REDD+ Recap

At COP 20, SBSTA made no progress on the Warsaw REDD+ framework on safeguards.  Philippines, Sudan, the EU, Bolivia and the US spoke in favor of developing further guidance on safeguards. The Africa Group said that further guidance is not needed, but that additional review of REDD+ in coming years should evaluate that question. Panama, on behalf of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, said that now is the time for the implementation of REDD+, not to develop further guidelines.

Also this week, the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature convened in Lima on December 5 and 6th. Cases ranged from fracking in Bolivia, mining in Ecuador, the BP Gulf Oil spill to… REDD+. Parties presenting their case against REDD+ alleged that the program is inherently flawed, as it is a commodification of nature. Further, Ninawa Kaxinawá, president of the Huni Kui people in Acre, Brazil claimed that REDD+ violates ILO 169, as the program has relentlessly failed to engage indigenous people in the decision-making process.

Ninawa Kaxinawá, President of the Huni Kui

Cassandra Smithie, a translator and interpreter, and Ivonne Yanez of Oilwatch presented evidence that REDD+ results in land-grabbing in the global south, by developed countries, who wish to offset their pollution. In other words, REDD+ allows companies to continue business as usual at the (further) expense of indigenous people elsewhere.

There is clear dissonance when one juxtaposes the lack of progress at COP 20 to the testimony presented at this weekend’s tribunal as well as evidence presented by CIFOR and others at the COP. It is clear that the integration of public participation principles is essential in order for REDD+ to offer non-carbon benefits, and indeed for it to accomplish its goal of curbing both deforestation and emissions. The principles of free, prior and informed consent must be integrated into the REDD+ framework under SBSTA. Now that the first monetary goal for the Green Climate Fund has been met, REDD+ projects are already lining up around the block for funding. The question remains whether safeguards and methodological guidelines will be put in place at Paris to ensure that projects are ethical and effective.

Universal Energy Access

A side event today, entitled “Achieving Universal Energy Access: A development imperative in addressing climate change,” highlighted the need to address global energy poverty. In examining a need to address climate change on a global scale, the emphasis is often on less, not more.
But the reality is that 20% of the world lives without sufficient power, which results in grave living conditions. 4.3 million people die annually due to smoke from cook stoves with insufficient ventilation. Of course, these impacts have a disproportionate impact on women and children. 3.5 billon dollars are needed to get clean cook stoves around the globe, and an additional  $50 billion is needed to accomplish universal energy access by 2030. The UN Sustainable Energy for All Program is working to address energy poverty, with a goal of distributing 100 million clean cook stoves by 2020 in 170 countries.

Climate change mitigation should not provide a barrier to universal energy access. For everyone in the world to have access to power would only require a 2.9% increase in energy generation and a 0.8% increase in global GHGs But traditional energy planning is anti-poor, so as we seek to reinvent the grid to embrace renewables, energy access must be incorporated into this vision. Future grid-planning must recognize energy poverty; measure energy services not just supply; and prioritize adequate finance.

Myanmar and ASEAN Speak at COP20/CMP10

IMG_5410Today Hla Maung Thein (at left), Deputy Director of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry spoke at the Joint COP/CMP High Level Segment. During this portion of the COP, high level government officers, presidents and dignitaries take the podium to make a statement on the state of their nation as it relates to climate change. Although an environmental minister in Myanmar, Thein spoke today on behalf of ASEAN, the southeast Asia regional organization that Myanmar chairs this year. At a recent regional meeting in Nay Pyi Taw during November, member countries endorsed a Joint Statement on Climate Change.

Minister Thein asked the UNFCCC to recognize the grave position of ASEAN states, which are prone to increasing natural disasters. Thein relayed Myanmar’s uniquely vulnerable position in climate change (in fact, the UN has ranked Myanmar as the most at-risk country for natural disasters in the Asia Pacific.) In particular Myanmar is plagued by floods and cyclones, which worsen annually due to climate change.

Regarding solutions, Minister Thein spoke to the importance of universal participation in the confrontation of climate change, and of common but differentiated responsibilities, emphasizing the importance of INDCs.  Renewable energy and clean energy development were also mentioned as ways to address the problem. On behalf of ASEAN, he welcomed the Warsaw Framework on REDD+, and reiterated the need for sustainable financing mechanisms and technology transfers. Specifically, TheinIMG_5385 encouraged developed countries to accelerate their contributions to the Green Climate Fund in a way that is effective, predictable and easy to access.

In a speech the evening before, Hrin Nei Thiam (at right), the Director General of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, and  head of the Myanmar Delegation, addressed the High Level Segment on the impact of climate change in Myanmar. Regarding green development, Hrin Nei Thiam touted the potential of the Green Climate Fund and other financing sources to support the implementation of REDD+. Further, Thiam addressed the importance of mechanisms such as loss and damage to address the current, significant impact of climate change on Myanmar.

