Policy Update #14

REDDy to Put the Jigsaw Together?

The first international day of forests was celebrated on 21 March 2013, in recognition of the key role that forests play in protecting biodiversity, storing carbon and achieving sustainable development. Over the past two decades, the relevance of forests has been increasingly acknowledged in the international arena, however, their consideration and regulation constitutes a geo-political jigsaw, whose pieces are dispersed throughout various processes. As a result, the forest policy framework is fragmented and discussions on forests span across different areas of negotiation.

In the past years, developing countries' rainforests have gained increased attention under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol, which consider forests both as carbon sinks and emission sources. The reduction of emissions from deforestation in developing countries (REDD) as a potentially effective and low-cost climate change mitigation option in developing countries was first put forward in 2005.[1] In principle, the idea behind REDD“+” -as it is now labeled, with the inclusion of conservation, sustainable forest management (SFM), and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks within its scope- is to create a mechanism that provides incentives for forested developing countries to protect and better manage their forest resources. For the purpose of making forests more valuable than other land uses, countries avoiding emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation would receive payments for verified or certified emission reductions under a future climate agreement.

Since it was first introduced, REDD+ has mobilized an unprecedented scale of political attention and financial resources for tropical forest conservation.[2] Recognizing its potential role in affecting the way the forest sector is governed, the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have also taken up this agenda item. However, UNFCCC, UNFF and CBD each look at forests through their “own eyes,” rendering coordination and interaction on REDD+ challenging.

This Policy Update provides a brief overview of ongoing REDD+ discussions under these different fora, with a focus on the need for scaling up finance, the development of safeguards and the consideration of non-carbon benefits. These key pieces of the jigsaw puzzle will need to be coordinated and put together for REDD+ to deliver on the expectations of governments, carbon investors, conservationists, and forest-dependent communities.

Scaling up financing: a central piece of the jigsaw

In 2007, UNFCCC parties[3] considered for the first time the incorporation of REDD+ in a future global climate change agreement. Since then, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC has adopted a number of decisions[4] that provide guidance for the development of REDD+ activities. At COP 16, held in Cancun, Mexico, in 2010, parties agreed that REDD+ activities[5] would be implemented following a “phased approach,” with a preparatory or “REDDiness” phase, an implementation phase and a results-based phase, when the REDD+ actions are fully measured, reported and verified (MRV) and receive results-based payments. Moreover, they decided to launch discussions on financing for REDD+.

Financing is essential for REDD+ preparation in developing countries, who request predictable and public funding to establish the required elements for the MRV of emissions avoided and the implementation of safeguards. These elements are even more critical if the results-based actions will be compensated through an international forest carbon market scheme.

Many countries expressed support for public financing for the first two phases, but views diverge on the financing options for the results-based phase,[6] which could include markets, public funds, private sector investments, or the establishment of a REDD+ window under the Green Climate Fund. Despite continued discussions on the issue, no significant progress has been reflected in the UNFCCC COP decisions to date. One reason is the remaining disagreement over the consideration of markets and offsets in a REDD+ mechanism. Another relates to the fact that the REDD+ negotiations are interlinked to other discussions in the climate change process, such as the overall provision of long-term finance, on which no substantive decisions were taken at the recent COP 18 in Doha, Qatar.

Since agreement on these issues was not reached in Doha, and in view of the termination of the UNFCCC body that addressed this issue,[7] parties sought a new home for continuation of discussions on REDD+ finance. Propositions on establishing a specific REDD+ body were considered but did not achieve consensus in Doha[8] and parties agreed to undertake a work programme on results-based finance in 2013, with a view to concluding by COP 19.[9] They also agreed to request the 38th sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies to jointly initiate a process with the aim of addressing, inter alia, consideration of existing institutional arrangements or potential governance alternatives.[10] It is unclear whether and how REDD+ will be worked into the new climate agreement to come into force in 2020 and, in the meantime, where the REDD+ issues will be addressed.

Despite the lack of agreement on the shape of a financial architecture for REDD+, forest-related activities have increased momentum. Disbursements of official development assistance (ODA) for forests increased by an average of 125% between the periods 2002-2004 and 2008-2010, largely due to financing related to REDD+, according to a study released by UNFF in June 2012.[11] However, finance for forests could potentially be at a tipping point due to the fact that fast-start financing, as agreed in Cancun, is ending, and Doha did not provide a clear pathway for financing for the period 2012-2020.

