A new publication by UNEP on developments around REDD+ makes interesting reading. The original Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) proposition emerged from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as an initiative to reduce carbon losses from areas where forests were being degradation by human activity. It was based largely at an inter-governmental level around the polluter-pays principal – that fossil fuel consuming countries should pay for environmental protection through the transfer of carbon taxes.
The new report Building Natural Capital: How REDD+ Can Support a Green Economy highlights how far things have moved making the UN REDD+ programme much more accessible and relevant and therefore much more likely to get traction at all levels.
While the principals remain the same the emphasis in REDD+ has moved it into a very different place. REDD+ includes more recognition of biodiversity and natural ecosystem integrity rather than just an emphasis on any forest replacement scheme. In this respect REDD+ programmes could apply potentially to many natural and human-modified ecosystems which have the potential to capture carbon – such as mangrove, salt-marsh and peat bogs or shifting conventional agriculture to mixed silviculture-agro practices (combining conventional crops with trees such as canopy coffee production). While carbon sequestration and retention was the primary ecosystem service highlighted in REDD, there is a significant change in emphasis in REDD+ to focus on other ecosystem services such as water security, soil-erosion protection and local non-timber forest products. This is partly due to the volatility of the carbon markets which has meant a really slow uptake by governments. However, it is also in recognition of the huge local relevance these other ecosystem services play to supporting the livelihoods of local communities, they are in many ways much more tangible and likely to get support – while still achieving carbon benefits. Which brings us to the other striking change of emphases – how a much wider acknowledgement of stakeholder interests is emerging. REDD+ sees much clearly a role forf private sector organisations in improving ecosystem resilience and protecting vital natural services as part of the self-interest in securing future resources and commodities. Of most significance though is its recognition of the relationship between environmental security and the livelihoods and wellbeing of forest peoples and local communities. In this sense at a local level it is focusing much more on appropriate local economic responses which will support people alongside protecting ecosystems and biodiversity.
At a more macro economic level REDD+ processes are highlighting the need to create a wider enabling environment and through REDDiness programmes and REDD+ safeguard initiatives activity is taking place on a number of fronts. These include reviewing host country legislation and trying to revise and align legal frameworks towards more environmentally aware governance systems. Then there is the need for improving the financial mechanisms for distributing funds and particularly significantly looking at more equitable mechanisms for reward stakeholders from national governments to local communities. REDD+ is ambitious and there are significant barriers to its progress, for example detailed attention on the ground needs to ensure that REDD+ initiatives do not inadvertently disenfranchise people from their traditional livelihoods or create unanticipated risks to biodiversity. In some countries where REDDiness programmes are being developed there has been a slowdown in legislation protecting indigenous communities and signs of resistance from state forestry departments which risk loosing some of their former control (as REDD+ implies more ownership by local communities). While in the short-term such local resistance from vested interests in perhaps inevitable the wider picture is becoming much more compelling. REDD+ can be an effective enabler towards a wider Greener Economy which, alongside other measures will better incorporate Natural Capital investment alongside more inclusive economic programmes to help poverty alleviation. REDD+ is still in its infancy and has many hurdles to address, nonetheless it has the potential to address many current market, policy and institutional failures that have lead to the historic undervaluation of ecological services as well as pointing to more sustainable, low-carbon economies which might help the world move towards the post 2015 Development Goals.