling comfortable in facilitating a similar event for secondary level students, Ms. Thatsany was selected to conduct a three day event in Bolikhamxay province, around a two hour car drive southeast from the capital Vientiane. Mr. Sommai, who studies mass media and also took part in the student training, was the other facilitator for this event.

Together they explained to 27 secondary level students, between 14 to 18 years old and all volunteers in the local children’s learning center, what the causes and impacts of climate change are, and the possible ways in which forests can help combat climate change through mitigation and adaptation initiatives. REDD+ was introduced as one such possibility. Furthermore, the students learned different interview techniques which they were able to put into practice the next day when they went to nearby Baan Nong Waeng to interview the villagers about their experiences with climate change and the role that the surrounding forests play in their lives. Finally, on the third day of the workshop the students met again to compile the information, the recorded interviews, and write summaries of what they learned from the villagers. The information from all the groups was then pulled together by the leaders of the children’s learning center and has ultimately resulted in a local radio program about climate change and the role of forests, told through the experiences and with quotes shared during the community interviews. These stories have also contributed to a video explaining the villagers’ situation.

Students compiling the information collected from the villagers in groups.

Students compiling the information collected from the villagers in groups.

One of the benefits of conducting these interviews was that different generations were able to come together to exchange knowledge. One of the questions asked during the interviews was: “What changes have you observed over the last decades in your village”? The woman being interviewed responded that there have been noticeable changes, such as in rain patterns and long, very dry periods with which the crops, especially rice, are often not able to cope. She mentions that her parents’ generation had full production, she herself has been harvesting around 80% in recent years and this year they only harvested 50% because it was too dry.

The opportunity to interact through the interviews was appreciated by interviewers and interviewees, younger and older generations alike. Reflecting on her exchange with the volunteer, the woman says “Through this interview we have learned again to discuss these issues. Now the older people also learn from the younger generation.”

Compiling the information collected from the villagers in plenum from the different groups.

Compiling the information collected from the villagers in plenum from the different groups.

The 15 year old student on the other hand says “It was very helpful and saddening to see the real impacts of climate change after learning about them the first day. We learned from the villagers about the difficult situations they are in and I hope we can make a change by going back and providing more information with street plays or other tools to help them improve their situation. Furthermore, several of my friends did not have the chance to participate in this training and I look forward to sharing with them what I have learned here.”

RECOFTC’s REDD+ Grassroots program is working to facilitate learning and knowledge-sharing opportunities such as this in all of our project sites in Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, and Vietnam. To learn more about the Grassroots program, please click here.

Mainstreaming Women’s Perspectives in Policies and Practice in Climate Change and REDD+

RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project team shares highlights from the recent national level expert seminar on Gender, Forestry, Climate Change and REDD+, organized jointly by RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and the Department of Forestry, Lao PDR.

Expert Panel Discussion

Panel discussion at the expert seminar on Gender, Forestry, Climate Change and REDD+.

Despite some well documented studies on the extensive knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience of women in using and managing forests and natural resources in general, the current debate on REDD+ has yet to integrate the existing knowledge and specific forestry based needs and aspirations of women in its planning and policy processes. Unless addressed in time, this omission will have adverse consequences in the long run as the specific needs and aspirations of women will be ignored, pushing them further to the periphery, thus adding to their vulnerability and depriving them from the potential benefits of REDD+.

RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and the Department of Forestry in Lao PDR together organized a national seminar on gender, forestry, climate change and REDD+ on February 19, 2013 in Vientiane, Lao PDR, under RECOFTC’s ongoing project “Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ in Asia-Pacific.” A total of 45 participants took part including government agencies and the Lao Women’s Union, environmental I/NGO’s, donors, and civil society, among others. The topic seemed to be of particular interest, and demand to participate in the workshop was high.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Khamphay Manivong, the Deputy Director General of the Department of Forestry, Lao PDR, reminded everyone of the important roles played by women in forest management and conservation given their specific knowledge and skills in Lao society. He then emphasized the need to recognize this in the promotion of gender equality in climate change and REDD+ initiatives. He also highlighted the critical importance of building the capacity of women at different levels so they can actively and effectively participate in decision-making processes.

