Children of the Sao Felix community in the Brazilian Amazon. Measures to ensure social benefits for rural people affected by global forest-carbon initiatives remain to be sorted out. Neil Palmer/CIFOR photo

Time for urgent action on social safeguards for REDD+, researchers say

By Mark Foss, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

It’s time to get serious about the social dimensions of REDD+ projects, say the authors of a new study.

The paper, published recently in the journal Forests, surveys the evolution of multi-level policy frameworks to develop “social safeguards” for REDD+ — an international policy mechanism to offer incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

In particular, the study looks at how REDD+ programs in three countries have pursued safeguards including ensuring synergy with national policies and international conventions; transparent governance; free prior and informed consent (FPIC) and land tenure; participation of affected communities; and enhanced social benefits.

“Expectations are high for an international consensus on social safeguards at the Lima climate change conference in December,” said lead author Pam Jagger, a senior associate with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and an assistant professor of environmental policy at the University of North Carolina. “Policymakers need to deal with human welfare concerns, and also set expectations for their measurement, reporting and verification (MRV).”

At the Global Landscapes ForumWhat are the key advances and challenges in the implementation of Safeguards Information Systems (SIS) by REDD+ countries? This and other questions will be debated at a discussion session at the upcoming Global Landscapes Forum, 6-7 December in Lima. Another session deals with Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

When the original UN-REDD programme was launched in 2008, Jagger said, no measures protected the interests of indigenous people and local communities dependent on forests. By the time of the UN climate talks in Cancun in 2010, policymakers had identified seven social and environmental safeguards for REDD+.

“Since Cancun, the topic has been shelved at every subsequent COP meeting, as well as at meetings of the UNFCCC technical body (SBSTA),” she said. “Social safeguards are an afterthought. It’s time to treat these questions in earnest.”


The issue is challenging, in part, because actors hold different expectations.

“For some, social safeguards are about making sure projects do no harm,” Jagger said. “Others want projects to also bring some benefit to people. There is a lot of pressure to show carbon credits are, at the very least, not harming people, and hopefully making their lives better.”

More than 200 REDD+ projects are under way in some 40 countries, the study noted. Following agreement at Cancun, several voluntary certification standards for assessing these projects’ social and environmental impacts have emerged. Most prominent is the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard, which nearly two-thirds of all forest carbon projects have adopted.

In addition, the CCB Alliance and CARE International are promoting social safeguards through the REDD+ Social and Environmental Standards (REDD+ SES)initiative. This brings together civil society, the private sector and government agencies to build jurisdiction-specific indicators to track compliance with seven principles and 28 supporting criteria.

Meanwhile, the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is now applying its environmental and social risk management framework and safeguard policies to REDD+. The UN-REDD Programme has also developed social and environmental principles and criteria in response to the Cancun principles. And bilateral donors in the United States, Norway and Australia are also crafting their own safeguard policies.

With this plethora of approaches, many countries in the early stages of REDD+ are looking to COP 20 in Lima for definitive direction on how to measure, report and validate social safeguards. Countries like Brazil, however, want flexibility to follow their own safeguard policies, which are actually more stringent than the Cancun principles.

“There is a need for greater international guidance on the use of appropriate indicators, data collection methods and reporting frameworks,” Jagger said. “At the same time, there is a lot of dissenting opinion about safeguard MRV. Some countries desperately want direction, whereas others do not want a top-down directive.”

Drawing on data from CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD (GCS-REDD), the researchers examined country-level policy and media analyses in Brazil, Indonesia and Tanzania — three countries relatively well-advanced in REDD+. They also interviewed stakeholders to learn about local-level experience and action related to REDD+ social safeguards.

The researchers found tension between national-scale reporting on social safeguards and the need for high-quality and timely data from the projects themselves. “National-level monitoring can be done with national survey data, but findings need to be ‘ground-truthed,’ ” Jagger said.

In both Brazil and Indonesia, a decentralized approach has allowed for more creativity and innovation. “In Brazil, a lot of interesting advances have been made at the subnational level,” said co-author Amy Duchelle, a CIFOR scientist based in Rio de Janeiro. “For instance, the state of Acre partnered with the REDD+ SES Initiative to develop a safeguard information system. The states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso are now following suit.”

Innovation at the subnational level is driven in part by civil society groups pushing for greater attention to the social consequences of carbon projects. In Brazil, for example, the coordinating body of indigenous organizations in the Amazon took part in the multi-stakeholder committee that developed the Brazilian Socio-Environmental Principles and Criteria for REDD+.

“In Brazil and Indonesia, the voices of indigenous groups really have an impact,” Jagger said. “In Tanzania, they don’t have the same push coming from the bottom up to motivate progress on REDD+ social safeguards.”



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