A couple of weeks ago, REDD-Monitor sent 10 questions about REDD safeguards by email to five experts on the subject of REDD and safeguards. This is the first response, from Maria Brockhaus and Amy Duchelle at the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Maria Brockhaus and Amy Duchelle (CIFOR)
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to contribute some research-based insights to the many questions around REDD+ safeguards. Please find below a set of answers that link to a number of studies that we believe can be helpful for readers to gain a deeper insight in the debates that Chris laid out here.
1. Please explain why are REDD safeguards so important. What could go wrong if the safeguards are too weak?
Since the inception of REDD+, the need to minimize social and environmental risks – and promote co-benefits – has been a concern of many actors involved in the process. On the social side, the focus has been on protecting and enhancing local governance and wellbeing, along with securing local rights to land and resources. On the environmental side, the focus has been on conserving the environmental services provided by natural forests to avoid a pure focus on carbon. Without strong social safeguards, vulnerable populations, such as indigenous and traditional communities, could disproportionately bear the costs of REDD+ (Brown et al. 2008; Sunderlin et al. 2009). Without strong environmental safeguards, a sole-carbon focus could lead to displaced destruction from high biomass to low biomass forests, and replacement of native ecosystems with monoculture tree plantations (Stickler et al. 2009).
A number of CIFOR studies show what can go wrong without appropriate safeguards in relation to setting up benefit (and cost) sharing mechanisms (e.g. articles on equity discourses by Di Gregorio et al. 2013 and Luttrell et al 2013; land fees in Cameroon by Assembe et al. 2013; and other national REDD+ policy analyses). Identifying what can go wrong, however, is the easier part. In terms of positive steps that can be taken, a recent study on anti-corruption measures in Indonesia (Arwida et al. 2015) can provide some lessons relevant to REDD+ safeguards.
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.
The intention of the Cancun Safeguards is to ensure that REDD+ does no harm to local people and the environment, and to verify that new institutions put in place under REDD+ are complementary to other environment and development policies. Therefore, it is great to see something like a Cancun framework agreed upon, with the Warsaw framework taking this a step further in making results-based payments contingent on safeguards reporting. Nevertheless, while safeguards represent a key step for promoting social and environmental integrity in REDD+, the major challenge is on-the-ground operationalization. For instance, while the framework provides a reference for people across all levels to report violations, specific grievance structures would be required for operationalization. In addition, given the limited financial support for safeguard information systems, safeguards monitoring will rely on leveraging and improving upon ongoing national and subnational data collection efforts. Operationalization of safeguards related to local rights and participation will be limited as data for indicators are not yet collected in national and subnational surveys (Jagger et al. 2014). A framework is only one step in the process.
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?
As mentioned above, formulation of the texts with all their nuances is the first step. Implementation is the much bigger challenge. UNDRIP was under preparation from 1982 to 2007, which indicates the extent of the challenges. Yet, the call for rights of indigenous peoples will likely be strengthened by such cross-links among the conventions and declarations.
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)?
The Cancun Safeguards apply to REDD+ countries interested in receiving results-based compensation via the UNFCCC process. In parallel, there are voluntary certification standards for assessing social and environmental outcomes of REDD+ at project and jurisdictional levels (e.g. through the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance). Bilateral and multilateral donors have safeguard policies of their own, including the World Bank Group’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), the United Nations program on REDD (UN-REDD), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The safeguards process could definitely benefit from harmonization among the various policies.
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?
The issue of how much guidance for safeguard information systems (SIS) has been difficult to resolve due to the inherent trade-offs: minimal guidance for SIS supports national ownership and provides space for independent experimentation in complex country-specific contexts, but it can also create uncertainties and high transaction costs. In an analysis of submissions to SBSTA by Parties and Observers prior to COP 20 in Lima, while some were against further guidance, the majority favored it for reasons of efficiency (i.e. streamline the process and facilitate implementation) and/or equity (i.e. ensure protection of rights and local participation in the process) (Menton et al. 2014). While the REDD outcome at SBSTA 2015 provides some additional guidance as relates to submission of summaries of information for SIS, there is no reference promoting a participatory approach, which is something a number of actors have called for (e.g. the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group).
6. Who will pay for safeguard information systems?
This is the big question … as is finance for REDD+ in general.
Again, SIS must be elaborated from existing national policies and monitoring systems, so that safeguards are a source of support and not a burden. There are also clear opportunities to link national benefit sharing mechanisms with safeguard information systems to promote greater equity in REDD+ through a streamlined effort (Brockhaus et al. 2014).
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?
I would have strong doubts that prices alone will help to ensure that human rights abuses do not take place. Findings from a CIFOR study show that in the REDD+ debate equity considerations are currently dominated by benefit sharing rhetoric, and that mainly state actors have not yet tackled domestic aspects of equity (Di Gregorio et al. 2013).
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?
The Warsaw Framework does not provide for a technical review of safeguard information and nothing in the new text changes that. Our take would be the NGO community will need to be vigilant and do the “naming and shaming”. A discussion around the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) reflects this issue as well. A recent report discussing options for assessment and review of INDCs under a 2015 Climate Change Agreement (van Asselt et al. 2015) notes that the formal obligations regarding reviews for INDCs are still weak, and calls for “ample space” for observer parties, especially civil society organizations to provide such reviews. This is quite relevant to the safeguards debate as well.
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?
Yes, this is a major risk, and goes back to the points raised earlier – texts are texts, and they can be beautiful on paper, but key is the implementation and operationalization of provisions given by such texts. Nevertheless, there are interesting examples of jurisdictions that have gone beyond a simple box checking exercise in SIS formulation. One of these is the state of Acre in the Brazilian Amazon, which undertook a multi-stakeholder process through collaboration with the REDD+ Social and Environmental Standards (SES) Initiative to develop a SIS for its State System of Incentives for Environmental Services.
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?
This point links back to a key challenge discussed very early on in the RED, REDD, and REDD+ world, the question of permanence and sustainability for carbon and non-carbon outcomes – which is still valid today. Some lessons about the nature of such contracts are available from other standards, and a recent CIFOR Infobrief reviews such standards to derive lessons for REDD+ (Tjajadi et al. 2015) – but there is still a lot of lack of clarity as you rightly pointed out.