One of the aims of the workshop was to bring everyone onto the same page about existing policies and plans to strengthen gender equality in forest management and national strategy development on REDD+ and climate change. A presentation by the Lao PDR National Focal Point for UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, helped audiences to understand this better. This was followed by presentations from different organizations sharing practical experiences and lessons learned from the field. The speakers helped to identify and gather key issues, challenges, and gaps in the inclusion of women as effective stakeholders in forest based climate change adaptation and mitigation. Having identified the challenges, delegates discussed approaches and methods to address and overcome them, for example by making use of opportunities for gender responsive capacity building initiatives at different levels, and communicating the experience widely in climate change discussions and policy processes in Lao PDR.

The second part of the workshop consisted of a detailed panel discussion with gender experts which elicited a very lively discussion and provided a great networking opportunity for different organizations. A number of potential areas for jointly working towards increased gender awareness, stronger policies, and plans in the forestry sector were identified.

To learn more about this seminar, please see the event press release. Keep an eye on this space for more information on the results of this seminar, including a forthcoming synthesis report and a policy brief.

Stepping out of the REDD+ Shadow – Forests and Adaptation

Jim Stephenson highlights why more attention needs to be paid to forests and adaptation in the UNFCCC process and points to the new RECOFTC Community Forestry and Adaptation Policy Brief launched yesterday.

Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020

Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020

For those of us with hazy recollections of the middle of the last decade, it is easy to forget that when REDD+ was assigned to the mitigation stream under the UNFCCC, many commentators, including indigenous peoples, thought it should straddle both adaptation and mitigation[1].

Since then discussions on forests in the UNFCCC have been dominated by REDD+, with little attention being paid to their vital role in the success of climate change adaptation. We see glimpses of this role being recognized again, most explicitly with Bolivia’s proposal for a ‘Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism’ for forests. This follows on from Durban Decision 2/CP.17 that joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests could be developed, largely based on Bolivian negotiators’ interest in promoting non-market approaches to REDD+.

Such a joint mitigation and adaptation mechanism for forests would be something to be welcomed and may go far in dissolving the artificial boundaries between them in the forests and climate change agenda.

This mechanism could play an important part in recognizing and supporting the role of community forestry in climate change adaptation.  Throughout 2012, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests has been analyzing the vast potential of community forestry to strengthen the climate resilience of rural communities across the world through diversifying livelihoods, increasing food security, leveraging existing institutions and knowledge, and advancing disaster risk reduction.

You only need to glance at the numbers to see how important forests are for climate adaptation amongst the rural population. A global comparative study by CIFOR concludes that forest products provide on average one fifth to a quarter of household income in rural areas globally[2] – a vital source of livelihood and income diversification in times of climate uncertainty. Forest ecosystems are more resilient to climatic change than agricultural ecosystems and contain a greater diversity of plant and animal life – for example the Lao population uses over 700 species of forest plants, insects and fungi for food and other uses[3] with each species responding differently to climatic change.

This diversity also strengthens the food security of communities, particularly in times of climate related crop failure. When households have access and extraction rights over a forest they can diversify the range of species consumed, thus providing a broader intake of vital nutrients. The Lao PDR National Biodiversity Strategy estimates that non-timber forest products (NTFPs) contribute between 61-79% of non-rice food consumption by weight, and provide an average of 4% of energy intake, 40% of calcium, 25% of iron, and 40% of vitamins A and C.

However, this tremendous potential of forests to support community adaptation is impaired in many countries by a lack of rights for communities to access these resources. Even where community forestry rights are given, there is still a need to identify and remove legal barriers which restrict commercial and livelihood activities, and hinder access to markets. NTFP collection restrictions for local communities should also be reviewed and reduced, albeit with sustainable extraction limits in mind.

