Developing Countries From All Three of the World's Major Forested Regions Meet to Turn REDD+ into Wider-Spread Action
1 December 2012 - In the fight against climate change, forests play a crucial role. Worldwide, deforestation contributes more than transport to global greenhouse gas emissions.
But as well as locking away vast amounts of carbon, forests are key to many countries' development, which is why three United Nations agencies ? backed by an initial US$35 million from Norway ? launched the UN-REDD Programme in 2008. The Programme helps countries to get ready for REDD+: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, 'plus' conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks and sustainable management of forest.
According to UNEP's Julie Greenwalt: "The idea of REDD+ came about because 15-17% of the world's carbon emissions occur when deforestation or forest degradation happens. Forests are storing all this carbon and when we chop down the forests it gets released into the atmosphere. This contribution to the world's greenhouse gas emissions is higher than the transportation sector, so forests are recognised as a major issue in climate change."
"Forests are also a major part of development in a lot of countries. When the US, UK and most European countries developed, they consumed much of their natural resources. As a result, most of the world's remaining carbon rich forests are the developing world. It's important to provide incentives for these countries to develop in ways that retain their forest."
Which is where REDD+ comes in. Aimed at tipping the economic balance in favour of sustainable management of forests, REDD+ will make a major contribution to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the forests' formidable economic, environmental and social goods and services will continue to benefit countries, communities and forest users.
"Countries have different historical rates of deforestation. REDD+ is about reducing those rates of deforestation and then making carbon payments for this. In Nigeria, for example, the deforestation rate is around 3.4%. That's extremely high, but for any success Nigeria has in reducing that rate through a REDD+ Programme, they would be compensated via a carbon payment," Greenwalt explains.
The REDD+ story, however, goes beyond carbon. As the idea has developed, it's widened to take into account the multiple benefits forests provide ? from soil conservation and water catchment to biodiversity and forest products ? rather than solely the carbon that they capture.
"When REDD+ first came about it was all about carbon, through the UN climate talks, which regarded deforestation from the stand point of tackling climate change," she says. "But it quickly became clear that forests and REDD+ activities have benefits that aren't just about carbon. Forests are important for their environmental benefits ? for biodiversity, for ecosystem services like water quality and soil retention, but also in terms of livelihoods for people who live in and around the forest."
Which is why groups representing indigenous peoples and forest communities are playing an increasingly active role in REDD+. According to Victor Illescas Lopez of the Association of Forest Communities of Guatemala: "REDD+ for us means reducing exclusion in forest-related decision-making ? that's why we're part of readiness and are observers for Latin American civil society at the UN-REDD Policy Board."
"In Central America, there are 50 million hectares of forest, mostly under rights of indigenous and campesino communities. They can develop their own mechanisms for REDD+ based on more integrated sustainable forest management including carbon, but not with the rest of the benefits as happy accidents. We are not married to REDD+, but with multiple benefits we feel like we are starting to speak the same language, not just about carbon but about poverty reduction."
Lopez was one of 46 delegates, including people from 16 UN-REDD Programme partner countries, who met in Cambridge, UK last month for a workshop on "REDD+ Beyond Carbon: Safeguards and Multiple Benefits", convened by UNEP. Over three days, participants from Africa, Asia and Latin America exchanged experiences of REDD+ planning for multiple benefits and safeguards, how they are preparing the ground for REDD+, and how the UN-REDD Programme can support them.
Roney Samaniego of ANAM, Panama's national environment authority explained how Panama had used spatial decision-support software to identify priority areas for protection of coastal and marine biodiversity. He emphasised that "[in this workshop], the interaction with other countries and their experiences is useful. It's helpful not to duplicate things that didn't work. Things that seemed really difficult, if you talk to someone who's done it they seem much simpler."
Laksmi Banowati of Indonesia's UN-REDD Programme emphasised that "The most important thing is to know more about safeguards, valuation and mapping, and about the status of other countries ? we want to learn what's going on in other countries". She described how, in Central Sulawesi, they had used spatial analysis to identify which areas were potentially appropriate for which REDD+ actions, and where benefits to biodiversity would be greatest.
Under the climate change convention, countries have agreed a broad set of safeguards to reduce any risks and increase the benefits from REDD+. The job now is to put these into practice. Roger Bokwala outlined how the Democratic Republic of Congo had developed a set of standards to ensure that social and environmental issues were integrated in planning for REDD+. The workshop agreed that social and environmental risks and benefits are closely connected, especially for people living on or near forests. Mina Setra from the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago, Indonesia said, "You can't separate the environmental from the social. Forest degradation also happens due to social problems and vice versa. It's all connected."
Costa Rica, Tanzania and Viet Nam all shared their national experiences of monitoring and Safeguard Information Systems, and discussed the different roles of monitoring by local communities and satellite data. Laksmi Banowati added that "Most challenging for Indonesia now is monitoring and a Safeguards Information System. We've done a lot on safeguards, certification and governance but until now have not had monitoring systems. We need support on how to collect safeguarding information and put it into one system."
According to Greenwalt, there are challenges in capacity building, and a need for better data and information, but a key issue is that for developing countries, tackling deforestation is only one of many competing priorities. "They have to consider a whole range of issues from education to health to environment. Forests are just part of that," she says. "REDD+ links to so many other issues ... The complexities and priorities make it difficult. There needs to be sustained momentum and political will. This isn't something where you'll instantly see results, it's a process and it's a long process, and to get it right needs engagement over a protracted period of time."
And getting it right matters to all of us, not only the UN-REDD partner countries. As for the world's oceans and the polar icecaps, what happens in the world's forests has global implications. "This is about the health of the planet, not just in terms of climate change, but these precious forests that are incredible resources. Unfortunately most people in the North don't have this strong connection to the natural environment," says Greenwalt.
"I'm a city girl. I grew up in the US not the rainforest but what really struck me when I started to work for this project was this term 'forest-dependent communities'. We use it a lot, but the irony is that we're all forest dependent. Everyone in the world is forest dependent. Whether we know what a forest looks like or can identify a tree or ecosystem service, we are all truly dependent on forests. We can at our peril choose to ignore this, but at some point in time we will have to recognise that, just like we're all dependent on the oceans, we all are connected to this."
And REDD+ has a vital role to play. "What we're talking about in these workshops are good interventions that are beneficial to countries and to people," she adds. "This isn't just a passing fad. When you think about these really difficult issues you have to have a suite of tools, and REDD+, by helping frame deforestation in terms of carbon and tackling climate change gives us another tool [to explain why] forests are so important to the planet."
For more information on the UN-REDD Programme, visit http://www.un-redd.org