The Evolution of International Policy on REDD+
Summary and Keywords
The clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol did not cover projects to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries. The reasons were in part technical (the difficulty of accounting for leakage) but mainly the result of fears of many Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that this was a soft (and cheap) option that would discourage interventions for mitigation of emissions from fossil fuels. The alternative idea of a national, performance-based approach to reduced emissions from deforestation (RED) was first developed by research institutes in Brazil and proposed to the UNFCCC in a submission by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica with technical support from the Environmental Defense Fund in 2005/2006. The idea was to reward countries financially for any decreases in annual rates of deforestation at a national level compared to a baseline that reflected historical rates of loss, through the sale of carbon credits, which as in the case of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) would be used as offsets by developed countries to meet their international obligations for emission reduction.
REDD+ as it is now included in the Paris Agreement of 2015 (Article 5) has evolved from this rather simple concept into something much more complex and far-reaching. Degradation was added early on in the negotiation process (REDD) and very soon conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks were also included, hence the “+” in REDD+. The idea of “safeguards” (social, environmental) is now also firmly embedded, and the importance of non-carbon benefits is being underlined in official policy. In the absence of legally binding emission reduction targets in developed countries, the notion of a market approach and offsets is no longer the only or even the main route envisaged. Instead, countries are being encouraged to coordinate financial support from a range of public, private, bilateral, and multilateral sources. The mechanism is still, however, seen as a results-based instrument, although this may not be so clear in alternative policy approaches, such as “joint mitigation and adaptation,” also included in the Paris Agreement.
Outside of the official policy negotiations, there has been a move away from operationalizing REDD+ as a purely forest-based mechanism toward developing a more holistic, landscape-based approach, given that many of the drivers of deforestation and degradation lie outside the forest itself. Countries in the vanguard of REDD+ implementation, such as Mexico, as well as several CGIAR organizations are visualizing REDD+ essentially as sustainable rural development. The central role of communities in the implementation of REDD+, and the importance of secure land tenure in this, have to a large extent been incorporated through the adoption of safeguards, but there remain a few lobbies of indigenous groups that are opposed to the whole nature of REDD+. The challenge of measurability, of both carbon and of non-carbon benefits, is addressed in this article.
After more than 10 years of discussion and debate between the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), policy on the mechanism “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries” (REDD+) was included in the Paris Climate Agreement (UNFCCC, 2015). By October 5, 2016, this had been ratified by 55 countries, including the United States, China, and India, accounting in total for more than 55% of estimated global greenhouse gas emissions and more than 55% of global population. It therefore became law on November 4, 2016. Unlike its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, no legally binding national emission reduction commitments are included in the Paris Agreement, although signatories have pledged to “support” REDD, among other items. This article traces the evolution of REDD+ up to and including the Paris Agreement and tries to explain how it has developed and changed since it was first proposed. The aim is to explain why particular policy choices were made and to highlight which social and political actors were influential in this—not merely the different countries in their roles as Parties to the Convention, but also other actors, such as environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the science and academic sector. The article not only looks at what is included in the current policy agreement but highlights what has not been included and examines the reasons for this. Finally, it addresses the issue of measurability, which is fundamental to performance-based instruments such as REDD+.
REDD+ was originally conceived with the idea that the most cost-effective way to reduce forest-related emissions is to provide financial incentives to developing countries directly proportional to their performance in driving down rates of forest loss through a market system. This builds on the so-called Coase theorem (Coase, 1960), which provides theoretical underpinning for ecological modernization approaches such as payment for environmental services that are widely used in environmental management. It also builds to some extent on practical experience in the voluntary carbon market sector in which individual projects, intended to reduce forest emissions or increase removals of CO2 from the atmosphere, have been implemented since the mid-1990s, sponsored mainly by private donations or corporate enterprises.
Several overviews of the history of the development of REDD+ policy are available. Details of the REDD+ mechanism are not included in the Paris Agreement but are expressed in Decisions of the Conference of Parties (CoP) to the UNFCCC, which can be accessed individually on the UNFCCC website. Those made from 2013 onward are bundled together in a booklet (UNFCCC, 2016), although without any explanation or interpretation. The Wikipedia entry provides basic definitions and interesting insights on various subtopics and is useful in that it is regularly updated, although when this article was being prepared (October/November 2016), Wikipedia did not yet include information on REDD+ in the Paris Agreement. Carbon Planet’s White Paper on REDD+ (Holloway & Giandomenico, 2009) provides a historical view and explains the importance of decisions made in the early period. “What is REDD+?,” put out by the REDD+ Desk of the Global Canopy Programme (GCP, 2016), gives a good chronological overview, with useful commentary, up till mid-2015, while a chapter in a Research Handbook on REDD+ and International Law (LaViña, de Leon, & Barrer, 2016) gives a very good account of the entire policy process to just before the Paris CoP. A useful table highlighting elements of the Paris Agreement that relate to REDD+ and land issues is also available (EDF, 2016).
A brief overview of the REDD+ policy process follows, with a summary of the key decisions made at the Conferences of Parties (CoPs) on REDD+, and what they imply, provided in Table 1. Thereafter the focus is turned to a number of issues that have not been fully resolved at the international level. Following this is a discussion concerning the difficulties of measurement in a policy area such as REDD+, briefly outlining recent critique on the notion of measurability.
Table 1. Main UNFCCC Decisions Relating to REDD+ and Their Implications
CoP 11, 2005, Montreal
The Rainforest Coalition led by governments of Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica requested that “[r]educing emissions from deforestation [RED] in developing countries and approaches to stimulate action” be included in the agenda. Governments agreed to a two-year work program to develop the idea.