While some national adaptation plans mention community forestry, these references tend to be superficial in nature. There is a need to mainstream community forestry into national adaptation planning and support existing community forestry networks to integrate climate adaptation strategies in forest management planning.

These are just a handful of issues to be addressed in taking community forestry forward in climate adaptation. A fuller range is presented in RECOFTC’s newly launched Policy Brief ‘Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020’. This Brief provides a concise overview of the Roadmap project, with key findings and recommendations, along with sample ‘Roadmaps’ to 2020 for selected countries. The full set of five country Roadmaps (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam) will be launched in early 2013.

Watch this space….


[1] RECOFTC, FAO and CoDe REDD (2012). Forests and Climate Change after Durban: An Asia-Pacific Perspective.

[2] Angelsen, A (2011). ‘The economic contributions of forests to rural livelihoods: a global analysis. Oral presentation at the PEN Science Workshop: Exploring the Forest-Poverty Link: New Research Findings’. University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, 13-14 June 2011.

[3] RECOFTC and NAFRI (2007). Status of Community Based Forest Management in Lao PDR.

The $30 billion Question at Doha

Jim Stephenson, Program Officer, provides an update on early side events at COP 18, Doha.

Welcoming session at COP 18 in Doha. Photo from UN climate change’s Flickr photostream.

As we look to the future of REDD+ finance in the COP negotiations, it is worth reflecting on what has been achieved so far – a subject which provided a fascinating contrast in messaging at yesterday’s side events.

At the Fast-Start Finance Information Event we heard from the Parties that, to some peoples’ surprise, the US$ 30 billion target for ‘Fast-Start Finance’ from 2010-2012 had been surpassed. While this is open to further research and clarification, huge numbers were reported even by individual countries, ranging up to US$ 17 billion, with a healthy chunk of this funding reportedly going towards REDD+. From the snapshot of Parties reporting, it was difficult to calculate whether the approximate REDD+ partnership target of US$ 4.5 billion in REDD+ Fast Start Finance had been reached, but it did not seem far off and was comfortably at 10 digits.

So three years and billions of dollars later, are we any nearer to tackling some of the “Persistent Issues” which face REDD+? The Ecosystem Climate Alliance’s side event of the same name suggested not, and questioned why, despite the large amounts of bilateral, multilateral, and private funding directed at REDD+, we have not seen much in the way of expected results (though there are clearly some important exceptions).

One of the Alliance members, The Rainforest Foundation Norway, claimed that far too much REDD+ readiness funding and time had been directed towards MRV (Measurement, Reporting, and Verification – in their estimation 40% of REDD+ funding to date) when more fundamental issues such as land tenure and governance do not receive these levels of attention. A question I myself asked last year.

At the same event, Dr. Tim Cadman made good on his promise not to send the audience to sleep by giving a fresh perspective on how REDD+ efforts do not yet recognize and support what he terms ‘stakeholder driven governance’. Using Arnstein’s Ladder of citizen participation he showed how current REDD+ standards and safeguard systems only amount to what Arnstein describes as ‘Tokenism’ (i.e. informing, consultation, and placation). Dr. Cadman points out that we need to be aiming higher if REDD+ is to support good governance principles, moving from consultation and placation to partnership, delegated power, and even citizen control over REDD+. I would suggest that some of the leading standards and principles do aim at partnership with local stakeholders, but it is certainly agreed that we should be aiming higher.

RECOFTC has long believed that community forestry is an excellent way to aim higher and achieve partnership, delegated power, and citizen control over REDD+, allowing it to be locally driven rather than imposed by external actors.  During the Q&A session indigenous representatives repeatedly pointed to the fact that in their home countries REDD+ is being ‘pushed aggressively’ onto them by developers and governments. This is a fertile breeding ground for misunderstanding, manipulation, and eventually the failure of REDD+, ignoring the fact that ultimately local people hold the key to its success.

We hope that as Parties in Doha look beyond Fast Start Finance and begin to program the intended increase of climate funding to $100 billion per year by 2020, much more attention is paid towards supporting good governance and the meaningful participation of local people.

