By Dr. Matt Sommerville, Chief of Party, Tenure and Global Climate Change Project.
At the recently concluded 2013 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference in Warsaw, Poland, negotiators agreed to a landmark set of decisions. After seven years of negotiations, United Nations (UN) member states reached a consensus on a framework to reward countries for REDD+ actions (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).[Read more on the background of REDD+ negotiations and the links to land tenure and natural resource rights.]
The agreement reached in Warsaw defines a broad structure for establishing emission reference levels to measure future emission reductions against. It reaffirms the role of social and environmental safeguards in the process and notes that financing can be provided for “readiness” activities that prepare countries to participate in REDD+, as well as for emission reductions. There is still work to be done to address key issues related to securing natural resource rights and improving tenure governance, particularly regarding how benefits will flow to local stakeholders and operationalization of safeguards. Emerging lessons from USAID forest carbon projects, as well as technical support provided by USAID to the international community, are helping to build social and environmental soundness into both the policy and practice of REDD+.
At the Warsaw meeting, countries agreed to establish a national entity or “focal point” within REDD+ countries to act as a liaison to coordinate information sharing and financial support for the implementation of REDD+ activities. In some countries, this institutional arrangement is likely to facilitate the coordination of diverse activities and allow funds to flow directly to implementing agencies and project proponents. However, this structure also presents risks associated with the potential centralization of REDD+ financing at the national level.
It is important to ensure that the new REDD+ “focal points” effectively consider the role of local stakeholders. A crucial first meeting between financing institutions and the new focal points will occur in November 2014 in Lima, Peru, followed by additional meetings in June 2014. While the new REDD+ mechanism invites continued input and representation from multiple groups – including UN institutions, international and regional organizations, the private sector, and indigenous peoples – these first meetings will establish how the voices of various stakeholders are recognized.
UNFCCC negotiators also reconfirmed the importance of safeguards in the emerging REDD+ mechanism. Performance payments will be based on achieving these safeguards, several of which reinforce strong natural resource rights and tenure governance, such as:
- Transparent and effective national forest governance structures;
- Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities; and
- Full and effective participation of all relevant stakeholders, especially indigenous peoples and local communities.
While REDD+ countries will be required to report on how these and other safeguards are implemented, this reporting will only happen after REDD+ activities have begun and only on an infrequent basis (in coordination with the often slow timeframe of UNFCCC national communications). This may limit the ability of financers to properly understand baseline social and environmental conditions. As usual in these negotiations, the details have yet to be clarified and will be subject to individual countries’ interpretations.
At present, as safeguard information systems and operational guidance are developed, there is a need to continue monitoring the developing structures. Looking ahead, there is also a need to document how strengthening natural resource rights and tenure governance leads to sustainable, equitable, efficient and effective REDD+ programs. USAID is playing an important role with other donors and civil society to evaluate and document these emerging experiences.