1/CP.13, 2007, Bali
Bali Action Plan
Parties committed to address enhanced action on climate change mitigation, including the consideration of “[p]olicy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and forest carbon stocks in developing countries.”
Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: approaches to stimulate action
Established that forest degradation also leads to emissions, and needs to be addressed when reducing emissions from deforestation and affirmed “the urgent need to take meaningful action to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD).” The roles of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and sink functions (“enhancement of forest carbon stock”) were to be considered.
CoP14, 2008, Poznan
Advancing the Bali Action Plan
REDD becomes REDD+, as conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stock are added on an equal footing with deforestation and degradation.
4/CP.15, 2009, Copenhagen
Methodological guidance for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.
Parties were requested to identify the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation resulting in emissions and means to address them, activities that reduce emissions, increase removals and stabilize carbon stocks, using the most recent IPCC guidelines to estimate and monitor forest-related greenhouse gas emissions and removals.
1/CP.16, 2010, Cancun
The Cancun Agreements: Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention.
Parties agreed that REDD+ should be carried out in a 3-phase approach with the following steps: (i) the development of national strategies or action plans, policies and measures, and capacity building; (ii) the implementation of national policies, measures, strategies, or action plans for further capacity building, technology development and transfer, and results-based demonstration activities, evolving into; (iii) results-based actions to be fully measured, reported and verified. Parties agreed that they should develop (a) a national strategy or action plan; (b) a national forest reference emission level and/or forest reference level; (c) a robust and transparent national forest monitoring system for REDD+ activities, and; (d) a system for providing information on how REDD+ safeguards (to avoid negative social and environmental outcomes) are being addressed and adhered to. They should also address “the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, land tenure issues, forest governance issues, gender considerations and the safeguards” while ensuring effective and full participation of the relevant stakeholders including indigenous peoples and local communities.
2/CP.17, 2011, Durban
Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention.
Parties agreed that results-based financing for developing country Parties may come from a variety of sources, including public, private, bilateral and multilateral. Market-based approaches could be developed as a means to support results-based actions.
Guidance on systems for providing information on how safeguards are addressed and respected and modalities relating to forest reference emission levels and forest reference levels as referred to in decision.
These information systems should, respective of national circumstances, capabilities, sovereignty, and legislation, provide transparent and consistent information, be implemented at the national level, and build upon existing systems. It was also agreed that developing country Parties should periodically report on how social and environmental safeguards are being addressed and respected within their National Communications. Reference levels and/or reference emission levels should be developed using a transparent, flexible approach and be periodically reviewed in conjunction with any advances in methodologies. Subnational reference levels can be elaborated as an interim measure whilst transitioning to a national level.
1/CP.18, 2012, Doha
Agreed outcome pursuant to the Bali Action Plan.
Parties agreed to develop a work program on results-based finance in 2013, co-chaired by representatives each from one developed and one developing country Party. It was further agreed that draft decisions on improving the effectiveness of REDD+ finance would be developed through a series of workshops.
9/CP.19, 2013, Warsaw
Work program on results-based finance to progress the full implementation of the activities referred to in decision 1/CP.16, paragraph 70.
REDD+ finance may come from public and private, bilateral and multilateral, and alternative sources. An information hub on the UNFCCC website to be established, to contain information on results and payments.
Coordination of support for the implementation of activities in relation to mitigation actions in the forest sector by developing countries, including institutional arrangements.
11,12, 13,14 and 15/CP.19
Guidance on five technical issues
These issues were: (i) modalities for national forest monitoring systems; (ii) safeguards information systems; (iii) technical assessment of proposed forest reference emission levels/forest reference levels (RELs/RLs); (iv) modalities for measuring, reporting and verifying (MRV); and (v) addressing the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation.
16/CP.21, 2015, Paris
Alternative policy approaches such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for integral and sustainable management of forests.
It was agreed that in addition to REDD+, in which incentives would be based on performance, an alternate, non-performance–based approach would be allowed, in which the aims include adaptation as well as mitigation.
Further guidance on ensuring transparency, consistency, comprehensiveness, and effectiveness when informing on how all safeguards referred to in decision 1/CP.16, Appendix I, are being addressed and respected.
Methodological issues related to non-carbon benefits resulting from the implementation of the activities referred to in/CP16 para70.
Paris Agreement Article 5.1
Parties should take action to “conserve” and “enhance” sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases including biomass, forests, and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems.
Parties are encouraged to implement and support REDD+ and a joint mitigation and adaptation approach including non-carbon benefits. Both market and non-market approaches may be used. The Sustainable Development Mechanism (a market mechanism) may be used to transfer mitigation outcomes from one country to another.
Overview of REDD+ Policy Development
According to the IPCC’s 5th Assessment report (IPCC, 2014), emissions from land use and land use change (essentially the forestry sector, and mainly from deforestation) were 4.3–5.5 GtCO2eq/year from 2000 to 2010, representing around 10% of all global emissions (agriculture, which is also included in the so-called AFOLU sector, contributed around 12%), although there is evidence that forest emissions fell to just under 3 GtCO2eq/year in the period 2011–2015 (Federici, Tubiello, Salvatore, Jacobs, & Schmidhuber, 2015). The importance of forest emissions had been very apparent in the UNFCCC negotiations in the run-up to the Kyoto Protocol, but there was major controversy over whether to include measures to combat them under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The United States and a few developing countries were in favor, pointing to the need to tackle forest emissions and emphasizing the co-benefits of this strategy (i.e., improvement in other environmental services such as biodiversity and water conservation, and provisioning services in the form of forest products for local communities—“win-win” was the common terminology used). The European Union and the bulk of developing countries as represented by the G-77 were against this, from two different standpoints. Some saw it as a cheap way out, which would allow countries with high fossil fuel emissions to continue with business as usual, thus not resolving the central cause of climate change. Others opposed it on technical grounds, believing that it would be very difficult accurately to assess changes in forest emissions over time, to control for leakage, and to assure permanence of the carbon savings; their argument was that because of these uncertainties, countries might claim rewards for carbon that had not really been saved. The compromise reached was that only projects that involved additional sequestration of carbon through reforestation and afforestation on land that was not already forested could be included in the CDM. Measures to combat deforestation directly were therefore not allowed.