Leadership Required: Ensuring Local Communities Benefit from Climate Finance

Regan Suzuki, RECOFTC Networking and Stakeholder Engagement program officer, writes from the Climate Investment Fund Partnership Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, presenting a win-win climate finance scenario benefiting both local communities and investors. 

A vicious cycle exists in the financing of climate change activities. So said Myrna Cunningham, president of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, during the opening session of the 2012 Climate Investment Fund Partnership Forum in Istanbul, Turkey (November 6-7, 2012). Financiers of climate compatible development activities, particularly the private sector, require deliverables to be met and view the limited capacity typical of rural communities as reasons to circumvent them and engage with ‘higher capacity’ actors. The opening session of the Forum underscored the need for climate financing investments, by banks and by the private sector, to be profitable.

Investments tend to be made in, and channeled through, those with education and skills, fundamentally speaking the same ‘language’ as the financiers. This tendency results in the exclusion of rural communities – including indigenous people and women – from the benefits of training, capacity building, and job creation that accompany climate financing. The omission of rural communities from information sharing, training, and engagement bars their full engagement and reinforces their exclusion on the sidelines.  

However, this scenario is neither inevitable nor necessary. In the days immediately preceding the Forum, a landmark deal was signed between the South African Government and independent power producers for the country’s first renewable energy procurement contract, worth some US$ 6.5 billion. Public-private partnership contracts of this scale are rare and the South African green energy deal lays out an innovative model for such engagements and significantly, the involvement of local communities.

The procurement process gave preference to bidders involving local communities, women, and youth and explicitly sought to localize implementation and benefits. Localization requirements were non-negotiable and despite initial resistance by the private sector bidders, in the end all complied.  The 28 renewable power production projects are spread across some of South Africa’s most rural and least developed provinces. In addition, bidders have committed to including community development initiatives within a 50-kilometre radius of each project and some R3 billion have been collectively earmarked for socio-economic development and the empowerment of women in the energy sector. The renewable energy deal in South Africa serves as a ‘path finding’ model of private sector engagement with progressive policies potentially leading to transformative impacts.

The take away message is that while private sector involvement in climate resilient development initiatives such as REDD+ need to be profitable, they needn’t be so at the cost of local communities.  This, however, involves tradeoffs as outsourcing internationally or to those with well established skills and capacities, is often the most efficient path. Companies and financiers are held accountable to clear deliverables and they will understandably seek to achieve those in the most cost and resource effective fashion. 

In order for it to make sense for companies to work together with local communities despite the risks and costs this entails, it becomes the role of policy makers to level the playing field. They must establish clearly as minimum standards, not as fanciful ideals, that project developers and implementers hire locally, specify their strategies for local engagement, and most importantly, invest in the capacity building of local communities and otherwise marginal groups.

COP 17 in Durban brought about a reluctant consensus by all stakeholders that in the interest of long-term sustainability, market-based REDD+ financing is no longer up for debate. We must learn from stories of success such as the leadership and innovation displayed by South Africa in addressing the difficult issue of engaging the private sector without compromising national and international obligations to rights holders. 

Bangkok UNFCCC Sessions Kick-off with REDD+ Finance Debate

Jim Stephenson comments on the first day REDD+ discussions at the Bangkok Climate Change Conference.

The additional sessions of the Ad-Hoc Working Groups began yesterday in Bangkok, with REDD+ finance taking up two conference halls’-worth of attention through the snappily titled ‘Workshop on financing options for the full implementation of results-based actions relating to REDD-plus, including modalities and procedures for financing these result-based actions’.

An area where progress is urgently needed in the run-up to COP 18 in Doha is how ‘results-based’ REDD+ will be financed. The good news is that there has clearly been much work put into debating and analyzing the options, backed up with formal party and observer submissions in March, work-shopping and a UNFCCC technical paper published in July.

During the final session, the Chair was moved to remark that each Party was beginning their statement with ‘as has already been said’ or ‘we are in full agreement with’. Typical workshop idiom – but in UNFCCC discussions, Parties have a duty to defend their interests. Perhaps the consensus on these issues, at least at this stage, is building.

