International Involvement in REDD+

A critical analysis of a regime and the importance of global cooperation

Problem Statement and Overview

A general lack of resources and funding, heavy reliance on forest resources to sustain livelihoods, and the overall increasing global threat of climate change deepens the complexity of tropical deforestation and land degradation. Most deforestation is taking place in South tropical regions, making it one of the leading causes of climate change (Park et. al). The agreement of REDD+ reflected “win-win” results for developed and developing countries alike (Hufty et. al), but there has been criticism from local communities who believe this mechanism will override their rights to forests or make their rights inequitable. The involvement of leading developed countries in REDD+ is paving the way for smaller countries to follow, but in order to successfully exercise forest conservation and sustainable management whilst avoiding backlash from locally marginalized groups, identifying trade-offs before implementation will ensure the inclusion of multi-stakeholder perspectives necessary in global environmental policy.

In this analysis, the focus is on the importance of international cooperation to combat deforestation in the global regime of climate change and how the UNFCCC’s REDD+ is currently addressing the “common but differentiated” responsibilities of developed and developing countries. With more than 100 REDD+ projects administered around the world, this paper focuses on two studies: one which analyzed five developed countries who are actively participating in building their global REDD+ regime and another study that analyzed 80+ projects in mostly developing countries to conclude what strategies have been successful in achieving REDD+ goals. Results indicated that implemented strategies depended on the countries’ respective perspectives and interests, yet some lacked specificity in terms of the “plus” goals of REDD. Furthermore, there is a fear of stolen property rights from local communities, indigenous people, and women and giving developed countries an opportunity to back out of their personal climate change reduction goals. Therefore, a transnational dialogue between all levels of civil society is necessary to successfully build the global regime of REDD+.

Overview

Annually, 13 million hectares of land are lost to deforestation, where 97% takes place in tropical regions (Hufty et. al). Tropical deforestation and forest degradation contribute to about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions which is a striking challenge to the addressing the global regime of climate change due to tropical forests having particularly high carbon stocks (Park, et. al). At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, the term “avoided deforestation” was not included in the Kyoto Protocol due to the complexity of deforestation management (Hufty et. al). At the 11th Conference of Parties (COP) in 2005, the mechanism “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus” (REDD+) was agreed upon to support the implementation of REDD by focusing on the role of conservation, sustainable management and carbon stock enhancement (Hufty et. al).

The Global Regime of REDD+

In just four years after the proposal of REDD+ in 2005, 79 REDD+ activities and over 100 demonstrations were implemented in 40 developing countries with the help of international organizations such as the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) of the World Bank and the UN-REDD Programme, jointly led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (Park, et. al). However, the progress of REDD+ would not be where it is at without the support of several developed countries. At COP15 under the Copenhagen Accord, Japan, Australia, France, France, Norway, the UK, and the US jointly pledged USD3.5 billion to kickstart the finance of REDD+.

Park et. al analyzed the national REDD+ strategies of Norway, Germany, Australia, the US, and Japan through three strategies: pledge, type of support, and approach. Results showed that all countries made a national pledge through a non-binding and voluntary commitment, exemplified in the Copenhagen Accord. Furthermore, all countries used a strategy of bilateral and multilateral cooperation to specialize national initiatives on forest management and climate change. However, the five countries used different approaches to REDD+: Norway had the largest scale of financing, Germany focused on the biodiversity regime, Australia partnered with developing countries to form forest carbon markets, the US focuses on bilateral assistance to use its REDD+ credits in its domestic carbon market, and Japan is using REDD+ technology for capacity building (Park, et. al). This study shows there is a shared goal of committing to the REDD+ regime, but their strategies are dependent on national goals and perspectives.

Within the international cooperation lies the smaller, developing countries where REDD+ projects are being carried out. The second case study analyzed 80 REDD+ projects in 34 different countries and the importance of biodiversity as a REDD+ goal by categorizing the study in two focuses: emission reduction (ER) and afforestation/reforestation (A/R). Results showed that A/R projects prioritized restoring natural habitat and RE projects prioritized preventing habitat loss (Panfil & Harvey). Similar to Park, et. al’s study, projects within REDD+ have variability in their objectives and goals. However, these projects lacked specificity which constrains the ability of these national governments to measure and monitor conservation success.

Policy Gaps and Future Actions

            The global REDD+ regime could alleviate poverty, conserve biodiversity, and mitigate climate change through its carbon market. It has the end-goal of protecting forests which protects the ecosystems and species within, and ultimately stimulates economic development. However, there are multiple criticisms to the mechanism. By focusing on developing countries, industrialized countries can be disincentivized to reduce their personal carbon emissions, whether it be through decreasing carbon-emitting behaviors or quitting investing in renewable and clean energy technology (Hirsch, et. al). Another gap is avoiding deforestation in one area neglects deforestation in another (Hufty et. al). If monoculture species or fast-paced growth tree species are implemented, there will be increased biodiversity loss. One of the biggest arguments is the loss of community based means. Tropical forests have a large population of indigenous people whose livelihoods depend on trees so if new governments or wealthier institutions come in to reallocate resource management rights, traditional land uses and indigenous culture will be threatened.

The aforementioned “win-win” structure for both developed and developing countries is effective in gaining funding and support, but fuels disillusioned optimism. If the developed countries fail to fulfill their promises, trust that is necessary to meet forest management and carbon reduction objectives will be lost and the receiving stakeholder even alienate their involvement (Hirsch et. al). Furthermore, focusing only on positives creates a platform for other policy narratives to focus on the negatives. For example, the Indigenous Environmental Network, a strong opponent of REDD+ renamed the acronym to “Reaping Profits from Evictions, Land grants, Deforestation, and Destruction of biodiversity” for their policy narrative.

To combat stronger divides, a new attempt of examining trade-offs during the planning of international policy regimes has been gaining momentum. Realistic acknowledgement of losses and analysis of trade offs promotes creative dialogue and reduces probability of disappointment (Hirsch, et.al). It is hard to acknowledge trade offs when support from political interests or funding is at stake because all decision makers want to hear is the definite success of said policy. However, acknowledging conflicting views from the start leads to more productive negotiation. It also legitimizes why a policy was chosen or not not chosen to be adopted and thus, legitimizes policies that are adopted in the end. However, there are some setbacks to trade-off analysis. Complex issues can be obscured and oversimplified, it can shift roles of important perspectives away from social issues, and there can be an assumption that everything can be traded off when things such as individual or cultural rights are deemed non-negotiable (Hirsch et. al) Analyzing trade-offs are not the only solution, but they are vital in recognizing multi-perspectives and embraces complexity which will lead to open discussion and improvement before implementation.

Conclusion

REDD+ access and exclusion to land depends on the actors involved, and how they claim and use their land and forest carbon. Developed countries’ level of contribution depend on their personal interests and resources. Some communities object the involvement of foreign national management while others are excited for more secure, local resource management. Overall, international cooperation between developed and developing countries indicate that there are shared values and interests with the commonality of combatting climate change. While the REDD+ regime is still gaining momentum in select national governments, this analysis of international cooperation on combatting deforestation is not enough. There is a prevalent lack of acknowledgment about the social impacts of REDD+ and the success of carbon as a market. In the meantime, continuous cooperation between developing and developed countries and inclusion of local-based groups in policy action is necessary for REDD+ to have long-term success in mitigating the global environmental issue of tropic deforestation and land degradation.

By Tammy Nguyen

Tammy is a delegate with Care About Climate to COP23 and Climate Ambassador. She studies Sustainability at Arizona State University and is an on-campus changemaker.

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