The Vermont Law School Observer Delegation is pleased to work with the Myanmar State Party Delegation this year at COP20/CMP10.

Ad Hoc REDD+ Projects: Warning that REDD+ May be Broken

Today, a panel of experts from CIFOR and the European Forest Institute presented on the importance of including local people in REDD+ projects. The panel reviewed REDD+ initiatives created ad hoc in the absence of a fully functioning international program. These are regional, state, or local—rather than national— initiatives. Crucially, they offer lessons for the future implementation of REDD+.

The panel discussed how these initiatives were all contract-based: private agreements between two parties. For forest communities, unequal bargaining power between those parties creates huge equity risks, since there are no concrete ethical guidelines or safeguards in place. This point informed the panel’s broader discussion about how these initiatives demonstrate that. REDD+, if not properly implemented, can result in more burdens than benefits for communities. The panel therefore focused on tactics for implementing REDD+ within a framework of community participation and local community control.

Panelists explained that ad hoc REDD+ initiatives have demonstrated that non-monetary benefits are key to the success of these programs. In other words: to achieve REDD+’s concurrent goals of curbing deforestation and aiding communities, financial incentives are not enough. REDD+’s potential for capacity building, technical assistance, jobs (e.g. a newly created position working in forest monitoring), and infrastructural improvements have all proven more attractive to communities than a simple pay off. For example, 20 years ago a National Park was established in Brazil. At the time of its inception, the government claimed they had approval from local peoples. However, when an NGO and the government sought to expand the park recently, it became clear that the locals had never wanted it there. The NGO and the government tried to pay people off in order to receive permission to expand, but the communities said no. The indigenous people said they wanted their customary rights to the land recognized, and for their access to it to remain unrestricted. This example illustrates the burdens that conservation projects such as REDD+ can bring.  The panel submitted research of REDD+ leading to reduced-access to natural resources and impingements upon land tenure security. The reason for these failings? The panel cited process. When implementation processes are not legitimate, and community participation is minimal, initiatives are not effective, and more burdens than benefits are created.

Adeline Dontenville, from the EU REDD Facility, proffered two adjustments to the current REDD+ framework to increase legitimacy and improve participation. First, demystify “carbon rights.” There is often talk about who owns the carbon in the trees.  Do the local people, who clear the land for their agricultural purposes, have a right to the carbon? Or is the carbon part of the commons and therefore owned by a national or internationally entity?  Adeline suggests we decouple REDD+ issues from land-tenure issues with respect to carbon. She advocates that we do not need a REDD+ law allocating carbon rights, rather the discussion should focus on who contributes to carbon sequestration and to emissions reductions. As my blog yesterday mentioned, indigenous peoples contribute strongly in this respect. Second, Adeline and other panelists discussed the power of Local Development and Environmental Funds to improve participation in REDD+. Local Development Funds have demonstrated to offer the most advanced benefit-sharing experience. These funds, which are known to be highly participatory, restore agency into the community and are adapted to the country context based on proven experiences. Most importantly, these funds offer examples of locally controlled implementation of REDD+. While these funds do require capacity and technology that many communities don’t possess, they represent a model for restoring community agency within the REDD+ program.  These sub-national implementations of REDD+ offer the international community information about what not to do, and what must be done in order to ensure the rights of local peoples. So how about it?

The Future of REDD+: Communities a Side Note?

Today was REDD+ Day at COP 20. The COP assigns themes to certain days of the conference, in order to emphasize important issues. I have been following REDD+ during this course, and blogging on the issue, so was excited to have the opportunity to attend several meetings on REDD+ today. When looking ahead to COP 20 this fall, I thought that the Warsaw Decisions had redirected the focus of the REDD+ program to address human rights concerns and the needs of local communities. However, as Macarena’s blogs demonstrate, meetings on REDD+ at COP 20 have been about financial mechanisms far more than human rights. This trend continued today, on REDD+ day, where scientific and financial advances in the program were celebrated and safeguards were literally only a side event.

Youth Delegation Protesting REDD+

Youth Delegation Protesting REDD+ at COP 20 (C. Craig 12/8/14)

To begin, pursuant to Decision10/ CP. 19, the first voluntary meeting on the coordination of support for the implementation of REDD-plus activities convened today. During this meeting, which focused nearly entirely on procedure, parties disagreed about who should be able to take part in future meetings. Some parties interpreted the past COP decisions to exclude all stakeholders other than national entities. For example, Brazil said that if experts and communities wish to participate in the meetings, they should do so through their national entities (party delegates.) In contrast, the World Wildlife Foundation, the Indigenous Caucus, Germany and other Parties argued that all stakeholders, including observers to attend the meetings. To me, the fact that inclusion of non-party stakeholders proved contentious was grossly disappointing.  Decision 10/ CP. 19 recognizes the need to “strengthen, consolidate and enhance the sharing of relevant information, knowledge, experiences and good practices, at the international level, taking into account national experiences and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge and practices.” This portion of the Decision, as well as a good body of international law (including Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration), requires the inclusion of local communities in environmental decision-making and supports the case that inclusive participation is essential to a ethical approach to coordination of implementation of REDD+.

