Negotiators at the UN climate talks in June reached an agreement on the details of the global mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+)*. This means that the mechanism is set to become part of the climate deal that it is hoped will be settled in Paris this December, paving the way for governments undertaking REDD+ to receive finance through multilateral funding institutions such as the Green Climate Fund.
This marks significant progress for REDD+, which could help tackle rampant global deforestation and its climate impacts. It also signals a need to pay closer attention than ever to implementation of the social and environmental safeguards that accompany the mechanism, which are essential for its success.
The safeguards aim to mitigate the social risks of REDD+, such as the violation of indigenous people’s rights, and environmental risks, such as the conversion of natural forest to plantations, while also promoting additional benefits. Failure to mitigate the risks could spell trouble for communities living in or dependent on forest lands, and for forest biodiversity. It could also mean reputational risk for REDD+ activity proponents, or the failure of activities to achieve their anticipated outcomes.
Countries undertaking REDD+ activities in return for payments under the UN system are required to ‘address’ and ‘respect’ the safeguards, and to provide national summaries describing how they have done so. Meeting this requirement will mean not only having the right policies and processes in place, but also understanding whether they have been implemented successfully: what has been the actual impact within forest communities and their lands?
In order to assess this, it will be important for national safeguards summaries to include information collected by forest communities themselves. A brief look at three of the safeguards reveals why.
Safeguard (b) calls for ‘Transparent and effective national forest governance structures’, safeguard (c) for ‘Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities’, and safeguard (d) for ‘The full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities, in [REDD+] actions.’
To implement each of these safeguards, relevant laws, policies and processes might be promoted at the national or state government levels. But it will take more than high-level coordination and desk-based analysis to find out whether the measures are effective.
For example, when it comes to transparency, how will it be possible to know whether people are accessing information that has been made available, and able to understand and use it? There have been criticisms in Guyana of the government’s use of the internet as the main tool for providing information on REDD+, potentially excluding communities with no internet access. But even without technological barriers, the mere availability of a document does not mean that people will understand its content or implications. In order to assess whether transparency measures are actually working, it will be important to hear from the people that the information is intended to reach.
This is where community-based forest monitoring can help. It goes beyond simply inviting forest communities to answer questions posed by external surveyors. Initiatives are often designed by, or collaboratively with, the communities themselves, allowing them to participate in deciding what information to gather and how to report it, so they can reflect on observations that are relevant to them. In Brazil, for example, where Acre State is implementing REDD+ at the subnational level, people from communities in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve have been gathering information on access to information and local understanding of REDD+ related policies.
Similarly, community-based forest monitoring can help assess the effectiveness of Safeguards (C) and (D), by revealing whether indigenous people and members of local communities believe that their knowledge and rights are being respected in the context of REDD+ activities, whether they are being consulted, and whether they are finding it possible (or desirable) to participate in these activities.
In Kalimantan, Indonesia, indigenous and remote communities are gathering and reporting information on incursions into indigenous lands, and on whether palm oil plantation developers are consulting with them. They are recording and transmitting this information to the media and law enforcers using mobile phone text messages.
With just a few indicators monitored by forest communities, it is possible to learn a lot about what is really going on in forest lands in relation to all of the safeguards. Indeed, without the insight and involvement of communities, it may be difficult, and in some cases impossible, for countries wishing to receive payments for REDD+ under the UN system to demonstrate that the safeguards have been respected.
Community-based forest monitoring of the safeguards offers a valuable and important way to make sure that the risks of REDD+ are avoided, and that the benefits are realised.
For more details and examples relating to all seven of the safeguards, visit GCP’s Forest COMPASS website to read our new paper.
*REDD-plus (REDD+) stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks, and the sustainable management of forests.