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Readying Africa for REDD+

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
June 30, 2011
Publisher Name: 
Heinrich Böll Stiftung
Dr. Brian Mantlana
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Delegates meeting at the 16th UN Climate Change Conference held in Cancún, in December 2010, agreed on a framework for addressing the essential elements needed for comprehensive international action on climate change – the Cancún Agreements. Within this overall framework are measures that relate to the REDD+ mechanism, a global initiative to slow, halt, and reverse forest loss and the related emissions in developing countries.

Destruction of forests both contributes to carbon emissions and deprives the planet of an important mechanism to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide, which contributes the most to global warming. The reasoning behind REDD+ is that forests are often converted for other uses, primarily agricultural, because it makes economic sense to the land managers and users. REDD+ seeks to reverse this trend and encourages the conservation of forests in developing countries by rewarding participating individuals, communities and local and national governments with carbon finance originating from developed countries.

The potential for REDD+ in Africa is enormous. The continent has 635 million hectares of forest – about 16% of the world’s total – with the Congo Basin harbouring the world’s second largest block of rainforest. Moreover, a recent paper has shown a considerable increase in carbon stocks (the total amount of carbon stored in the forest ecosystem), even in some Sahel countries, such as Senegal, Mali and Guinea Bissau. This raises the possibility that countries with largely dry forests might also be able to participate in and benefit from the REDD+ mechanism. Currently, though, it appears that this vast potential remains underexploited.

A thorough analysis of current REDD+ activities on the African continent is limited for two reasons: there is little information available in the public domain and the sector is highly dynamic. However, of those initiatives that have been recorded, REDD+ readiness and demonstration activities predominate. REDD+ readiness activities are those measures and mechanisms deemed necessary for the establishment of an enabling framework for the full implementation of REDD+. Among these measures are land tenure reforms, effective enforcement of land use laws and regulations, and the establishment of systems to reliably monitor, report, and verify forest emissions. A global survey of REDD+ activities undertaken in 2009 showed a total of 22 readiness activities, the bulk of which were in east and central Africa.

Eighteen demonstration activities have been recorded on the continent. These are experimental activities such as the promotion of sustainable forest management practices, forest conservation combined with incentive payment schemes, and monitoring systems that measure the change in carbon stocks, which may be site-specific or carried out at local to provincial scales. Demonstration activities are essential in order to establish a basic stock of practical experiences related to REDD+ that may inform national level implementation.

A number of challenges currently bedevil efforts by African countries to prepare for and participate on the global REDD+ market, not least among them financial constraints. In their survey, Wertz-Kanounnikoff & Kongphan-apirak (2009) found that most REDD+ demonstration and readiness activities in Africa are financed through international public funds, i.e. official development assistance (ODA) and not dedicated climate funds. As a result of the complexity of the REDD+ mechanism, huge amounts of funds are needed to sustain it over the required period of time. Staring at the reality of inadequate climate-specific funding by developed countries and high expectations by local communities, African governments must determine whether to invest public money, and how much to invest, in efforts to leverage private money to initiate, sustain or improve the implementation of national REDD+ activities. While it has not been easy to determine the sources of most existing global funds in absolute terms, non-governmental organisations are comparatively more involved in financing current REDD+ activities in Africa than in other parts of the world, such as South America and Asia.

The African socio-political context constitutes a serious dilemma for implementation of REDD+. The REDD+ mechanism provisions and related literature contain some recommendations that have proven incompatible with the prevailing social and political organisation within some African communities. Among such contentious recommendations are the implementation of Western notions of property rights, improved governance, local participation, and sustainable development. The primary challenge in this regard is land tenure. The prevailing land tenure context on the continent is characterised by overlap and the co-existence of various land tenure forms which simultaneously allocate to the state, community, and the individual incongruous and various levels of legal title to land, and the resources therein. This situation is incompatible with the conventional concept of property rights and causes contestation between the state, local/traditional government and the individual for benefits from ‘community development’. Ultimately, expectations for the REDD+ mechanism in Africa may need to be significantly reworked, and brought more in line with ongoing in-country realities.

Another particularly worrying trend for Africa’s participation in the REDD+ mechanism is that, on average, African countries have relatively high human development needs, yet this variable has not been seen to play a significant role in influencing the location of REDD+ demonstration activities whose aim is to inform the design and implementation of national-level projects.

How to distribute benefits from REDD+ to forest communities in a just, equitable way that minimises capture of the benefits by national governments or local elites remains a pertinent though as yet unanswered question on the continent. Reports from some countries, for example Cameroon, indicate that there is no empirical field project on REDD+ that has generated the information required to outline a benefit-sharing plan. A study which reviewed three forest carbon projects in Uganda revealed that the diversity of actors, rules and links to existing institutions needs to be fully understood during the design process for REDD+ projects to ensure opportunities and benefits for the rural poor are safeguarded.

The costs of conducting carbon stock assessments have traditionally been considered prohibitively high. However, evidence on the continent shows that involvement of local communities in carbon assessments would considerably reduce costs. Reports from on-going pilot projects in Africa have shown that assessments of carbon stocks can be done by local communities. While the results of the community measurements would need to be compared against professional measurements, data from sites in Tanzania demonstrate that such community carbon assessments are typically no more than 5% different from those carried out by professionals. Moreover, participation of communities in making their own forest inventories and recording their own carbon stock change data would ensure that more of the financial rewards from REDD+ trickled down to local communities.

In conclusion, it is evident that there is a role for African governments to proactively attract REDD+ activities, for example, through using REDD+ readiness activities to develop plausible strategies and stronger forest governance institutions. National strategies to tackle these issues are likely to differ and will require diverse policies and measures suited to the country’s economic, political, historical and environmental context. Currently, however, encouragement can be drawn from the fact that all interested African countries are at different stages of their inventories and careful examination of existing policies and practices in order to understand the nature and extent of intervention required to influence the effectiveness of their involvement in the REDD+ mechanism.

Dr. Brian Mantlana works within the Climate Change & Bio-Adaptation Division at the South African National Biodiversity Institute.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut