Investing in sustainable productivity could secure REDD+ schemes long term

Investing in sustainable local enterprises could help REDD+ secure projects' long term financial viability — that was the feeling emerging in discussions at IIED and partners' REDD+ workshop at the COP18 climate talks in Doha.

A villager gathers medicinal bark in Mozambique

The curtain has fallen on the Qatar climate talks, including on REDD+ discussions (the scheme to reward developing countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). The REDD+ fraternity was disappointed not to achieve breakthroughs in the negotiations both on finance (should it be market and / or fund based?) and on monitoring, reporting and verification systems (what guidance should be developed?).

But even if another year elapses before clear decisions on these issues, both developed and developing countries should continue with their voluntary commitments to financing, developing and implementing actions that make it worthwhile to keep carbon locked up in forests and soils. 

Pushing on

The COP meetings and negotiations provide unequalled opportunities for local and global actors to come together to push for the decisions REDD+ needs. And they are also a crucial opportunity for sharing local experiences and ‘good practice’ lessons. At this year’s meeting I was a panellist for a side event run by IIED, the Tanzania Natural Resources Forum (TNRF) and the Green Belt Movement on ‘pro-poor REDD+: local and global perspectives’. The discussion was on models governments and other practitioners are already experimenting with, as they get ‘REDD+ ready’.

Our event heard about various approaches including: paying 80% of the REDD+ ‘carbon sale value’ to local communities;  community forest stewardship certification that generates a premium for sustainable timber; and paying communities for committing to avoid deforestation, either through conservation projects, increased productivity of agriculture or by developing sustainable resource management.

What sort of payments, and who should get them?

The levels of payments, and their basis, were diverse. Some were based on tonnes of carbon dioxide not emitted, others on area protected, and still others were per capita payments to communities. This diversity means we’re enriching our knowledge on different approaches that might be useful in different circumstances, but it also illustrates the lack of common guidance. As REDD+ progresses, it’s critically important that we seek clarity and uniformity for the units used as a basis for compensation. 

Another key challenge is defining who should benefit from REDD+. At a separate IIED event, “What does it take to have a pro-poor REDD+?”, the international development organisation SNV shared a report on their work in Vietnam [PDF] that highlights land rights tenure regimes as a key to understanding who might bear the costs of changing practices and reap the benefits from REDD+ activities. Their report also stresses understanding what types of benefits people prefer, and how these should be timed. Maryanne Grieg-Gran, who was involved in both meetings, also reported SNV’s work in her recent blog on making REDD+ work for the poor.

Our workshop discussed different approaches to deciding beneficiaries, including surveys, registration systems, and contracts requiring reduced pressure on forests. Some projects were making payments to households, some to individuals (men, women and children) and some to communities. Panellist Geofrey Mwanjela, of TNRF, presented work from Tanzania on equitable benefit sharing [pdf] in REDD+. Clearly, the key issues are being tackled and tested as people try out compensation mechanisms for REDD+. Benefits are getting to the local people who can actually deliver the desired emission reductions. 

But there are two big caveats — all the initiatives are both experimental and short term. 

Invest in long term sustainable enterprises

My role was to talk about ways to involve the private sector in REDD+ activities. After our panellist’s presentations, questions and comments from attendees started a discussion on tackling the ‘short term’ problem by investing REDD+ funds in sustainable community based enterprises that make agriculture more productive, or that improve efficiency in harvesting and processing timber and non-timber forest products. I was hearing comments that echoed all my own concerns about what happens after REDD+ payments end.  

I feel strongly that REDD+ should do more with private enterprise. Other funds and organisations are successfully taking this approach to protecting natural resources, as attendees pointed out in their comments. For example, the UNDP-GEF Small Grants programme invests in and supports sustainable community-based enterprises in developing countries. And in the Amazonas state of Brazil, the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation has a programme called Bolsa Floresta that invests in sustainable enterprises as well as paying individual women within each household, investing in social infrastructure for education and health, and supporting community institutions.

If REDD+ down-played its emphasis on carbon payments, and instead looked to include ways to stimulate investment in sustainable land use practices, it would boost direct financial benefits. That way, long term sustainability could be assured, with payment for carbon services as an important, but additional, premium.

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