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Unique opportunity

Dr. Yemi Katerere
Head, UN-REDD Programme Secretariat

Achieving reductions in carbon emissions from forests may be the raison d'Ítre of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). However, as is widely agreed, it also presents an opportunity to address many of the challenges related to the underlying drivers of global tropical forest loss. It is therefore, a potentially powerful policy instrument for influencing how tropical forests are managed and valued. Yet, despite this apparent "win-win" option - or perhaps because of it - there remains animated debate on how the REDD+ mechanism should be designed and implemented.

One explanation lies in its complexity. Every country has its unique institutional architecture and capacity, political commitment and forest-resource endowment. All are looking at how, through REDD+, they can balance social and environmental goals, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Each nation's uniqueness calls for understanding the relative importance of the different drivers of deforestation and the roles that diverse stakeholders play in them. There are indeed no simple answers or solutions to such issues.

At the same time, there are mounting expectations that REDD+ can equally benefit all forests, constituencies and countries - and that these benefits could be substantial. Some believe, for example, that it offers unprecedented funding for forest and biodiversity conservation. Recent broadening of the scope of the REDD+ mechanism from the original objectives of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation to include conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks and sustainably managing forests - adding the "+" to "REDD+" - is seen as offering more countries the possibility of participating and benefiting. But reconciling all these expectations will be challenging, especially as - in some national contexts - REDD+ might not be as "low-cost" as it was once credited to be: this is particularly so where small-scale farmers may not be operating in a well-functioning market system, and may be unwilling to take the potentially huge risk of giving up their current income streams for future carbon payments that no one can yet guarantee. Add the concerns that REDD+ funding still falls short of what would be required to reduce forest-based emissions, and we are left with a mechanism that is likely to require difficult trade-offs.

Highlighting such challenges to the mechanism is both healthy and important, as it is forcing those involved in the early stages of designing and implementing it to think through the full range of related issues. Indeed, it is thanks to such openness that the overarching value of the mechanism is holding strong, backed by early lessons emerging from countries developing REDD+ strategies. To make progress, it is important that all stakeholders are prepared to abandon long established "business as usual" models.

REDD+ has brought forests back to centre stage, forcing a debate and a re-examination of issues related to Sustainable Forest Management. It has, for example, moved faster and garnered more consensus than virtually any other mitigation option in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations over the past two years.

The REDD+ mechanism has also mobilized significant 'fast start' financial resources, which are facilitating a fresh look at the challenges associated with how forests can be managed in a way that can help reduce global emissions while benefiting people and forest ecosystem services. It is effectively enabling countries to drill deeper and define the role of forests in their national economic development, the amount of forests they need to preserve, and the transformation of their economies to low carbon.

In forest-rich countries, for example, it can be the catalyst for "negotiating" a balance between keeping forests intact and promoting economic development through land concessions for large-scale rubber, palm oil and sugar plantations with significant employment, earnings and export potential. It can similarly catalyze a critical look at the difficult trade-offs governments have to make between various policy options.

REDD+ could also provide opportunities for synergies between environmental and social benefits. It has provided a platform to many Indigenous Peoples and forestdependent communities, enabling them to participate at the national and international levels. While initial progress may not have met expectations, this is facilitating dialogue and trust-building between them, the state and civil society organizations.

Ultimately, the issues critical to REDD+'s success are those which countries would have to deal with in achieving sustainability, whether or not the mechanism existed. Irrespective of whether a nation ever trades a single ton of carbon, it needs a national debate about where its forests fit into national economic development policies: REDD+ is proving a critical catalyst for such a debate.

The launch of the REDD+ concept in 2008 was timely and visionary. The design of the mechanism and the Cancun agreements are a measure of the level of the international community's commitment. It therefore presents a unique opportunity to respond to the challenge of reducing carbon emissions from forests while limiting any negative impacts on both the environment and people that might result from its design and implementation.

The UN-REDD Programme is the United Nations collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) in developing countries. The Programme was launched in 2008 and builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The UN-REDD Programme supports nationally-led REDD+ processes and promotes the informed and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities, in national and international REDD+ implementation.

 

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