Concerned with the thorny issue of financing for all type of forests, UNFF launched a facilitative process and an Ad hoc Expert Group to propose strategies for mobilizing resources from all possible sources. Its work is expected to conclude during UNFF10, which is convening from 8-19 April, in Istanbul, Turkey. Participants at the last UNFF session, held in 2011, recognized the need to coordinate efforts on financing and resource mobilization strategies with other multilateral environmental agreements, in particular the CBD and UNFCCC, and to “follow their example by establishing indicators and targets to attract and ensure adequate financing.”[12] Many observers note that a decision on forest finance will be a cornerstone for catalyzing the implementation of the Forest Instrument (the Non Legally-Binding Instrument on Forests), which contains specific actions, objectives, timelines and anticipated means for the management of forests by all relevant stakeholders at all levels.[13]

Another related concern discussed by UNFF is ensuring a fair allocation of resources among countries. Low forest cover countries (LFCC) that exhibit fragmented forest cover are no less in need of attracting international financial flows for protecting their forests than high forest cover countries, but are most likely to struggle in doing so. Indeed, small island developing States and LFCC have been the most affected by the drop in donor forest financing over the past two decades.[14] Some countries therefore fear that REDD+ will fail to channel investments to the poorest and most vulnerable countries, echoing the criticisms expressed regarding the Clean Development Mechanism, which was originally set up to facilitate the transfer of clean technologies and finance to the least developed countries, but which has been accused of primarily benefiting a handful of large developing States.

At the opening of UNFF10, the attention of many is focused on whether the Forum will reach agreement on the long-negotiated issue of financing for forests, and how financing challenges will be addressed. As prompted by UNFF Director Jan McAlpine: “Countries cannot afford to wait for the perfect solution. This is a case where the perfect is the enemy of the good.” It is unclear whether the adoption of a UNFF decision, together with the numerous activities on the ground, would succeed in persuading climate negotiators on the urgent need to act if they want to have a say on finance for REDD+. This issue will no doubt again draw attention when the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies meet in June 2013, in Bonn, Germany.

How will safeguards and non-carbon benefits fit in the jigsaw?

Another central piece of the REDD+ jigsaw is the elaboration of REDD+ safeguards, which are needed to avoid negative impacts on people and the environment, such as restricting access for local people to forest products or the financing of forest management strategies that harm biodiversity. In practice, various actors involved in REDD+ activities have elaborated safeguard guidelines and policies, complicating the completion of the REDD+ jigsaw.

Reflecting the concern over possible conflicts between biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation in the forest sector,[15] CBD COP 10, which took place in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010, adopted a decision[16] that mandates the CBD to provide advice to other international negotiations dealing with REDD+ on, inter alia, the application of biodiversity safeguards. The decision also indicates the CBD should identify possible indicators to assess REDD+ contribution in achieving the CBD objectives, as well as mechanisms to monitor the impact of climate change mitigation on biodiversity.[17]

A few months after the Nagoya agreement, the Cancun Climate Change Conference agreed on safeguards for REDD+ activities implementation, including that they would have to: take into account the multiple functions of forests and other ecosystems; be implemented in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction; and be consistent with adaptation needs and other relevant international agreements, such as the CBD.[18] On ensuring that REDD+ not only respects safeguards but also delivers more than mitigation of emissions, the Cancun Agreements emphasized the potential of REDD+ to enhance “other social and environmental benefits” (non-carbon benefits), such as biodiversity conservation, as well as improved forest governance.[19]

In 2012, when CBD COP 11 parties discussed biodiversity-related safeguards in further detail, some expressed concern that the issuance of guidance by the CBD could compromise the UNFCCC decisions. While some countries called on the CBD to take a proactive role in the REDD+ debate, some developing countries stressed the need to “adjust” the CBD decisions to those already made by the UNFCCC, which, among others, stress country-driven implementation and respect of sovereignty.[20] For some developing countries, particularly Brazil, CBD advice on safeguards could eventually turn into “conditionalities” for participating in REDD+ when applied by REDD+ donors.[21] In the end, parties agreed to “take note with appreciation” of an annex that, according to its first provision “relates to” biodiversity-related safeguards “with reference to relevant decisions and documents of the UNFCCC,” and invites parties and others to “consider the information” therein contained when preparing national reports and other submissions. Even if, for some, the advice adopted is distinctly watered down, CBD COP 11 also outlined a “roadmap” authorizing the next COP to consider a progress report on REDD+ safeguards; and requested the CBD Secretariat to develop further advice on REDD+ issues prior to COP 13,[22] which could provide an opportunity for revisiting the issue.

