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Can adaptation be a hook for local engagement in REDD+?

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As a primarily local issue, adaptation has more direct relevance to local people than the mitigation potential of REDD+, and in the absence of long term monetary benefits from REDD+, could emphasising the tangible contributions to local environmental conditions and wider governance reforms of REDD+ activities help win the hearts of local communities?

Forest mitigation activities, such as REDD+, have the potential to contribute broadly to efforts in adaptation – that is not just to the ‘hard’ adaptation aspects but also softer elements of adaptation too. Hard aspects include the physical beneficial impacts of forests on environmental services such as watershed protection, reduced soil erosion, shelter from strong-winds and tidal waves in the case of mangroves. These are typically widely recognised, however it is the contribution of forests to softer elements such as local adaptive capacity that could have positive impacts for the adaptation of communities to climate change and create a strong incentive to better link REDD+ and adaptation planning.

ODI case studies in Nepal and Ghana have recently demonstrated the potential synergies between REDD+ activities and local adaptive capacity. This focuses more broadly on what a system does that enables it to adapt not just simply what assets it has (although this is accounted for). The case studies found that many of the governance and institutional reforms required to implement REDD+ could consequently result in increased local adaptive capacity.

For example, establishing better cultures and systems of local participation in decision making; increasing knowledge of local stakeholders with respect to climate change impacts; and increased decentralisation of resource management are all examples of actions required for successful REDD+ implementation that would also contribute towards strengthening local adaptive capacity.

For the REDD+ community, explicitly supporting adaptation goals would also have benefits. REDD+ needs buy in from local people in order to offer any hope of permanence and sustainability, so this requires ensuring that benefits are perceived at this level. Delivering benefits through both the physical and softer elements of adaptation, and ensuring that these are felt at the local level, could provide the type of hook that incentivises buy-in to REDD+ by local communities. More so perhaps than the impact of these actions on global mitigation activities or the trickle of cash benefits derived from carbon finance.

We must acknowledge the fact that poverty reduction is the over-riding goal and legitimate responsibility, of national and sub-national governments in developing countries. As adaptation to climate change is a key component of growth, REDD+ must therefore not impact negatively upon it, and ideally contribute towards it. Especially given that long term finance for REDD+ is still uncertain.

The greatest trade-off between REDD+ and adaptation objectives is likely to be in the short-term availability of physical assets. Both the case studies showed that there will be different access arrangements to these assets, with potential reductions and restrictions in access to timber, woodfuel and NTFPs. What is less clear is whether activities to deliver REDD+ will be done in a way that takes into account this trade off and tries to minimise it. Forests in many instances act as a ‘safety-net’ in times of hardship, and reduced access to forests as a result of long-term conservation and climate mitigation actions could be at conflict with this function. Is REDD+ fundamentally opposed to adaptation in the sense? Does REDD+ simply lock-in too many decisions, leaving no room for flexible management approaches?

With nascent adaptation REDD+ plans still in development in Ghana and Nepal, we found both countries were missing an opportunity to ensure complimentary action to tackle adaptation and mitigation through coherent forest policies. In addition, adaptation within the NAPAs is conceived as a series of projects, rather than a cross-cutting approach to decision making in other sectors, such as forestry. There is therefore no scope to set guidelines on how climate adaptation should be incorporated into broader planning, despite the fact that parallel national strategy development in both adaptation and mitigation offers a perfect opportunity to bring the two closer.

So, could engagement with REDD+, despite its complexities and politicised nature, be useful for the adaptation crowd? Could integrating local adaptation objectives in REDD+ activities benefit mitigation actors by increasing the local acceptability of REDD+ schemes and removing the tensions between local costs and global benefits? Worth a closer look at least.

Will McFarland, ODI


Extpub | by Dr. Radut