At the closing plenary session of the 2016 Oslo REDD+ Exchange, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Vidar Helgesen, addressed 500 representatives of various governments, intergovernmental organisations, NGOs, indigenous peoples and universities, remarking that this year’s exchange had appeared to him relatively ‘cosy and comfortable’. His aim was to encourage some of the world’s most influential people in environmental policy to move away from the easy and the familiar in facing the challenges of mitigating climate change fairly and responsibility.
The focus of the Exchange, convened by the Norwegian government, was the UNEP global policy mechanism of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) which is seen as an indispensable tool in tackling such challenges. REDD+ is designed to mitigate the 10-15% of annual CO2 emissions accounted for by deforestation and degradation of forest landscapes. The policy mechanism aims to do this by transferring monetary capital from polluting, high income countries to the governments of low to middle income countries, where deforestation and forest degradation is occurring. Putting a monetary value on the preservation forest landscapes, it is thought, will make them worth more standing than felled, thereby reducing deforestation and forest degradation, and reducing net global CO2 emissions. Last week’s REDD+ Exchange provided a forum where those involved with REDD+ from around the globe could discuss its previous and future evolution.
REDD+ has seen significant evolution since officially becoming a UNEP initiative in 2008. The programme has gained political traction, now boasting 47 low to middle income countries as partners or in the process of becoming partners. Further political bolstering has come from recognition in the 2015 Paris agreement of the importance of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation through the direction of financial resources. Strides have been made to include the rights of those in developing countries who will be affected by REDD+ within its policy architecture, through the provision of ‘safeguards’ designed to protect the rights of those living in and around its target forests. Funding has been supplied for ‘readiness’ (preparation for the initiative) in low to middle income countries by donor schemes such as the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility or Biocarbon Fund, leading to institutions in partner countries having been established at the national level, ready to implement REDD+. Such advances signify progression towards an equitable and feasible policy mechanism, and at the REDD+ exchange there was a palpable sense of optimism that the programme is moving closer to implementation.
Full implementation of REDD+, however, is still a prospect rather than a reality, with the initiative still piloting. In looking forward, there are a number of obstacles that continue to threaten its feasibility.
To begin with, REDD+ is underfunded. Conceived before the 2008 global financial crisis, it was expected that adequate funding for the scheme could be supplied through mandatory levies on polluters in high income countries. This never happened, and subsequently REDD+ was left to survive on funding from donor sources. Whilst donor funding provides public cash to establish national-level REDD+ ready institutions in partner countries, the level of funding required for the full implementation of REDD+ to present genuine incentives for avoiding deforestation at a local level in all partner countries is far more than the donor schemes can provide. There is evidence that those in low to middle income countries who live in and around forests, who will be most affected by REDD+, are being be given promises of adequate compensation for changes in livelihood practices when there is no guarantee that such compensation will be provided. In this case REDD+ presents a risk of antagonising the local people it affects.
A further consequence of REDD+ underfunding is a need for it to connect with other forms of finance. Two thirds of the global economy comprises the private sector, and if REDD+, a public initiative, can connect with private capital through partnerships, there is potential for its funding gap to be filled. At the REDD+ Exchange, public private partnerships were consistently touted as the next stage in the evolution of the policy. At the moment, however, REDD+ financing currently only provides payments to governments at the national level, and this jeopardises the potential of public-private partnerships. If payments for a diversion from business as usual practices at a local level are set to be delivered to only the national government upon achievement of results, the interests of other partners are undermined, making REDD+ a risky partner. Currently there is no clear model or framework of procedure to address this problem. Numerous calls throughout the exchange for increased connectivity between REDD+ and the private sector consistently fell short of illuminating exactly how this could be achieved.
A further complication is that when REDD+ financing only provides payments to national governments, local level governance institutions in REDD+ pilot countries often find themselves under-resourced and over-burdened with the combined technocratic and social policing requirements of the initiative. In contexts where taxation revenue is low, governments are generally already under-resourced. Requiring local governments to shoulder extra responsibilities of REDD+ without guaranteeing funding to do so has jeopardised their ability to implement REDD+ pilot schemes effectively and fairly. Again such oversights present a risk of antagonising those REDD+ affects most.
Under-resourcing of local governments is compounded when the policy they are expected to apply fails to fit with the reality of local contexts, and local governments are expected to mediate the effects. A good example is the notion within UN policy discourse of ‘communities’ as homogenous entities, when, in fact, such communities comprise varying and diverse power dynamics and inequalities. If REDD+ policy falsely imagines local socio-demographics, and leaves under resourced local governments to fill in the gaps, errors in benefit distribution are likely to occur, and have been evident in studies of pilot schemes. Misrepresentation of local people has also contributed to a gender gap surrounding REDD+, where women consistently engage less with the programme than men at all stages of policy formation and implementation. Neglecting to engage a large proportion of those who are affected by REDD+ and their potential to contribute to its effective and fair implementation will undoubtedly undermine the initiative.
In looking forward, the above structural failures of REDD+ have the potential to antagonise those living in and around forests, whose lives will be most affected by REDD+, thereby alienating a proportion of people who could contribute to innovatively progressing the initiative. Furthermore, constant calls for solving its funding gap still leave big questions unanswered. At the REDD+ Exchange there was limited discussion of such uncomfortable obstructions, perhaps contributing to the comfortable and cosy atmosphere. In order to address the structural failures of REDD, uncomfortable issues need to be at the centre of discussion until they are resolved, and those affected by REDD+ need to be fairly represented at all levels of discussion and policy formation. This might cause even further discomfort to some, but is exactly the type of discomfort needed to drive the genuine innovation needed to make global policy mechanisms like REDD+ work.