The challenges of managing high expectations for REDD-plus
Civil society, government organizations and local communities in many tropical rainforest nations have started REDD-plus preparation planning with a lot enthusiasm, eager to take part in this proposed global mechanism for the reduction of forest-related CO2 emissions.
REDD-plus would be a financial incentive for reducing deforestation and forest degradation with the aim of cutting carbon emissions from those sources. Under it, governments hope to receive payments for their efforts; the 'plus' indicates the inclusion of sustainable management, conservation and restoration of forests in the effort. There is however a danger that early enthusiasm for REDD-plus could be quelled by unrealistic promises and false expectations - so much so that the effort could become a victim of its own promises. Expectations are in some cases just too high about the size of the payments that communities that act to conserve forests might be receiving.
This is one of the conclusions of a series of international dialogues that were organized by The Forests Dialogue (TFD) and The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Brazil, Ghana and Guatemala over the last six months. The dialogues focused on challenges for building national REDD strategies and brought together over 150 forest stakeholders from countries across the tropical forest region. The discussions focused on issues such as the tackling of the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, the need for inclusive consultation and participatory processes and the clarification of carbon rights. The discussions repeatedly pointed at the need for more clarity on the implications and opportunities of REDD-plus.
"People in countries with tropical forests are in urgent need of more realistic information about what REDD-plus means for each country and what implications it will have for people's livelihoods," says Consuelo Espinosa, who coordinates the initiative for IUCN together with The Forests Dialogue. "The lack of outcomes from the international climate change negotiations has created two major problems. On the one hand, people start to feel let down and disillusioned and on the other hand, carbon market investors are approaching forest communities with tempting offers ahead of a formal framework from the Climate Change Convention," she said. The question for these communities is whether they should wait for a formal framework or whether they can just jump into the voluntary market. REDD can contribute to the livelihoods of local forest communities. But what is often forgotten is that REDD activities - such as guarding forests and monitoring carbon stocks - have costs as well. Whether communities receive extra income or investments for their help in preserving forests will depend partly on how governments - who will receive REDD funds - direct the money, which will also have to be spent on consultation processes, capacity building and the development of reference levels "The question is what new implications REDD represents for the people that live in the forest and how many benefits will eventually be available for local communities and organizations on the ground," explains Mario Escobedo, who with local NGOs and government organizations helped organize the TFD dialogue in Guatemala in January.
"In Guatemala we now deal with serious questions, not only about where the money will come from but also how tenure arrangements will allow equitable benefit sharing. REDD-plus eventually might address some needs of local communities but people now expect too much from REDD-plus," he said. Close consultations with indigenous people and other forest-dependent communities should help ensure accurate information gets passed on. These groups also should be able to decide whether or not REDD activities can happen in their territories and under what conditions. Adewale Adeleke who works on REDD in Ghana for IUCN says: "People here expect the REDD readiness phase to be funded through development-aid-type funding. Early REDD action can indeed be financed through funds but the challenge is to make sure that local people are involved from the beginning and participate while the thinking is being done and not afterward."
Realistic REDD expectations depend largely on the outcome of the international negotiations. The failure of the international community to hammer out a binding agreement in Copenhagen last December has cast doubt on the future of REDD-plus. Industrialized nations must come up with binding emission reduction targets. The strength of these targets and links to compliance markets in later stages will dictate how much money will be available for REDD-plus. Negotiators at COP16 in Mexico, the next major climate negotiations since Copenhagen, must come up with these targets as part of a legally binding agreement. In the meantime large numbers of people and organizations across the tropics, many of them representing some of the most vulnerable communities on earth, continue to work with their governments to build national REDD readiness processes in the hope that they won't be let down this time around.
Jan Willem den Besten works for the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Washington D.C. on knowledge management of REDD projects.