Subsequently, many felt this had been a mistake and that a mechanism for rewarding reductions in forest emissions under UNFCCC was needed to compensate for the failure of the international community to reach agreement on a Forest Convention during the Rio Sustainability Conference in 1982 (LaViña & de Leon, 2014). The Brazilian Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), together with the U.S.-based NGO Environmental Defense, developed the idea of “Compensated Reduction” (Moutinho & Schwartzman, 2005), which was presented as a concept to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) at CoP9 in Moutinho (2005). Six months later at the intersessional meeting in Bonn, the Permanent Ambassador of Papua New Guinea to the UN gave an impassioned speech in favor of this approach on behalf of Costa Rica and 12 other countries making up the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. This brought the issue smartly onto the policy agenda as we have described elsewhere (Skutsch & Bressers, 2007; Skutsch & van Laake, 2008). Parties agreed to start a two-year work program to consider “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries; Approaches to Stimulate Action,” which resulted in a wide range of submissions to the UNFCCC on both political and technical issues from a large number of Parties and observers. Many of these proposed broadening the concept to include forest degradation (not fully defined by UNFCCC but implying loss of carbon stock in forests that remain forests), and the term REDD began to be used in place of simply RED. The Stern Review (Stern, 2006), which suggested that deforestation for agriculture could be avoided for as little as $1 per ton of CO2, was influential in raising interest in this mechanism.
The concept was propelled much further at CoP13 in Bali (2007), not merely in the official negotiations but also in a wider group of interested organizations, not least because the Centre for International Forest Research (CIFOR) initiated Forest Days. This was a two-day session held in parallel to the main event, which was open to forestry and conservation professionals and civil society groups concerned about deforestation. It served as a platform for debate and networking for groups aiming to influence international policy. The main outcome of CoP13, the Bali Action Plan, included, in its climate mitigation track, reference to “policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+).” This list of five elements reflected the concerns of Parties, whose delegations were by now mostly well informed by their technical advisors on forestry and by public opinion on a number of key issues, including: (1) the fact that degradation may be a significant source of emissions itself already, and if deforestation were to be reduced, forest degradation might increase (a form of leakage); (2) that REDD without the “+” would “punish” countries which had already reduced or halted deforestation (as, for example, India claimed) since they would not be able to participate and receive incentives, and (3) that it would be inadvisable to put (all) forests under lock and key to prevent losses, since they are integral to local economies and rural livelihoods, and that it would therefore be necessary to allow them to be managed in sustainable ways in which emissions may be balanced by removals. Submissions on a range of technical aspects were requested not only from Parties but also from observers and civil society. A further important step toward REDD+ at Bali was the announcement of the setting up of three programs for financial and technical support for capacity building (“readiness”) for REDD+ in interested countries: the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility of the World Bank; the UN-REDD+ program, which is a combined effort of UNDP, UNEP, and FAO; and the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative. Other bilateral support programs (United Kingdom, France, Australia) appeared soon after.
At CoP14 in Poznan (2008) a small but significant advance involved removing the semicolon from the full title of the REDD mechanism (“… forest degradation; and the role of conservation …” This was a concession to the view that the three new elements should be accorded equal status to the first two, and thus also be eligible for results-based finance, rather than just being matters to be taken into account. REDD formally became REDD+ as a result. The inclusion of forest enhancement was a significant move, allowing results-based rewards for growth of forest, which, like deforestation and degradation, can in principle be assessed using a baseline (the term “reference level” rather than “reference emission level” is used for the baseline when sequestration is included.) It is not at all clear, however, how conservation and sustainable management of forests can be rewarded by results, since though clearly important in their own right, these activities are unlikely to result in measurable changes in carbon stock levels against a baseline set in terms of tons of CO2 per year, as conservation and sustainable management generally result in stable, rather than increasing or decreasing, stocks.
Not much progress was made at the Copenhagen CoP in 2009, although the failed Accord took note of earlier decisions on REDD+ and included the five elements agreed in Bali. A core set of areas requiring methodological guidance was defined, with the statement that these should build on the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and be compatible with methods used in the greenhouse gas inventories. At Cancun (CoP16, 2010) Parties agreed to work collectively toward building up the technical elements that would be needed to operationalize REDD+, such as national strategic plans, baselines (reference emissions levels/reference levels), monitoring systems, and particularly safeguards. Methods for developing credible baselines and for reliable monitoring are considered vital elements to ensure environmental integrity in a performance-based incentives system. Safeguards are seen as essential to achieve political legitimacy at different levels, to ensure social justice (the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are specifically mentioned), and to prevent loss of other environmental services, particularly biodiversity. At Cancun seven broad areas of safeguards were identified (Table 2). A three-phase approach to REDD+ implementation was established: a “readiness” phase to prepare the data and the other institutional infrastructure and national strategies that are necessary to participate in UNFCCC REDD+; a second phase in which results-based demonstration activities are piloted (in other words, a trial-and-error phase); and a third phase in which a full results-based system is functioning and rewards are issued on the basis of these results. There was also a call to explore financial options to support REDD+. In parallel, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention. This could in principle be available for REDD+.
