By Lucy Goodman and Christina MacFarquhar
Each year, during two tense weeks shortly before Christmas, countries meet at the UN climate change negotiations (UNFCCC Conferences of the Parties, or 'COP') to hash out key decisions on issues such as REDD+, the global initiative to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Right now, the twentieth negotiations (COP 20) are underway in Lima, where GCP will be presenting Forest COMPASS, a project that aims to increase the use of community-collected data within international forest agendas such as REDD+. We will also be running an unofficial side event, to which interested parties are warmly invited.
Prior to the conference, and drawing on past UNFCCC decisions, parties were asked for submissions (information or views, to be publically uploaded to the UNFCCC web portal) which will lay the foundations for the focal topics in Lima. A number of parties have submitted suggestions on REDD+ safeguards, an important area in relation to community based forest monitoring.
Under the UNFCCC, these safeguards seek to reduce harm from REDD+ while enhancing its potential benefits. Countries seeking results-based finance for REDD+ should put in place a system to provide information on how these safeguards are being addressed and respected (a safeguards information system or ‘SIS’), and provide summary reports to the UNFCCC. GCP advocates, through our Forest COMPASS project, that local communities and indigenous peoples could play a key role in providing information for SISs, if they are enabled to do so.
However, a recent paper by the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group highlights that insufficient guidance is given to countries on how they should implement safeguards. Confusion remains over the vague text of the UNFCCC decisions, while the deliberate use of the words "provide information" on safeguards rather than "monitor" safeguards seems to reduce the weight that they are given. Some of this year’s submissions reflect these concerns, as well as giving some context on how data could be collected on safeguards, and where detail is lacking.
Parties and observers that have made submissions on safeguards include, among others, Bolivia, the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC), the European Union, Norway, the USA, and the Tri-Caucus - a loose collaboration of indigenous peoples and other communities, as well as advocates of rights related to REDD+ from members of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, the Accra Caucus and the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group.
The elements of these submissions that are relevant to community based forest monitoring are summarised below. Together, they suggest there is weight behind the argument to include community based forest monitoring within safeguards information systems for REDD+, and a need to further develop guidance, as well as international support, in order to achieve this. COP 20 could be a crucial step in promoting the role of community based forest monitoring at an national level through the strengthening of international guidance.
Please join us to discuss this topic and to generate ideas to integrate community data into national information systems on the 5th of December, at the Business Tower Hotel in Lima, at 1930. Even if you are not at COP 20 you can participate in this online survey to help decide which innovative ideas at the event will win a cash prize so that they can be developed further.
Summary of relevant aspects of country submissions:
Bolivia, consistent with its previous submissions, suggests a non-market approach to REDD+, and proposes several changes to the safeguards text. Of special interest in the context of indigenous and local communities is the country’s direct reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which it suggests should be fully respected as part of the safeguards. The adoption of Bolivia’s suggestion to specify UNDRIP would add clarity to the open-ended guidance of the Cancun safeguards, which request that countries undertaking REDD+ actions should ensure their actions "complement or are consistent with the objectives of…relevant international conventions and agreements".
COMIFAC, in its submission, identifies two main gaps in the UNFCCC’s guidance on safeguards: the fact that the guidance does not specify the type of information that should be contained in country summaries, and the lack of guidance on “how to actually meet the SIS requirements of transparency, consistency, effectiveness and comprehensiveness”. It suggests that further guidance is needed in order to avoid duplication of effort, and confusion. It also notes a range of legal and policy provisions, existing or under development, including those related to FLEGT, UNDRIP and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which already “form the basis for the development of environmental and social safeguards” in COMIFAC countries.
COMIFAC does not explicitly advocate engaging local and indigenous peoples in establishing and providing information for an SIS, saying that issues relating to indigenous people are “specific to national circumstances and should therefore be addressed under national laws”. However, the submission does recommend that the UNFCCC request countries to describe in their safeguards summaries how the process of assessing how safeguards are being addressed and respected "was carried out in a socially-inclusive participatory manner”. It also refers to existing multi-stakeholder platforms in its member countries which already promote the participation of stakeholders, “in particular vulnerable groups”, and states that some international support is needed for the task of identifying and engaging with relevant stakeholders for SISs.
The European Union’s submission argues that “involving local communities in the collection and processing of information [for an SIS] can enhance local ownership and cost-effectiveness” and that stakeholder involvement in SIS design and review is of “paramount importance”.
The EU also suggests that countries undertaking REDD+ should provide information on the positive impacts of their activities, including non-carbon benefits. On this issue, the Forest COMPASS project produced a video with Tetebba at the intersessional negotiations in Bonn earlier this year, to highlight the view of indigenous communities with respect to non-carbon benefits.
The EU also stresses the relationship between the REDD+ safeguards and the achievement of the CBD Aichi Targets, and asks that REDD+ strategies and plans be coherent with them.
The United States submission states that, while information should be submitted on all the safeguards, some dynamic safeguards, such as biodiversity impacts and stakeholder engagement, may be assessed more frequently than others. Reversals of REDD+ actions may be reported on alongside countries’ National Forest Monitoring System submissions, while changes to laws and policies may be reported on as they happen.
The submission contains a detailed annex of guiding questions to draw out indicators from the safeguards, such as "What systems are used to provide information to, and receive information from, stakeholders?" The Forest COMPASS project suggests that systems should indeed be in place to receive information from stakeholders, which include local communities and indigenous peoples, in order increase transparency and to enhance engagement with these critical stakeholders. Indeed, the US submission states that indigenous peoples’ associations or agencies, as well as records of consultations with and input from them, are a likely source of data for SISs.
Similar to the EU and COMIFAC, the US also highlights the link between REDD+ safeguards and the CBD, stating that information on Safeguard (e), relating to biodiversity and ecosystem service conservation, could be taken from information reported to the CBD. The Forest COMPASS project addressed this question at a side event at the recent CBD Conference of the Parties.
Norway echoes the sentiment that further guidance is needed from the UNFCCC “to ensure transparency, consistency, comprehensiveness and effectiveness when informing on how all safeguards are being addressed and respected”. It also states that countries should describe the processes they use to develop an SIS, “demonstrating how all relevant stakeholders were involved in the collection and preparation of safeguards information…[and in] the process of preparing the summary of information”.
The submission from the Tri-Caucus states that it is “essential [that local communities and indigenous peoples] play an integral role in collecting, compiling and providing information for the summary reports for the SIS” in order to enhance transparency and robustness. It also stresses that SISs should not be so complex and burdensome as to reduce the ability of local communities and indigenous peoples to participate. It agrees with other submissions on the point that more direction is needed on safeguards, specifically on frequency, the type of information used, and the response that will be elicited if the safeguards are not followed. It also emphasises the importance of community collected data, arguing that, as indigenous peoples, local communities and grassroots initiatives have for generations been monitoring indicators relevant to an SIS, and they should be officially included as a data source, with the necessary funding for training built in.