At CBD COP 11, discussions also addressed a proposal to develop indicators to monitor compliance with REDD+ safeguards, which was opposed by Brazil, India and some other developing countries, who pointed out that, according to UNFCCC decisions, monitoring information systems are “country-driven.” The proposal disappeared from the final outcome, but some developed countries requested deletion of all the references to “support” developing countries in addressing biodiversity concerns and in achieving multiple benefits in relation to REDD+ implementation.

In parallel, as a promoter of SFM, UNFF also discussed issues linked to REDD+ safeguards and non-carbon benefits. Discussions focused on the need to ensure that local communities effectively receive a fair share of the economic benefits forests provide;[23] and underlined that the real test for national forest governance will be to determine if benefits from forests, including from REDD+ projects, are to be shared among forest-dependent communities, governments, the private sector and other relevant actors. Discussions at UNFF9 revolved around the extent to which REDD+ could be useful for achieving SFM, highlighting the arguably narrower approach of REDD+ than SFM to, for example, social aspects.[24]

Overall, within the UNFCCC negotiations, it seems that the CBD and UNFF's concerns have permeated at a slow pace. After having adopted general provisions on safeguards in the Cancun Agreements, discussions on this issue were limited, except for those that led to adoption of broad provisions on guidance for systems for providing information on how safeguards are addressed.[25] However, regardless of the outcome of international discussions on safeguards, the definition and implementation of safeguards will be likely mostly a nationally-driven exercise. In many cases, it will-hopefully- draw on existing information systems and governance approaches, as opposed to including new requirements that may imply additional burden to countries, thus building on and improving existing in-country capacity.[26]

On non-carbon benefits, parties discussed in Doha whether the payments for REDD+ results-based actions should consider non-carbon benefits. Some developing countries rejected the idea of adding conditionalities to the implementation of REDD+ but eventually agreed that the UNFCCC work programme on REDD+ results-based finance established for 2013 also address “ways to incentivize non-carbon benefits.”

The adoption and implementation of robust REDD+ safeguards will therefore require close coordination among the Rio Conventions, the UNFF and other actors on the ground involved in REDD+, including parties to bilateral deals.

Will the jigsaw puzzle come together?

Many questions remain about REDD+, but many observers affirm that its survival will depend on whether it succeeds in scaling up financing for forests. While some key aspects are being addressed within the processes launched at the UNFCCC, it will be key to consider REDD+ in the context of the broader picture of financing for forests. It remains to be seen whether coordination and interaction between the UNFCCC and UNFF occurs, to ensure that actions and decisions are harmonized and eventually enhance the financing of forests within the context of their relevant role for sustainable development. Moreover, other key features to determine the financing for forests will likely be clarified in light of the UNFCCC work programme on REDD+ results-based finance established for 2013, the configuration of the Green Climate Fund and the upcoming sixth replenishment of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF 6), which some are hoping will include a new GEF focal area specifically on forests.

Agreements on financing, together with coordination and harmonization, will also be central to the way REDD+ will address non-carbon benefits and safeguards. As the meetings of the UNFF, as well as of the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC and the CBD approach, observers will have a better idea of how the pieces of the REDD+ jigsaw will come together, or fall apart.

Special thanks to Jessica Boyle, Matt Sommerville and Lynn Wagner for their valuable comments and revisions.


[1] The proposal was presented by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica.

[2] “Forest carbon and forests' contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation has been one of the main driving forces behind financing climate change forest-based activities during recent years. The potential for REDD+ to contribute to forest financing is large, estimated at as much as USD 6.2 billion in 2020, and has led to unprecedented attention to the carbon potential of forests, in particular through REDD+ schemes.” Advisory Group on Finance Collaborative Partnership on Forests, 2012 Study on Forest Financing, July 2012 (Available at http://www.un.org/esa/forests/pdf/AGF_Study_July_2012.pdf, accessed on 27 March 2013).

[3] The Bali Action Plan (Decision 1/CP.13) launched a comprehensive process up to and beyond 2012, considering REDD+ in the context of mitigation actions.

