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Ten questions about REDD safeguards

This week, UN negotiators meeting in Bonn reached a series of decisions on REDD, covering safeguard information systems, non-carbon benefits, and non-market payments. The REDD negotiations are now finished and it’s very likely that REDD will part of the climate deal to be agreed in Paris at the end of this year.

The draft decision (subject to approval in Paris) is available here. I’ll take a more detailed look at the decision in a future post.

Over the next three weeks, I’ll be writing up a report for FERN about REDD safeguards. REDD-Monitor has featured a short series of posts about REDD safeguards in the last few weeks, taking a look at what the safeguards are, what they are for, and whether they are likely to protect rights.

The REDD safeguards were agreed in Cancun in 2010. The safeguards are found in Appendix I of the Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (available here, pdf file 245 kB).

Writing on CIFOR’s Forest News Blog, Purple Romero explains that the seven safeguards cover governance, rights, participation, consent, environment and social-co-benefits, permanence and leakage. Here are some of her comments about the REDD safeguards:

“They’re all about doing no harm”
“They come with tough standards”
“They aim to protect more than people”
“Gender equity matters too”
“Tenure is key”

This covers a lot of ground that forest campaigners have been working to achieve for decades. It sounds great, doesn’t it?

I call this is the Mr. Bean approach to safeguards. Everything looks fine. We can all head for the beach for a well deserved rest (not forgetting to bring our teddy bears):

Unfortunately, a more critical look at the safeguards reveals that they are weak and extremely unlikely to uphold the rights of forest dwellers and indigenous peoples. The UN text as agreed in Cancun, states only that the seven safeguards “should be promoted and supported”.

The problem with this is that “should” in UNese means only “are encouraged to”. (“Shall” means “must” and the word “shall” is absent from the safeguards text.)

What “promoted and supported” means is anyone’s guess. What it doesn’t mean is “complied with and implemented”.

The safeguards themselves are also weak. Recently I gave a presentation at the Forest Movement Europe meeting and described how weak I believe the safeguards to be (based on this analysis of the safeguards). One participant in the meeting, who has spent far more time than I have following and trying to influence the UN climate negotiations, admitted that the safeguards were weak, but explained that this was because the UN works by consensus and some countries had objected to stronger wording.

In other words the safeguards are as good as we could hope for, given the UN system. This is no doubt true, but it doesn’t mean that the safeguards are strong, or that they come with tough standards.

Some questions on REDD safeguards

I’ve sent the following questions to five experts, who seem to believe that the REDD safeguards will uphold rights. The answers will be posted in full on REDD-Monitor – and used in the analysis for the FERN report.

Here are the five experts:

I also welcome responses to these questions in the comments following this post, as well as any further suggestions for the report.

  1. Please explain why are REDD safeguards so important. What could go wrong if the safeguards are too weak?
  2. Do you think that the REDD safeguards, as agreed in Cancun in 2010, are sufficiently strong to prevent abuses of forest dwellers’ and indigenous peoples’ rights? Please explain why you believe this.
  3. I am concerned that the safeguards are very weak. On indigenous peoples’ rights, for example, the Cancun safeguards encourage governments to “promote and support” respect for knowledge and rights, by “taking in account” international obligations. The text notes that the UN has adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As you are aware, the word “noting” in a UN text simply refers to a relevant fact (e.g. Africa is south of Europe). It is the weakest possible way of referring to UNDRIPs. Do you really believe that this text will uphold the rights of indigenous peoples as expressed in UNDRIPs?
  4. Do the safeguards apply to governments (the parties to the UNFCCC), or do they apply to any actors that may get involved in REDD (including national governments, bilateral donors, civil society, multilateral financial institutions and the private sector)?
  5. On 8 June 2015, at its meeting in Bonn SBSTA 42 agreed a text on further guidance for safeguard information systems. Please explain why this is such an important issue, and why it became so difficult to resolve at the UN level. Do you think that the text agreed in Bonn is adequate? In your opinion, what important aspects were excluded from the text? Is there any chance of addressing these omissions in the future?
  6. Who will pay for safeguard information systems?
  7. Participants in the World Bank’s Carbon Fund have said that they are not willing to pay more than US$5 per REDD carbon credit. Do you believe that this is likely to be enough to make sure that REDD countries carry out the necessary work to ensure that human rights abuses do not take place?
  8. Will there be a review process of the information produced through safeguard information systems? Who would be involved in such a review process? With whom will the information by shared? And how?
  9. How do you respond to the concern that producing information on how safeguards are “promoted and supported” becomes nothing more than a box ticking exercise, to be completed before money can change hands? Put another way, isn’t there a risk that payments are based on how well the consultants hired to produce safeguards information tell their stories of REDD, rather than whether rights are genuinely being upheld in the country receiving REDD payments?
  10. What happens if the safeguards are breached? If safeguards are breached after REDD payments have been made, could REDD countries be required to repay money received? If REDD credits had changed hands in return for REDD payments, what would happen to the REDD credits?


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.

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  1. Dear Chris,

    We will be looking fordward to your analysis on the SBSTA draft decisions on further guidance for REDD+, particularly on the issues: saveguards information systems, non carbon benefits and integrated mitigation & adaptation options for REDD+.

    Your criteria and critics will be very usefull for our advocacy in the months to come prior to COP-21; for we fear that pro-REDD developing countries could negotiate, under the table, in Paris, giving their support to flexibilizing the elegibility criteria for LULUCF activities under the Kyoto Protocol (which is an aspirational goal of developed countries, included the EU), in exchange of developed countries´financial offers or pledges for all kind of REDD+ activities, and for the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss & Damage related to climate change.

    Both, pro-LULUCF´s broader elegibility and pro-REDD+ countries would be sacrifying the viability of adaptation; abandoning the global mitigation goal in the light of scientific knowledge; and instead focusing in the Loss & Damage mecanism. This would be a successfull deal for them!

  2. Ah yes, it’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words (and two plus two is sometimes three).

    To celebrate the accomplishments of all those involved in the REDD+ ‘Safeguards’ negotiations, and their heroic corruption of thought with language, you are invited for drinks and dinner at the Orwell School of Government, 1984 Animal Farm Road, Manila.