Table 2. The Seven REDD+ Safeguards
A. Actions complement or are consistent with the objectives of national forest programs and relevant international conventions and agreements.
B. Transparent and effective national forest governance structures, taking into account national legislation and sovereignty.
C. Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities, by taking into account relevant international obligations, national circumstances and laws, and noting that the United Nations General Assembly has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
D. The full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular, indigenous peoples and local communities, in actions referred to in paragraphs 70 and 72 of the decision.
E. Actions are consistent with the conservation of natural forests and biological diversity, ensuring that actions referred to in paragraph 70 of this decision are not used for the conversion of natural forests, but are instead used to incentivize the protection and conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and to enhance other social and environmental benefits.*
F. Actions to address the risks of reversals.
G. Actions to reduce the displacement of emissions.
Note: (*) “Taking into account the need for sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities and their interdependence on forests in most countries, reflected in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the International Mother Earth Day.”
From then on, most of the CoP Decisions seem to be focused on development of methodology and information systems, but it is important to recognize that underlying all such options there are political interests. In 2011 CoP17 in Durban made progress on modalities for safeguard information systems and reference levels and determined that finance for REDD+ should be “new, additional and predictable” and that both market and non-market approaches could be developed. This was followed up in Doha (CoP18, 2012) with a work program on how to transfer funds and how to finance the non-carbon benefits of REDD+. For the first time, explicit attention was given to the possibility of joint approaches to mitigation and adaptation via REDD+, an issue that had been pushed by a number of Parties, particularly Bolivia, for some time; it represents a more holistic and non-market approach and deals with the fact that for most developing countries, adaptation is a more pressing and immediate priority than mitigation.
The idea that REDD+ should broaden its front was reflected also in the decision of CIFOR to change its Forest Day events, which had been convened at every CoP from Bali onward, to a “Global Landscape Forum,” the first of which was held during the 2013 CoP in Warsaw. Meanwhile, most of the methodological issues in REDD+ having been dealt with at least in outline by the previous CoP, CoP13 was able to publish (in the “Warsaw Framework on REDD+”) Decisions on five technical areas (see Table 1) and also on coordination of support for REDD+ and on results-based finance. Taken together, these elements were seen as sufficient to allow countries to start their national REDD+ processes. This still left space for further discussion on finance and safeguard information systems in Lima (CoP20, 2014). Differences of opinion particularly on the latter item were evident, with developed countries pushing hard for greater specification and developing countries, in general, expressing the view that this would simply generate an extra burden on them; no final agreement was reached. However, text on these issues, together with some on incentivising non-carbon benefits, was developed at the SBSTA intersessional meeting in Bonn the following year, ready for presentation in Paris. Under this, countries are required to report once in four years, not on the achievement of safeguards but rather on how (in what way) they are being respected, that is, describing the procedures and institutions that have been put in place to ensure their presence. The safeguards are couched in very broad terms, leaving a lot of space for individual countries to interpret them according to their own circumstances and their earlier commitments (Rey, Roberts, Korwin, Rivera, & Ribet, 2013). Text was also proposed on how the land sector could be better integrated with the forest sector, with a groundswell of support for this particularly from environmental NGOs and civil society organizations, although this has not been included in a Decision.
The preamble to the Paris Agreement refers to the priorities of food security, Parties’ obligations to respect and promote human rights, rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, climate justice, gender equality, and ecosystem integrity, and this forms the backdrop or context in which REDD+ should be placed. Article 5.1 then establishes that Parties should take action to “conserve” and “enhance” sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases including biomass, forests, and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems. While legally countries are required to do this (they are under an obligation to “pursue domestic mitigation measures with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions”), the Agreement is non-binding in the sense that it works with the voluntary emission reduction targets that Parties have already set in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and with reference to their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs).
Article 5.2 encourages “implementation” and “support” of REDD+ by all Parties and endorses also some kind of joint mitigation and adaptation approach, through sustainable management of forests. It allows for REDD+ as both a market and a non-market mechanism, and within this broadened scope it emphasizes that there should be non-carbon benefits as well as carbon ones. Parties (both developed and developing countries) are encouraged to provide financial support for all this. The Agreement also establishes the “Sustainable Development Mechanism” (SDM), although it not clear how this will function or how REDD+ could be promoted by it. It is a new market mechanism that Parties may voluntarily engage in as a way of “increasing their ambition,” and it has a dual role: to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to support sustainable development. It is applicable to both public and private entities and enables the transfer of mitigation outcomes from one country to another, though without the need for binding reduction targets for any Party.
Thus a number of issues earlier under discussion seem to have been resolved, as policy has been broadened to accommodate the wishes of different Parties. These include the market/non-market issue, as both strategies are included. The lack of binding reduction commitments in the Paris Agreement mean that a full market system would be difficult to envisage in any case (a range of options may be envisioned for the non-market sector; for examples, see Linacre, O’Sullivan, Rocha, Greenhalg, & Ross, 2015). They also include the idea that the mechanism must allow adaptation issues to be addressed as well as mitigation and that non-carbon benefits should be included in some way within the mechanism. There is agreement on the need for solid methodology for constructing baselines, monitoring systems, and national forest information systems etc.; in this regard leakage has been dealt with by the use of national reference emission levels, meaning that any losses, at least within national boundaries, will be deducted from any gains in carbon stock in the calculus of results. This is in addition to the adoption of a raft of safeguards, which include consistency with national and international laws; transparent, effective governance; participation and the need to respect and take into account the rights of indigenous peoples1 and local communities and deal with tenure issues; and biological diversity and protection of natural forest as well as both leakage and permanence (Table 2).
