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The Nature Conservancy and the World Bank acknowledge some of the hard realities of REDD

2015-02-24-164739_1680x984_scrotA new report from the Nature Conservancy and the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility looks at jurisdictional REDD. The report looks at eight REDD jurisdictional initiatives, “including a critical look at the success and challenges to date”.

The report concludes that “subnational jurisdictional programs are critical building blocks for national success”. No surprises there – given that the report is published by two of the big proponents of REDD.

But the report presents a series of problems that REDD programmes have run into when attempting to operate at a jurisdictional scale:

  • Most programs studied are still in the early stages of achieving their goals, and almost all face important gaps in human and technical capacity despite significant investments.
  • Future success requires that forest countries see a compelling value proposition to embrace a forest-friendly development model as compared to business as usual development pathways.
  • Finance and incentives need to be designed to reinforce and support sustainable approaches — particularly in-country sources such as agricultural subsidies, rural development programs, and tax policies.
  • Results-based finance and supply chain approaches offer important opportunities to help advance REDD+/LED [low emissions development] programs, but each has limitations and is unlikely to solve the problem on its own.

The report reveals that some of the hard realities of REDD are starting to hit home. Of course the report doesn’t talk about hard realities, preferring to call them “lessons”, that can be addressed at some point in the future.

The report recognises that the idea of REDD as a “payment for opportunity-cost” system is pretty much dead in the water and that a “transformational development model” is needed:

We need to move from the original payment for opportunity-cost approach to a transformational development model. Early conceptions of REDD+ as a means to compensate countries and pay actors their “opportunity costs” do not address the need to transform the development paradigm and may perpetuate dependencies on external financing. The starting point must be for countries to view protection of high-value forest systems as integral to achieving their long-term development goals, and to see climate finance and other incentives as a catalyst of that sustainable development pathway. Ownership of this shared REDD+/LED vision by political leaders and other key stakeholders is essential to program success.

But the report fails to acknowledge that the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, for example, is structured around payments for opportunity-cost. Six of the jurisdictional REDD programmes included in the report have been admitted into the FCPF Carbon Fund.

One of the big problems with Jurisdictional REDD (and project-based REDD) is leakage. Deforestation may be reduced in one area, but the deforesters just move somewhere else. The report includes this table, which acknowledges that leakage is one of the drawbacks of Jurisdictional REDD compared to National REDD:

The word “leakage” appears four times in the report, without any acknowledgement of the seriousness of the problem that this poses for Jurisdictional REDD.

The report includes a list with the title “Top ten things not to do”. REDD-Monitor would suggest that this should be renamed “Top nine REDD mistakes (so far)”:

  1. Assume we know what motivates political leaders and other key stakeholders to change behavior, without a careful analysis and understanding of the context.
  2. Invest most funding into REDD+ planning and “readiness” (e.g. MRV, safeguards, etc.) and expect political leaders to maintain interest and momentum.
  3. Offer largely results-based finance to low-capacity countries, jurisdictions or local stakeholders and expect them to perform.
  4. Look to REDD+ payments or corporate supply chains as the sole solution to the problem.
  5. Underestimate the problem of political and bureaucratic capacity and turnover in countries.
  6. Expect results to be achieved too quickly.
  7. Assume that REDD+/LED is cheap.
  8. Create a model based on paying actors indefinitely to change behavior.
  9. Expect others to take risks but not take risks yourself.

    Of course the report is not entirely negative. The tenth item on the list is “Don’t lose optimism”. Progress has been made, the authors assure us. REDD presents opportunities. REDD has “elevated forests and climate on the political agenda”, provided new funding, started a multisectoral dialogue and so on.

    The authors conclude that despite all the problems,

    In all the jurisdictions we studied, however, value propositions are emerging that promote rural development, maintain natural capital, and enhance market competitiveness.

    “Value propositions are emerging” is an interesting choice of words.

    Michael Skok, is an entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, and something of an expert on the subject of value propositions. In an article in Forbes, he defines value propositions as:

    a positioning statement that explains what benefit you provide for who and how you do it uniquely well. It describes your target buyer, the problem you solve, and why you’re distinctly better than the alternatives.

    A value proposition, then, is something that start-up companies write as part of the process of developing an idea into a successful company. And this is where we are after seven years of REDD.

    This all reminds me of Dominic Elson’s “Great REDD Perpetual Motion Machine“, outlined in detail a Guest Post on REDD-Monitor. Elson’s theory is that the idea of REDD was conjured up during a long night in the pub. As with many ideas with a similar provenance, the problems were all too obvious the next day:

    [T]he hangover from that REDD pub session must have been especially punishing. As the full absurdity of the idea hit home, REDD’s charms melted away, and the cold morning light reveals a less comely sight. What were we thinking? How could we have been seduced by this snaggle-toothed crone? As our cheeks burned from the scalding tears of shame, we should have put the matter behind us and got back to the tough, yet rewarding, business of trying to make the world a better place through hard work and random acts of kindness. But of course we did no such thing. Instead, we went back to the Pub, perfected our machine, and called it REDD+.


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