The areas of consensus are fairly non-contentious issues – such as the need for diverse sources of both market and non-market based finance for REDD+, including the need to determine the role of the Green Climate Fund in REDD+ financing in time for Doha. Though not contentious, this is very important. The $4.5 billion in public funding promised as part of the 2010-12 ‘fast start finance’ for REDD+ readiness has under-delivered, and achieving progress towards results based finance clearly requires a diversified financing base to reach the scale needed. Coordinating the diversification process would be the real challenge – Parties point out that managing and reporting so many different finance flows could add another burden onto the governments receiving these funds.  To address this potential issue, the need for a well organized and transparent UNFCCC REDD+ mechanism was highlighted, in order to unify these funding streams and simplify the finance disbursal process.

Another area highlighted by the Parties was the need to recognize the diversity of what REDD+ ‘results’ are, which has large implications for the scaling up of REDD+ finance in lieu of a compliance carbon market.  Some feel that the ‘co-benefits’ of REDD+ should attract their own funding regardless of the carbon market, such as watershed services, biodiversity conservation, poverty alleviation and sustainable commodities. The norm is now to put the ‘co’ in co-benefits in quotes, recognizing that these benefits should gain equal footing to the carbon emission reductions in REDD+. If this happens these benefits could be mainstreamed in the ‘payment for results’ framework, hence expanding the potential funding pools for REDD+.

Better still would be the recognition of improved governance in the forest sector, including advances made in community forestry law and implementation, as ‘results’ to be rewarded.  This would also reinforce the incentives for Parties to properly implement or even exceed social and environmental safeguard standards, something very much welcomed by RECOFTC.

Bridging the Gap Between the International Arena and Local Stakeholders

From lawyer to RECOFTC trainee to environmental journalist, Krishna Murari Bhandari has played a variety of roles in his career. Given his diverse background, perhaps there is no one better to act as an intermediary between international decision-makers and local stakeholders. Chandra Silori tells us how this RECOFTC alumnus is trying to resolve this disconnect in Nepal.

In some ways, Krishna Murari Bhandari is your typical print journalist – he works hard, is dedicated to his job, and hardly receives any recognition. For two decades now he has been writing a popular column for two of Nepal’s most widely circulated national dailies – Kantipur and Annapurna Post. As vice president of the Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ), he has written numerous environmental articles over the years. However, there are a number of things that set him apart from his fellows. For one, he is a lawyer by training. For another, he has a demonstrated passion for serving marginalized groups in the agrarian sector in Nepal, including forest dependent communities, ethnic minorities, and women.

A disconnect

Speaking on his first exposure to global climate change discussions, he immediately pointed out the disconnect between international discussions and situations on the ground: “The technical language that is used by the experts in their writings is far away from what local people can speak or understand,” says Bhandari, referring to the international event on climate change at the Eighth UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP 8) in 2002 in New Delhi, where he represented the NEFEJ. Similarly, references to sea level rise as an indicator of global warming hold little resonance in a landlocked country like Nepal. One has to find equivalent evidence, such as early or late flowering of local trees like rhododendrons, to bring the message home to grassroots stakeholders.

Basing his arguments on long years of interacting with local stakeholders, he said that despite the considerable amount of ongoing research to explain the complexity of climate change, the understanding among grassroots stakeholders on such issues is still inadequate. Complex concepts and terminologies result in poor capacity to respond to global changes at the local level. Even in urban centers, he says people may be aware of environmental issues like pollution, but their knowledge on climate change is still very new.

From journalist to REDD+ trainer

In 2009, RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project paved the way for this lawyer-turned-journalist to become one of Nepal’s staunchest advocates for climate change adaptation and REDD+ grassroots capacity building. Bhandari immediately recognized the importance of communicating technical knowledge on REDD+ and climate change to local stakeholders. After attending his first international training organized by RECOFTC in 2009, he said, “I now feel more confident in my writings, as I am better informed about issues concerning grassroots stakeholders on climate change and REDD+.” He also added: “The grassroots project provided me a platform to directly talk to the local communities, ethnic minorities, women, students, youths and local government officials and learn about their issues and concerns.”

