Louder this time, ‘Turn REDD on its head!’

A year ago, ‘Turn REDD on its head!’ seemed like a good title for a blog. Now it seems like an essential way forward if REDD is going to work.

Many in-country protagonists in REDD processes who IIED collaborate with in the Forest Governance Learning Group concluded a year ago that national REDD strategies must be based on local, not central government, control.

A year later at the climate conference in Durban, South Africa, many others are saying the same thing. And it is not just indigenous peoples and NGOs who point to the essential place of local rights and the capabilities and enterprises built on them. Increasingly international finance thinkers and government players themselves are coming to similar conclusions (take a look at the report of the recent Rights and Resources Initiative dialogue in London).

A system that relies on money being generated and governed internationally before trickling down through governments to those who do things to reduce emissions from their forest land use won’t work. And maybe the money won’t materialise anyway because those potentially paying know it won’t work. But what if we could target investment both to secure local rights and increase capabilities to sustainably and productively use the land? That might work. Some have called it REDD 2.0. I would call it Investing in Locally Controlled Forestry — with emissions reduction as a co-benefit — or perhaps Investing in Locally Controlled Climate Smart Forests in Land Use, if you really want a mouthful.

Here in Durban on 27th November a very lively group of about 50 people spent a day considering what ‘South-South learning’ tells us so far about REDD+, poverty reduction and sustainable development. Participants came from multilateral and bilateral REDD initiatives, government agencies in Mozambique, Tanzania, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa, and NGOs and researchers from all these countries plus from Uganda, Nepal, Cameroon, Vietnam, Zambia, Brazil, UK and Norway. Here are my conclusions from that meeting:

Focused attention not quick fixes. The need for national accounting of reductions in carbon emissions must not lead to recentralisation of land and resource management. We need to steer the high momentum of REDD+ towards focused and effective cross-sectoral and local-national collaboration, not quick technical and policy fixes.

Local tenure security is the essential foundation. Weighty evidence suggests that secure local land and resource tenure provides the vital bedrock for good landscape management that reduces emissions and improves livelihoods. But achieving local tenure security is typically a deep, long-term endeavour — complications should be anticipated and adaptive capacity built.

Carbon rights — equity must trump efficiency. Carbon rights need clarifying in many countries — and may be either separated from or bundled together with land and resource rights. The latter is preferable but whatever conclusion is reached the principle of equity should out-rank that of efficiency.

Invest in trust and capacity building. High on the list of other essential conditions that will not be achieved overnight are institutions with the incentive and ability to integrate with each other. Key ministries, key departments, multiple civil society organisations and private sector agencies will need to work together. Creating prospects for organisational collaboration by building trust and capacity is fundamental.

Get gender-enlightened or fail. Women will make or break the prospects for REDD+. Even brief consideration of the production and resource-base for biomass energy in many countries, for example, reveals the central existing and potential role of women. Yet REDD+ strategies to date are mostly gender-blind — another reason for turning them on their head.

Cracking the additionality conundrum. Proven approaches derived from long-running initiatives in participatory forest management and payments for environmental services are key building blocks for REDD+. But where they are most advanced they are ineligible for REDD finance, and where they are hardest to initiate they are most eligible. Trust and creative minds are needed here — in finding ways forward and keeping a clear eye on the ‘real’ additionality provided by investment in education, health and integrated land use.

Tailored, widely owned and adaptable safeguards. Social, environmental and economic safeguards are critical, yet the complex range of initiatives and approaches to establishing them risks shooting REDD+ in the foot. Efforts to clarify and harmonise are essential and must go hand in hand with the emerging recognition that safeguards need to be derived and wielded through multi-stakeholder processes, tailored to country context, and adaptable to changing circumstance.

This morning, a further REDD dialogue on lessons from Tanzania for Mozambique and vice versa drew many of the key players from government agencies and NGOs in both those countries. Major insights and plans for joint action were made. There is great strength in this south-south learning approach. Practical ways to build on each other’s successes and avoid repeating similar mistakes quickly emerge and the potential to fast-track key issues together is strong. IIED is keen to continue to help facilitate such interactions. If this strikes a chord, please get in touch.

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