As such, the REDD+ agreement could perhaps be considered a “boundary object” (Leigh Star & Griesemer, 1989; Stoytcheva, 2015) in that it now provides a basic set of rules, definitions, and concepts that Parties have been able to agree upon formally, while leaving a great deal of freedom for countries to understand, interpret, and implement them in their own way. It might also be considered a “container concept” (a term applied to describe, e.g., the Brundtland definition of sustainable development; Timmerman, 1994), which implies that the language used is acceptable to all but the meaning of the language may be very different to different participants. It is evident that this kind of malleability is an essential element of international environmental agreements, since too much specificity will never be consensually accepted. The key to success is to allow for maximum subsidiarity (freedom of choice at the national level) while ensuring that sufficient common content is included to move in the direction of the consensually accepted goals. Linked to this is also the question of compulsion. The Kyoto Protocol was based on legally binding, but unenforceable, emission reduction commitments for the developed (“Annex B”) country signatories; the Paris Agreement is based on non-binding commitments for all Parties and is not necessarily the weaker for it.
While Parties may have reached sufficient consensus on most of these issues, there are numerous underlying aspects that still remain contentious. First there remains a small but vocal group of environmental organizations who are opposed to the whole nature of REDD+. Second, a number of issues have been left to the discretion of individual countries, although some Parties and observers consider that these need further international negotiation if integrity of REDD+ is to be attained.
Issues Not Yet Fully Resolved at the International Level
The Rump of Opposition to REDD+
From the beginning of the negotiations there has been an undercurrent of critique on REDD+, mainly from civil society and environmental NGOs, which has had visible effect on the negotiations. Some of this criticism has been aired at the CoPs and intersessional meetings by organizations that have observer status, but much more is spread by Internet and social media within individual countries; this impacts on national discourses and thus on the positions Parties take in the international meetings. To take the most extreme critique first, the Global Alliance against REDD+ unites a number of indigenous people’s groups and uses striking imagery to convey its messages. It portrays REDD+ as a “colonialist trick … a crime against humanity and against Mother Earth … an attempt to dispossess indigenous people from the forests which they have lived in and cared for for millennia … genocide” and claims that “REDD really means Reaping profits from Evictions, land grabs, Deforestation and Destruction of biodiversity” (Global Alliance Against REDD+, n.d.). There is a certain amount of academic support for this position from a few writers who take the view that REDD+ is implicitly driven by a system of values that justifies the domination of nature by humans (e.g., Cabello & Gilbertson, 2012).
Desvallées (2014), chronicling opposition to REDD+ up to CoP14, identified a range of organizations espousing different anti-REDD+ positions. Those totally opposed to the idea include the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), the Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Global Justice and Ecology Project, mainly on the grounds that focusing on forests will not tackle the central cause of climate change, which is fossil fuel use. These organizations see REDD+ as an excuse for business as usual and as evidence of complicity of governments in both developed and developing countries with corporate interests and consumerism (Kill, 2015; WRM, 2015a, 2015b). Others (Greenpeace, Global Witness, and FERN) are willing to accept REDD+ in amended forms, arguing mainly for much stronger and universal (rather than nationally determined and monitored) social and environmental safeguards and protection for indigenous people’s rights (FERN, 2015; Greenpeace, 2012), with Global Witness stressing in particular the danger of corruption in REDD+ reporting and implementation (Transparency International, 2012). It may be noted that organizations may change their positions over time: FERN, for example, was earlier firmly in the first camp (FERN, 2011) but has moved to a more moderate position, accepting land use–based mitigation provided it is carried out in parallel with reduction of fossil fuel emissions (FERN, 2015).
Within many developing countries, opposition to REDD+ is couched mainly in terms of social justice and civic environmentalism (Brockhaus, Di Gregorio, & Mardiah, 2014; Nielsen, 2014), with small but vocal NGOs, sometimes supported by international groups, opposing their own governments’ positions. Notably, however, Bolivia as a Party has opposed many aspects of REDD+ for years, on the grounds that nature should not be commoditized, and by persistence has been largely responsible for the inclusion of the joint mitigation and adaptation option in the REDD+ mechanism (Bolivia, 2010, 2013, 2015). There is plenty of support from academic social scientists for these positions, with arguments focusing on human rights, rights of indigenous people, and local communities and the dangers to social equity in market-based carbon systems (e.g., Corbera, 2012; Gupta, 2012; McDermott, Levin, & Cashore, 2011) as well as doubts about whether fragile or failing states are in a position to prevent powerful actors from deforesting (Karsenty & Ongolo, 2012). A few others address also the potential loss of biodiversity values (Visseren-Hamakes, Gupta, Herold, Peña-Claros, & Vijge, 2012). However, most of this academic commentary falls generally in line with the underlying logic of the international negotiations, which have followed a weak ecological modernization discourse (Di Gregorio et al., 2014) in which it is assumed that climate change mitigation and sustainable development can in principle go hand in hand (“win-win”). In other words, most of the academic literature suggests that the potential drawbacks of REDD+ can be “fixed,” even if some tinkering still has to be done on issues such as safeguards. It is clear that the decisions under UNFCCC to allow both market and non-market approaches, to incentivize non-carbon benefits as well as carbon, to allow combinations of mitigation and adaptation actions, and, above all, to include basic safeguards were all informed by critiques expressed by NGOs and academics, and to a large extent it is this has taken the fire out of the opposition.2
Issues That Have Been Left (Largely) to the Discretion of Individual Countries