[4] Main decisions adopted by the COP include: Dec. 2/CP.13, Dec.1/CP.15, Dec. 4/CP.15, Dec. 1/CP.16 (paras 68-79), Dec. 12/CP.17, and Dec. 2.CP/17.

[5] According to Decision 1/CP.16, REDD+ activities will include: reducing emissions from deforestation; reducing emissions from forest degradation; the conservation of forest carbon stocks; the sustainable management of forest; and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

[6] For example, Bolivia supports a proposal for a Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism as a non-market alternative that supports and strengthens governance and the application of safeguards. See Tomilola Akanle Eni-ibukun, Ph.D., Jennifer Allan, Beate Antonich, Asheline Appleton, Elena Kosolapova, Kati Kulovesi, Eugenia Recio, Summary of the Doha Climate Change Conference, 26 November – 8 December 2012, Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), December 2012 at: http://www.iisd.ca/vol12/enb12567e.html

[7] The Ad hoc Working Group on Long Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), which served as the space for discussing REDD+ since 2007 was terminated in Doha. See ENB Summary of the Doha Climate Change Conference, supra note 6.

[8] The Coalition for Rainforest Nations proposed the establishment of a REDD+ Committee to mainstream the implementation of REDD+ activities and ensure consistency of financial resources mobilization. Parties also discussed establishing a governing body under the authority of the COP. See ENB Summary of the Doha Climate Change Conference, supra note 6.

[9] The work programme is to address, among other things, the ways and means to transfer payments for results-based actions, and ways to improve the coordination of results-based finance.

[10] Recommendations on these issues are to be made at COP 19.

[11] See 2012 Study on Forest Financing, supra note 2.

[12] Paula Barrios, Kate Louw and Eugenia Recio, Summary of the Ninth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, 24 January–4 February 2011, ENB, February 2011, at http://www.iisd.ca/vol13/enb13176e.html. Co-Chair of the AHEG, Kamau, said that challenges in the architecture of forest financing remain complex, and that efforts should be strengthened to improve financial mechanisms, coordination of efforts and access to existing resources.

[13] The 2012 Study on Forest Financing (supra note 2) underlines that the non-legally binding nature of this global action plan on forests has resulted in difficulties in accessing national data on its financing implementation, due to, inter alia, the fact that the actions contained in the forest instrument are of a cross-sectoral nature, and are often reported with other biodiversity, desertification and climate change-related actions.

[15] For more information see: Analissa Savaresi, “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries under the UNFCCC: Caveats and Opportunities for Biodiversity,” 21 Yearbook of International Environmental Law (2011).

[16] CBD COP Decision X/33 on Biodiversity and Climate Change, UN Doc. UNEP/CBD/COP/10/27 (2010), at 8.

[17] CBD COP Decision X/33, supra note 39, at 9(g and (h.

[18] For a full list of the safeguards, please see Decision 1/CP.16, Appendix II.

[19] UNFCCC COP Decision 1/CP.16.

[20] See: A Brief Analysis in: A. Appleton, C. Benson, S. Jungcurt, E. Recio, L. Willetts and F. Dejon, Summary of the Sixteenth Session of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the Convention on Biological Diversity: 30 April – 5 May 2012, Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), May 2012.

[21] See: A Brief Analysis in: Kate Louw, Elisa Morgera, Dorothy Wanja Nyingi, Teya Penniman, Eugenia Recio and Elsa Tsioumani, Summary of the Eleventh Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 8-19 October 2012, Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), October 2012, at: http://www.iisd.ca/vol09/enb09595e.html

[22] For more detailed information on the outcome, see CBD COP Decision XI/19.

[23] In the Omnibus Resolution on Forests for People, Livelihoods and Poverty Eradication, UNFF invites member States, CPF members and other relevant actors to, inter alia: develop and improve an enabling policy environment to strengthen forest law enforcement and governance, attract long-term investment in SFM, clarify and strengthen the security of tenure rights and enhance the fair and equitable sharing of benefits with indigenous people and forest-dependent local communities.

[24] See Summary of the Ninth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, supra note 12.

[25] UNFCCC COP Decision 12/CP.17 provided guidance on systems for providing information on how safeguards are addressed.

[26] Jessica Boyle, Deborah Murphy, Designing Effective REDD+ Safeguard Information Systems: Building on existing systems and country experiences, IISD, 2012, at: http://www.iisd.org/publications/pub.aspx?id=1699, accessed on 5 April 2012.