Realizing the opportunity at hand under the grassroots project, he helped mobilize, guide, and train local journalists to write, edit, and publish several articles on environmental issues, including climate change. This innovative project has trained over a hundred barefoot journalists. Sometimes, all you need is one champion to get things moving.

A well-deserved recognition

Not surprisingly, partner organizations of the RECOFTC Grassroots project, such as the Federation of Community Forest Users, Nepal (FECOFUN), also recognized his invaluable contribution to the project: “Mr. Bhandari has contributed significantly in the grassroots project and advocated the concerns of the forest user groups at different levels through his writings,” says Apsara Chapagain, FECOFUN chairperson.

Recently, his article on land rights issues of the high profile Rashtrapati Churia Conservation Program in the Terai (lowland) region of the country, so impressed the President of Nepal that he was invited to several rounds of discussions to get firsthand information on their land rights. Since then, Mr. Bhandari has been attending high profile meetings related to the Churia conservation program as well as a number of other expert group discussions on climate change and REDD+. His priority at these meetings is to represent the grassroots and civil society viewpoints, to give voice to their concerns in an arena where they might otherwise not be heard. Nurturing this channel of communication is an essential part of our project’s strategy of ensuring that the concerns of grassroots stakeholders are heard at the highest level in the land.

To read Bhandari’s article, ‘The President Chure Conservation Program’: Good Project-Bad Management” (Nepali), please see ForestAction Nepal’s website. For more information about the project in English, please click here.

Winds of change: Asia as the new global leader in climate change?

Regan Suzuki argues that Asia-Pacific will take an increasingly important role in leading climate change negotiations as Western countries drag their feet.

If the global climate change discussions continue to stall, is there scope for a region to go it alone?

The geopolitical shift in power towards Asia has become somewhat of a cliché. But when it comes to one of the most pressing issues of our times, climate change, Asian countries really do seem to be stepping up where traditional global leaders are dropping the ball.

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Are capacity building services meeting countries’ needs in Asia-Pacific?

Are capacity building services meeting countries' needs?Jim Stephenson summarizes key findings from a recently-completed assessment of capacity building services providers in four Asia-Pacific countries. 

Today, RECOFTC, with financial and advisory support from UNEP/UN-REDD, launches the full set of four country reports for a regional assessment of the organizations providing REDD+ capacity building services in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

You may have seen the interim policy brief released for Durban last year, but now is the chance to explore the findings of the full assessment country-by-country.  Accompanying the country reports is an updated policy brief, to bring together the findings from across the region.

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The struggle over Asia’s forests: an overview of forest conflict and potential implications for REDD+

The struggle over Asia’s forests: an overview of forest conflict and potential implications for REDD+Asia is a forest conflict hotspot. As natural forests are declining rapidly, their ability to provide economic, ecological, and social benefits is also declining – leading to heightened competition among forest user groups and increased conflict in many parts of the region. A new paper in the International Forestry Review, co-authored by RECOFTC and CIFOR staff, indicates there are three fundamental and interrelated causes underlying most forest conflict in Asia.

This study focuses on conflicts between local communities and outsiders: the underlying causes, conflict management approaches, and eventual outcomes. Field data was collected through interviews and focus group discussions in seven community-outsider conflict cases across five countries.

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Mangrove devastation, the importance of tenure, and victories for indigenous communities in the news this week

Alarm Over Mangrove Devastation in Pakistan
Dawn
, 9 March 2012
Speakers at a conference in Pakistan on mangrove ecosystems said that an acute lack of awareness among people and policy makers about the critical importance of mangroves was a major hurdle in conservation efforts along the coast.

Indigenous Groups Launch Ground-Breaking Environmental Regime in Brazil
Forest
Carbon Portal, 9 March 2012
The Brazilian state of Acre has implemented a comprehensive legal framework to support compensation and payments for ecosystem services, and indigenous groups are among the first to begin implementing it.

