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REDD safeguards: What are they?

The text on REDD safeguards was agreed in 2010 at the UN climate negotiations in Cancún, Mexico. What exactly are these safeguards? This post takes a detailed look at the text of the seven safeguards agreed in Cancún.

This is the second post in a mini-series about REDD safeguards. The next post will look at how governments are supposed to report on safeguards through a “Safeguard Information System”.

First, a resource. In 2013, Client Earth produced a “A Guide to Understanding and Implementing the UNFCCC REDD+ Safeguards”. It tells you more than you could possibly want to know about the REDD safeguards. It’s 163 pages long and has has 604 footnotes. And it’s written from the panglossian perspective that governments will actually implement the safeguards.

The REDD text agreed in Cancún is part of the “Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA)”. It’s available here (pdf file, 245 kB).

Paragraph 70 of the text refers to REDD (including conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forest and enhancement of forest carbon stocks – the plus part of REDD+).

The safeguards are in paragraph 2 of Appendix I of the AWG-LCA text. (The text is written in the passive voice, so it does not specify to whom the safeguards apply. Client Earth interprets this as meaning that safeguards apply to any actor involved in REDD, including national governments, bilateral donors, civil society, multilateral financial institutions and the private sector. But the Parties to the UNFCCC are governments, so in this post I’ve used the word “governments” rather than “actors”.)

Paragraph 2 starts as follows:

2. When undertaking the activities referred to in paragraph 70 of this decision, the following safeguards should be promoted and supported:

The REDD safeguards, then, “should” be “promoted and supported”.

The word “should” in UNese means “encouraged to”. It is weaker than the word “shall”, which means “must”.

Exactly what “promoted and supported” will mean in practice is anyone’s guess. Do the words really mean that any actor carrying out a REDD activity is required to comply with and implement the safeguards, as Client Earth suggests? And if so, why does the Cancún text not read “safeguards must be complied with and implemented”?

We’ll now look in turn at each of the seven safeguards.

(a) That actions complement or are consistent with the objectives of national forest programmes and relevant international conventions and agreements;

This does not require any new commitments, but simply states that governments are encouraged to “promote and support” actions that “complement or are consistent” with their national forest programmes and with international conventions and agreements.

Of course, governments are supposed, in any case, to comply with those international conventions and agreements that they have ratified.

(b) Transparent and effective national forest governance structures, taking into account national legislation and sovereignty;

Transparent governance includes access to information, prevention of corruption, and providing information to citizens about their right to information.

Effective governance includes a legal system that addresses forest destruction, land tenure, corruption, and allows public participation in decisions relating to forests. Laws must be enforced fairly. Institutions and administrative frameworks must be up to the job.

So far, so good (with the proviso that governments are only encouraged to “promote and support” transparent and effective governance). But “taking into account national legislation and sovereignty” is the get out clause that will allow governments to continue with non-transparent, ineffective forest governance systems.

(c) Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities, by taking into account relevant international obligations, national circumstances and laws, and noting that the United Nations General Assembly has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

Governments are encouraged to “promote and support” their “respect” for knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, by “taking into account” international obligations. “Taking into account” means only that this is a matter relevant for a decision to take action – which is weaker than saying that governments must comply to international law.

The word “noting” just means that the governments accept this is a relevant fact or event but do not commit to anything. An example: Noting that the earth is round. This is the weakest possible way of referring to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

(d) The full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities, in the actions referred to in paragraphs 70 and 72 of this decision;

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights defined “effective participation” in the case of Saramaka People v. Suriname:

    “This duty requires the State to both accept and disseminate information, and entails constant communication between the parties. These consultations must be in good faith, through culturally appropriate procedures and with the objective of reaching an agreement.”

In the case of indigenous peoples participation means implementing a process of free, prior and informed consent.

But under this safeguard, governments are only encouraged to “promote and support” “effective participation”.

(e) That actions are consistent with the conservation of natural forests and biological diversity, ensuring that the actions referred to in paragraph 70 of this decision are not used for the conversion of natural forests, but are instead used to incentivize the protection and conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and to enhance other social and environmental benefits;[1]

[1] Taking into account the need for sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities and their interdependence on forests in most countries, reflected in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the International Mother Earth Day.

Governments are encouraged to “promote and support” “actions” to conserve forests, biodiversity, and to ensure that REDD does not lead to clearcutting forests in order to replace them with industrial tree plantations.

(f) Actions to address the risks of reversals;

Governments are encouraged to “promote and support” “actions” that prevent the destruction or degradation of forests protected through REDD activities.

(g) Actions to reduce displacement of emissions.

Governments are encouraged to “promote and support” “actions” to “reduce” leakage, which is what happens when forest destroyers move from one area to another.

The last two safeguards make no attempt to describe the “actions” that governments are encouraged to “promote and support” in order to ensure that the difficult problems of permanence and leakage are addressed. Leakage is particularly complex when more than one country is involved, as in the case of Sinar Mas, which is expanding its operations in Liberia (to the tune of US$1.6 billion) as it comes under pressure to stop deforestation in Indonesia.

Full Disclosure: This post is part of a series on REDD safeguards, funded by FERN. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

Leave a Reply

  1. This is very helpful, Chris, thanks.

    Just checking my dictionary, I see that “safeguard” is defined as “a measure taken to protect someone or something or to prevent something undesirable”.

    It seems clear that, whatever the ‘something’ is that the UNFCCC text is directed at, these are not measures that will actually serve to “protect” anything, and therefore cannot be described as ‘safeguards’ in the normal meaning of the term.

    ‘Non-binding voluntary guidelines’, maybe. Do the 163 pages of Client Earth’s report say anything to prove otherwise?

  2. Hi Chris, As one of the 4 requirements to receive results-based payments is it clear how the ‘safeguards’ element of the requirement will be judged to have been met?
    I enjoy your blog but I am still not certain whether you believe REDD+ can actually work.

  3. @Ryan (#2) – REDD countries are encouraged to produce a summary report of how they are addressing and respecting REDD safeguards. The decision on whether rich countries pay for performance-based REDD will be partly based on what’s in the summary report.

    I think there are a huge number of problems with REDD. The biggest of which is that it is a carbon trading mechanism – which means that it won’t reduce emissions (because any emissions saved will be traded against continued emissions elsewhere).

    I think one of the best critiques of REDD was the 2011 report by the Munden Project:

    Munden Project report on REDD and Forest Carbon: “Forest carbon trading is unworkable as currently constructed”

  4. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your response, my initial comment should have read ‘it is unclear’ – which in the context is quite an important distinction. Which I guess indicates the importance of wording and the use of the word ‘encouraged’ is indicative.
    REDD+ is a tool as I see it by which countries can realise the value of their forests. It can only work as part of a wider move towards lower emissions as opposed to trading as you suggest.
    I agree there are many problems with REDD, but isn’t it a move in the right direction, particularly if seen as a tool that can facilitate a move towards a greener economy?

    Thanks for the link to the Munden report.
    Kind regards,