Although REDD+ is no longer seen as a fully market-based mechanism, it does remain a “performance-based mechanism” in the sense that incentives are conditional; they will only be paid out on proof of, and in proportion to, results,3 although studies are beginning to show that results-based finance is likely to work only if a number of underlying conditions are already met (Brockhaus et al., 2014). Clearly, in a performance-based system, results have to be measurable. For the case of reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, performance would be measured using forest reference emission levels, expressed in tons of CO2/year. Forest enhancement could be measured in a similar way using a reference level. It has been agreed by the Parties that RELs/RLs need not necessarily reflect straight line or smooth curve projections of past rates of loss but could also incorporate “national circumstances” (Herold, Verschot, Angelsen, Maniatis, & Bauch, 2012); the IPCC (2006) user manual for the guidelines on national communications in the LULUCF sector provides further information and explains how to apply this concept. What it means is that a country may propose a baseline that takes into account factors that might reasonably be expected to affect future rates of forest loss or gain in the absence of REDD+, even if these factors have not influenced losses in the past. However, unlike deforestation, which has a fixed definition in terms of canopy cover loss over time,4 degradation is much more complicated and has not been officially defined by the IPCC or UNFCCC5 (Penman et al., 2003). Even more difficult is how to measure, and reward, the climate mitigation impact of conservation and sustainable management of forests because these do not usually involve changes in emission levels; the technical difficulties of this were signaled already in 2009 at UNFCCC expert workshops (UNFCCC, 2009). Rather than dealing with these problems at the UNFCCC level, individual countries are suggesting their own rules, e.g., in their proposals for RELs/RLs. Of the 15 countries that have so far submitted such proposals to the UNFCCC, most have focused on deforestation, although Malaysia’s is an RL based only on sustainable management, on the basis that the country is already a net sink and that sustainable management will increase stocks (Aguilar Amuchastegui et al., 2015), while Chile has put forward a land use transition matrix in which all five REDD+ elements are defined as specific combinations of such transitions (Chile, 2016). If degradation and the “+” elements of REDD+ are to be fully engaged, however, clearer, centrally determined methodologies may be necessary.
In terms of the source of finance for carbon performance, the picture remains somewhat cloudy. The Green Climate Fund has embraced the idea of REDD+ and in recent policy documents indicates that it will support both results-based finance and what it calls “milestone-based” finance (GCF, 2016). The latter refers to measurable achievements (policy changes, enhanced governance, tackling of tenure issues, etc.) that are necessary for effective implementation of REDD+. Only one REDD+ proposal has been approved so far (October, 2016), involving a grant of $41.2 million to co-finance the implementation of Ecuador’s national REDD + Action Plan. The GCF is supported by 194 countries and depends on pledged financial contributions. It is doubtful that enough money will be generated to cover REDD+ in large numbers of countries in addition to all the other climate change initiatives eligible to apply for funding. Alternative sources of finance, including market options, will certainly be needed. It remains to be seen how the Sustainable Development Mechanism will operate.
Whether, and how, non-carbon aspects of REDD+ will be financed is not yet clear. With regard to non-carbon benefits (NCBs), it seems that conditionality will be required, but the metrics for ensuring this, and the way in which rewards will be allocated, have not been included in Decisions so far, despite considerable debate at official UNFCCC meetings. First it needs to be clear that NCBs are not considered to be just the “co-benefits” that will occur anyway as a result of lower deforestation and degradation;6 they are supposed to be “additional” benefits (Conservation International, 2014; Katerere, Fobissie, & Annies, 2015). Nor are they the same as safeguards, which were originally considered necessary to ensure that REDD+ does “no harm,” although there may be some overlap (e.g., improved governance is a safeguard but could also be a non-carbon benefit). There is still disagreement about whether NCBs—which are almost universally seen as instrumental to REDD+ from a motivational point of view at all levels—should be rewarded in addition to carbon, and if so how; four possible models for this have been presented (Katerere et al., 2015). A number of African countries support the idea of integrated carbon and NCB finance, while the EU and most international environmental groups oppose this and propose that NCB finance should be completely external to the carbon accounting (Conservation International, 2014; Elias et al., 2014). Some countries (e.g., Brazil) have suggested that governments should pay for NCBs themselves out of the rewards they gain from carbon. But if NCBs are to be rewarded, they have to be identified and measured. There has been considerable debate about whether this should be done following a centrally determined and standard methodology of the kind developed for carbon results. Such a system would add an enormous burden to reporting, as it would need a huge bureaucracy and a plethora of institutions and procedures (McDermott, 2014). Moreover, most countries argue that NCBs cannot be defined at international level, since different countries will have different priorities. Most developing countries strongly oppose central control over this (Elias et al., 2014), and that is where the matter stands at present.
There is widespread agreement among NGOs, though not among Parties, that REDD+ is too narrow in focusing on forests and would do better to take a more holistic, landscape approach, as suggested particularly by the CGIAR institutions CIFOR and ICRAF (the World Agroforestry Centre), or a territorial approach, which takes into account not just other uses of land within a landscape but explicitly also ownership and power over the land (McCall, 2016), or just using a more broadly based sustainable development approach, as suggested, e.g., by the World Resources Institute (Daviet, 2009). These options are not addressed in the Decisions but are another matter that countries themselves may decide. For example, Mexico, in its National REDD+ Strategy (CONAFOR, 2015) and in the Initiative for Emissions Reductions that it submitted to the FCPF for finance (CONAFOR, 2016), is setting up REDD+ on the basis of local territorial plans, which may include a wide range of activities aimed at sustainable rural development, many of which may have only an indirect impact on carbon stocks, if any at all. However, Mexico will claim international finance (from the Carbon Fund of the World Bank in the first instance) only on the basis of the current REL for deforestation; it envisages paying for a large part of the REDD+ intervention budget from internal sources.
