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Ahead of COP22, countries struggle to make REDD+ safeguards a reality

The past 12 months have seen an intensification of countries’ efforts to meet UNFCCC safeguard requirements as they move towards REDD+ implementation, and the UN-REDD Programme has been stepping up its technical assistance to meet this upsurge in demand for support on safeguards.

Significant progress has been made in recent years on three of the four pillars of REDD+ architecture under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). An increasing number of countries now have near-final national REDD+ strategies drafted; reference levels submitted to the UNFCCC; and national forest monitoring systems ready to track greenhouse gas emissions reductions from forestry and other land-uses.

Making headway on safeguards has been hindered, in part, due to incomplete guidance on safeguards; one of the final UNFCCC decisions on REDD+, made in 2015, was on safeguards [i]. It’s also partly due to the fact that safeguards considerations logically come later in a country’s readiness process, after specific REDD+ actions have crystallized in the process of developing a national strategy. Lastly, safeguards, by their nature, require nuanced political solutions and processes, which engage a broad suite of stakeholder constituencies, and such processes take time.

Now that all of the UNFCCC decisions are in place, country-specific REDD+ actions are coming into focus, and multi-stakeholder safeguards processes are maturing, countries are now in a position to concentrate on safeguards to conclude the readiness phase of REDD+. Not surprisingly, the UN-REDD Programme is now experiencing an upsurge in requests for technical assistance on safeguards. These requests fall into one or more of six areas of support, which together cover all the key elements and steps in a ‘country approach to safeguards’ [ii]:

Shepherding comprehensive country approaches to safeguards – supporting the whole in-country safeguards process, from conceptualization through to outlining a first summary of information. Sri Lanka is a good example of this type of inclusive support, where the Programme is facilitating an integrated process going from elaboration of safeguards criteria through to information system design.

Assessing environmental and social benefits and risks – of proposed REDD+ actions as part of national strategy development, and as a basis for all subsequent safeguards work. A recent example of this kind of assessment work has been in Nigeria, where support has been given in identifying benefits and risks of proposed REDD+ actions in Cross River State.

‘Clarifying’ UNFCCC safeguards in accordance with national circumstances – which entails elaborating the thematic content of each of the seven broad principles embodied in the UNFCCC safeguards in a way that is meaningful to a particular national context. This sometimes involves the development of country-specific principles, criteria or indicators, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the Programme has supported the refinement of national social and environmental standards.

Designing safeguard information systems [iii] – which includes elaborating, with stakeholders, objectives of the system, its necessary functions, information needs and structure, as well as the institutional arrangements for its operation. Mexico is now in the advanced stages of developing its safeguards information system, having conducted an assessment of existing systems and sources of information with the support of the Programme.

Advising on contents of summaries of information [iv] – a handful of countries, such as Viet Nam, are now beginning to think about preparing their first summary of information. The Programme has provided feedback and exchanged experiences from other countries on some of these initial outline summaries, which will cover safeguards considerations during the readiness phase.

Consolidating existing country approaches to safeguards – this type of support is provided when a number of different partners have contributed to different aspects of a country’s approach to safeguards, and the country has requested support in articulating those different pieces into a single coherent and complete process. Colombia is one such country, where the Programme provides this coordination support.

Going forward, next steps for countries in concluding their country approaches to safeguards and becoming ready to implement REDD+ for results-based payments will be: 1) ensuring safeguards are anchored to concrete REDD+ actions and embedded in existing legal frameworks; 2) accommodating investor and donor safeguards requirements as part of national approaches under the UNFCCC; and 3) making sure perfection does not become the enemy of the good, in finding safeguards solutions that are fit for purpose, with the flexibly to be improved over time through a stepwise approach.

Therefore, the UN-REDD Programme will be further strengthening its support to partner countries’ safeguards work, over 2016 and into 2017, through a combination of direct technical assistance, facilitating South-South knowledge exchange and in-county capacity building.


[i] UNFCCC decision 17/CP.21 on Further guidance on ensuring transparency, consistency, comprehensiveness and effectiveness when informing on how all the [Cancun] safeguards [for REDD+] are being addressed and respected.  Available at:

[ii] See UN-REDD (2016) Technical brief: A Conceptual Framework for Country Approaches to Safeguards.  Available at:

[iii] See UN-REDD (2015) Technical Resource Series 1 – REDD+ Safeguards Information Systems: Practical Design Considerations.  Available at:

[iv] See UN-REDD (2016) Info Brief – Summaries of information: How to demonstrate REDD+ safeguards are being addressed and respected?  Available at:

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climate policycommunitiesREDD+rightssafeguards



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