In the afternoon, I attended a REDD+ showcase, in which Columbia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico announced the submission of their forest reference levels. Again, I was struck by the limited mention of safeguards.

The final meeting I attended today, a side event entitled “Looking Forward: REDD+ Post 2015,” however, did point the discussion back to people and communities. The panelists discussed the importance of governance structures to empower and protect local and indigenous communities. In particular, Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, gave an impassioned speech on the need to create governance structures that protect indigenous in the implementation of REDD+.

Vicki Tauli Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Corpuz spoke of her skepticism of the REDD+ program, but said that REDD+ has potential to simultaneously address deforestation and alleviate poverty. Further, Corpuz described how Indigenous peoples are protectors of the forest. Research has demonstrated that protection of indigenous rights is correlated with climate mitigation: between 2000-2012, deforestation in Indigenous territories in Brazil was less than 1% compared to 7% in non-indigenous territories. This side event demonstrates that while at the party-level the conversation remains stunted at procedure, the REDD+ framework (as established by the Warsaw Decisions) is far beyond that.  Perhaps because REDD+ is a market-based solution, it will always fall short of what is socially just, or perhaps some parties (e.g. Brazil) have yet to get hip to the necessary protections Corpuz and others understand are necessary.

A Preview: REDD+ at the Global Landscape Forum

REDD+ is a major agenda item at COP 20. In particular, attention will be paid to methodological issues and the implementation of safeguards within the REDD+ program. At the Global Landscape Forum, a COP 20 side event, panels will discuss various aspects pertaining to REDD+. The GLF will offer information both on technological and methodological approaches to mitigation and adaptation.

For example, a panel “Improving livelihoods in the Andean Region: Scaling up innovations to integrate agriculture, forestry and other land uses in a changing climate” will examine experiences from REDD+ regarding reducing GHG emissions from forestry. This panel will also address issues of governance within REDD+ and the matter of incorporating diverse perspectives in the project process (e.g. farmers, private businesses, governments, communities.) The Forum will also focus on social questions such as gender and climate change. Studies demonstrate that climate change has a disparate impact on women. In the REDD+ context, deforestation has been shown to have a negative impact on women’s livelihood, health and safety as women have to travel further in search for fuel wood. The GLF will also examine financing mechanisms for REDD+. It is estimated that with $30 billion dollars, REDD+ could be fully operational on a global level. The panel, “Financial forces in the landscape: Can fiscal and trade policies reduce deforestation?” will discuss subsidies, taxes, tariffs and other fiscal and trade policy instruments.

These policy instruments have a large impact on the land use sector. And while fossil fuels are currently highly subsidized, these same policy tools have great potential to “turn the tide by reducing deforestation, strengthening the agricultural sector and make landscapes more resilient.” Panels will also address implementation of Forest Information Systems and Safeguard Information Systems, to support informed policy decisions and to monitor both the ecological and social impacts of REDD+. This year, the GLF panels address essential questions regarding the future of REDD+ and to what extent social justice concerns will be incorporated.

The Importance of Public Participation and Governmental Oversight in REDD

Peru, the host nation for COP-20, is facing rapid deforestation. Due to pressures such as mining, logging and agriculture, Peru’s bio-diverse forests are shrinking fast. This is in spite of a comprehensive reform to forestry policy. The very safeguards that have been put in place to protect forests by the Peruvian government, are the same mechanisms being used to further exploit forests: permits and concessions are being violated and loopholes are being used to promote industry over conservation.

DeforestationGlobally, deforestation accounts for about 17% of greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is meant to address deforestation and forest degradation in least developed countries (where, as in Peru, natural resources are often rapidly depleted in the process of modernization).  56 Countries have joined the REDD Programme, 21 of which have active UNEP REDD projects. While the REDD Programme is designed to address deforestation and to combat climate change, it has been criticized for lacking effective oversight mechanisms and for leaving local peoples out of decision-making processes.

The principle that local peoples should have access to decision-making about their natural resources is articulated in the Bali Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The Bali principles focus on  recognizing due process as a right within environmental matters. The right to free, prior and informed consent is emphasized. While REDD purports to be a programme that directly engages with local peoples, that is not always the case. For example, in Kenya, violent evictions are occurring to make forested areas REDD+-ready.


The extent to which communities are given access to information and participation in the REDD process will in turn affect which projects are chosen, how they are implemented and what project outcomes are for local peoples. Many LDCs lack sufficient governmental infrastructure, which may make monitoring REDD projects difficult. As UNEP acknowledges, governmental monitoring is essential to ensuring that REDD projects comply with international human rights principles. UNEP has identified transparency, respect for local peoples and full and effective participation as essential aspects of the REDD programme. Going forward it is crucial that advocacy groups monitor REDD projects closely to ensure these principles are followed.