Which drivers should be addressed is another issue that will be determined only at a national level. Although the need to identify the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation has been stated in UNFCCC decisions on several occasions, there is no certainty that countries will tackle the most pressing of these in their REDD+ programs. It is well known that commercial agriculture and commercial ranching are the major causes of tropical deforestation (Geist & Lambin, 2002; Hosonuma et al., 2012), while commercial logging (legal or illegal) is more likely to result in degradation. Whether countries are willing and/or able to rein in these actors is open to question. Most seem to be focusing REDD+ at the community level, through capacity building and incentives that could also promote local welfare (Salvini, Herold, de Sy, Kissinger, Brockhaus & Skutsch, 2014). This reflects in part the heavy emphasis in the negotiations—itself rooted in the opposition from domestic and international civic environmental and social justice movements, as mentioned above (Brockhaus et al., 2014; Nielsen, 2014)—on the need for participation, rights of indigenous people and local communities, and the need to provide non-carbon benefits to rural populations. As such, a focus on communities and how they manage forests is not surprising. But the choice of this “soft” option also reflects the governance situation in many countries where dealing with the more powerful economic actors is difficult (Karsenty & Ongolo, 2012). Academic voices have argued that the dominant coalitions in REDD+ follow an underlying ecological modernization approach that does not allow these real drivers of deforestation to be challenged (Di Gregorio et al., 2014). Brazil stands out as an exception, in that it has adopted “command and control” methods to drive down deforestation in Amazonia, where it is clearly related to commercial interests and where the high opportunity costs associated with reducing forest emissions are currently being borne by these actors (Börner, Wunder, Wertz-Kanounnikoff, Hyman, & Nascimento, 2014).
Other issues that arose in negotiations but which have now been left for individual countries to decide include whether tree plantations (timber or agricultural) are considered to be “forest” and therefore whether these may offset losses of natural forest when net deforestation is calculated. This had been a major area of conflict in negotiations, with environmental lobbies strongly opposing the rights of countries like Indonesia and Malaysia to define forest in this way (IPCCA, 2011; Ravindranath et al., 2014). Malaysia, for example, in her proposal for the RL, interprets the transformation of forest to oil palm plantation as a form of degradation (lower carbon content), not as deforestation (Aguilar Amuchastegui et al., 2015). Safeguard number five is aimed at preventing further losses of natural forest, but this may not be a strong enough instrument to make a real difference in this kind of transformation of land use.
The Challenge of Measurability
Results-based mechanisms such as REDD+ rely entirely on the possibility of measurement. In the negotiations on forestry under the CDM, a great deal of opposition was couched in terms of the technical difficulties and uncertainties in quantifying changes in carbon stocks (issues such as baselines, leakage, dealing with the risks of non-permanence, etc.). A considerable amount of effort has gone into the REDD+ negotiations on the design of forest information systems, on Reference Emission Levels and Reference Levels, and on MRV (measuring, reporting, and verification) generally. These have been seen as technical tasks, relying on specialized professionals in remote sensing and forest inventory (e.g., GOFC GOLD, 2014), and there has been surprisingly little critique from opposition groups about the practical difficulties or the costs involved in measuring carbon, let alone in measuring non-carbon benefits.
As regards the exercise of carbon accounting, the appearance of new sources of data such as Woods Hole’s forest biomass maps and particularly the University of Maryland’s Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) annual tree cover loss seem to have assuaged doubts about data that were constantly aired in the run-up to the Kyoto Protocol. However, while these sources may be an advance on earlier ones such as the FAO’s Forest Resource Assessment, which relies largely on data supplied by individual countries often using different definitions and methodologies, they are not necessarily “closer to the truth.” In tests of the GLAD system using ground level sampling, it has been shown that, globally, the incidence of false positives and false negatives in estimating loss of forest is around 13 and 12%, respectively. In estimations of forest area increases, the incidence of error is 23% and 26%, respectively (Hansen et al., 2013). Moreover, much larger errors are found where real changes are small in area, for example, in the case of Africa, where much of clearance is for subsistence agriculture (Tyukavina et al., 2015). In addition, the fact is that one would get a completely different answer to the question “how much deforestation has occurred in XX over period YY” depending on what platform and imagery system is used; to conclude that one is more “accurate” than another raises epistemological problems.7 And while it is difficult to determine exactly how much area has been deforested or reforested, estimation of the area that has been subject to degradation or to recovery from degradation is much more so, because this involves losses and gains of biomass within forests, which are much more challenging to identify from satellite imagery. Maps produced from remote sensing sources are, however, often very powerful in convincing policymakers because they are very clear and professional-looking (even beautiful); the uncertainties are simply hidden from sight (Wood, 1992).
Maps of changing forest area and tree density are used to generate what is known as “activity data” (hectares affected); to calculate the resulting emissions, “emission factors” (multipliers that indicate how much carbon is released per hectare when forest of type Fi is converted to land use Lj) are also needed. These depend on data gathered in forest inventories and scientific studies of different forest types in different areas, but these data are very patchy and variations in standing biomass stocks per hectare are known to be enormous even at the local level (Ziegler, Phelps, Yuen,Webb, Lawrence, Fox et al., 2012). Very few countries have comprehensive forest inventory systems that repeat over time and would allow consistent estimation of forest stock.8 Moreover, most countries do not have a sufficient set of locally relevant allometric equations to enable tree measurements (girth and height) to be converted to mass, a relationship that varies according to tree structure (i.e., by genus and species). In short, we know that there will be errors in estimation of emissions with origins in at least three different stages of the calculation and that these will be propagated through the whole calculation by multiplication.9 This is quite apart from the fact that the baseline against which the calculated emissions are compared is a counterfactual assessment of what would have happened in the future if REDD+ activities had not been undertaken, which can always be open to question.