Land Ownership Boosts Climate Resilience in India
Reuters AlertNet
, 11 March 2012
Efforts to secure land ownership for tribal people in one of India’s poorest states are bolstering their economic security in the face of climate-induced hardships, and helping conserve farmland and forest.
Related article:
The next crop of landowners (March 8, Landesa)

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REDD+, forests and food

At Durban’s Forest Day 5, the resounding message was that REDD+ will not work if people are hungry. How can we expect the poor to conserve forest resources if their food security – their very survival – rests on the use or consumption of those resources?

Part of the problem is a perceived trade-off between cultivating land for agriculture and preserving it as forestland. RECOFTC discusses this, and other opportunity costs of REDD+ for local people, in the latest REDD-Net Bulletin, in which we point out that current market values for forest carbon offsets simply cannot compete with global prices for crops like rubber, oil palm, and coffee.

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Mainstreaming Gender in REDD: Beyond Livelihoods to Identity

By Regan Suzuki, REDD-Net Asia Pacific Coordinator

Experience from Nepal shows women value forest resources, but taking part in public meetings on REDD provides a democratic space for engagement that enhances their sense of identity

Haven’t we been talking about gender and the need to mainstream it for decades?  Why then does it seem to re-emerge every time a new ‘development’ or international issue (such as climate change) makes it into the spotlight? More to the point, what about gender in the context of climate change could possibly be new?

While climate change negotiations have breathed new life into efforts to improve women’s conditions around the world, the reality remains: if the push to mainstream gender over the last decade had succeeded, we wouldn’t need to be having these discussions now. If mainstreaming efforts thus far have fallen short of ambitions, what makes us think we will be any more successful under the rubric of climate change and REDD+?

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Climate change adaptation and mitigation: harnessing local capacities

Durban, South Africa, 5 December, 2011: Storms and typhoons are battering the community of Da Loc in coastal Vietnam on an increasingly frequent and intense basis. In 2005, Typhoon Damrey forced some 330,000 evacuees from their homes in Vietnam alone, with regional damages resulting at US$1.2 billion.

Almost seven years later Da Loc commune continues to suffer the impacts of the saltwater Damrey swept several kilometers inland, destroying rice fields and seeping into fresh water wells.  In the wake of this disaster one thing was clear: those areas that had been buffered by mangrove forests were left relatively unscathed. Those that did not continue to experience the repercussions.

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REDD+ developers hesitant to talk carbon to local communities, experts say

This article was originally posted on CIFOR Forests Blog on 2 December, 2011 by Leony Aurora.

DURBAN, South Africa (2 December, 2011)_Many REDD+ developers are hesitant to inform local communities about the global forest carbon scheme to avoid raising expectations that could not be fulfilled if long-term financing fails to materialise, experts said.

The tendency from developers to hold off on carbon information is understandable considering the “stuttering” of a decision on whether there will be REDD+ financing in the future, said Jim Stephenson, Program Officer at the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) at an event held as part of the UN climate summit in Durban.

Still, “if you don’t mention REDD+, how can you carry out full FPIC activity?” he said, referring to free, prior and informed consent from local communities.

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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.

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REDD+ Debates in Full Swing at Durban

Jim Stephenson, RECOFTC Program Officer for People, Forests, and Climate Change, provides some highlights from the first few sessions at COP17 in Durban.

COP17 in Durban is now in full swing – as are the discussions on REDD+, which are set to produce results by Saturday. The Norwegian delegation announced at a packed contact meeting yesterday that they had “already been for a jog this morning and had a double espresso” which is just as well given that the REDD+ negotiators will be up night and day to have text agreed by Saturday.

This should give the REDD+ crowd plenty to chew over by the morning of Forests Day on Sunday, and following on from my last post this means my Sunday morning speak will be more REDD+ finance, reference emission levels, and safeguards, rather than my usual caveman mono-syllables.

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