While it should not be suggested that further improvements in carbon data gathering and interpretation are not possible, it is reasonable to raise questions about whether the current emphasis on quantification of carbon is necessary to achieve the climate mitigation ambitions of REDD+. The generation and use of these data requires an industry of professionals at international and national levels, in government, the private sector, and academia. Indeed, vastly more of the capacity-building funds provided so far under multi- and bi-lateral REDD+ readiness programs have gone into these activities than into the design and trial of programs and measures that could be implemented to actually tackle the drivers causing deforestation and forest degradation. It is possible that the technology of measurement has been driving the policy, rather than the other way around (Turnhout, Skutsch, & de Koning, 2015), founded on a discourse that implicitly assumes that even in a non-market system, incentives will work most effectively if tied directly to outputs and that precise quantification of outputs is essential to achieving this.
When it comes to non-carbon benefits, these are now solidly featured as a requirement in REDD+, and some sort of measurement will be needed at least to demonstrate they are being generated, although whether they will receive separate and/or additional international financing is still contested. There has been much less discussion about standardization of measurement methods or calls for integrity of data on non-carbon benefits; as shown above, developing country Parties have argued that this is neither necessary nor desirable. If, in addition, results in terms of policy advances are also to be rewarded separately from carbon and non-carbon benefits, as has been suggested by Wong, Angelsen, Brockhaus, Carmenta, Duchelle, Leonard, et al., 2016), and as implied in recent references to “milestones” in Green Climate Fund policy (GCF, 2016), this would add another layer of outcomes to be measured.
Since it was first mooted in 2005, REDD+ has transitioned from a market-based, carbon-as-commodity instrument to something much broader which is aimed not only at mitigation but also at adaptation and sustainable development, involving a range of non-carbon benefits. The vague “win-win” and “co-benefits” ideas bandied about in the early phases to make a hard-nosed economic instrument appear more acceptable have been consolidated into requirements for much more concrete social benefits, first through development of safeguards and later by the inclusion of measured and possibly financially rewarded non-carbon benefits. It may well also expand from its focus on forest to a landscape approach. The influence of NGOs and social scientists, as well as the determination of a few developing countries that stood against the earlier model, is evident in these policy shifts.
Despite this, it remains a performance-based instrument; rewards with be conditional on, and proportional to, carbon achievements and possibly also to the non-carbon benefits. This means that it retains the logic of measurement of outputs as a central pillar. The methodology proposed by the IPCC for carbon measuring and accounting is supposedly rigorous, based on up-to-date scientific advice, but as we have seen, though these methods may produce precise results (i.e., if repeated using the same measurement instruments, the same result would appear), they may not produce accurate results (i.e., results that reflect reality). In part this is because the variation in carbon stocks per hectare across even small areas is huge, while the measuring systems inevitably involve broad scale averages. Reductions or increases of stock do not occur evenly over space, and use of generalized statistics can lead to major errors of estimation. Added to this is the fact that methodology for estimating degradation is very poorly developed; as noted above, much of this takes place below the canopy or occurs as slow changes in canopy cover which cannot easily be detected by conventional remote sensing methods. Increasing the accuracy of estimations will be very demanding particularly in terms of need for expert skills, and it is questionable whether it would be cost effective. The heavy emphasis on quantification for REDD+ has its roots in the idea of a results-based reward system, with emissions reductions being valued on a strictly uni-modal (per ton CO2 basis) based on a narrow neo-liberal ideal of how incentives work best. The insistence on this kind of rigid conditionality is in part linked to the perception of donors that failures of earlier tropical forestry programs were in part due to lack of accountability of governments as regards performance. However, in the framework of a broader kind of REDD+, conditionality could perhaps be assessed using surrogate measures that do not rely so heavily on detailed carbon estimates, but which nevertheless provide transparency, which is the underlying issue and currently a major preoccupation in debates on REDD+ policy. Only time will tell whether strict quantification or alternative and simplified types of evaluation will stimulate more compliance and achievement in REDD+.
What can be said for sure, however, is that 10 years of international debate on REDD+ policy have greatly raised the visibility of tropical deforestation as an issue of public concern.
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(1.) Although the term “Indigenous People” (capitals, singular) still raises the hackles of some Parties as it can imply specific political groups rather than a generalized characteristic.
(2.) In a study on a number of pilot REDD+ projects in India, Vijge (2015) found that local stakeholders (project staff and participants) did not have strong views on whether carbon or non-carbon benefits were more important and whether finance should be market or non-market–based, but assumed that these things could simply be combined and selected according to their appropriateness in any given local setting.
(3.) Calls for rewards to be allocated not on results but rather on national effort needed (opportunity costs) have been raised (e.g., Combes Motel et al., 2009), but this idea has never been really discussed, let alone adopted, in the negotiations. However, it is quite possible for countries to distribute any funds they acquire under REDD+ to local stakeholders on the basis of effort rather than by on the basis of results of performance (Skutsch et al., 2014)
(4.) Deforestation is defined as the permanent removal of forest cover. Forest is defined on the basis of thresholds, which may be selected by each country individually between certain limits; forest has a minimum area of land of 0.05–1.0 hectares with tree crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10–30% with trees with the potential to reach a minimum height of 2–5 m at maturity in situ (IPCC, 2006).
(5.) The FAO definition is not expressed in biomass or carbon terms, which makes it difficult to use directly in the context climate mitigation.
(7.) IPCC guidance provides three different approaches of increasing specificity to estimate areas deforested.
(8.) IPCC guidance provides three tiers of increasing specificity in estimating emission factors and two different methods (stock change and gain-loss).
(9.) IPCC guidance requires an analysis of the uncertainties of estimates of activity data and emissions factors and the propagation of error when the data is combined. It is not clear, however, how much total error would be considered acceptable and how payments would be affected.