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Turn REDD on its head

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James Mayers
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National REDD strategies must be based on local, not government, control, say opinion leaders from ten countries in the IIED-facilitated Forest Governance Learning Group.

Argument about REDD(reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) was raging in Mozambique as well as Mexico last week. By the weekend the climate negotiators in Cancun had come up with an outline agreement on REDD — a useful step and a bigger one than looked likely two weeks ago. Meanwhile, I was in Mozambique among 40 people from ten countries grappling with the practical realities of REDD. We came to talk with the Madjajane and Goba communities about their forests and then continued to debate and plan our future work in the small town of Namaacha.

We agreed that if you set out to invent the perfect mechanism to counter the forces that destroy or degrade forests — the chainsaws, bulldozers, drinks in the bar and grease on the palms of those making forest-trashing business deals — you would not come up with REDD (or even its more people-friendly variants REDD+ and REDD++). REDD is about reducing emissions, not managing forests sustainably and improving people’s lives.

But the prospect of unprecedented funding through REDD is enticing — it could bring more money than ever before for doing useful things for forests. The hooks for making governance more accountable are also exciting — the money must be tracked and the emission reductions credibly verified. We need to help shape these programmes so that they do the right thing by forest management and livelihoods.

Local control not national diktat

All the lessons learnt from the past thirty years of effort in many countries to try and sustainably manage forests while improving livelihoods point to the fundamental need for local decision making power. This means that communities and the rightful individual owners of forest land must have secure tenure and be able to run viable enterprises based on sustainably managing their forest assets.

This all needs local control of decision making. It also usually needs associations, alliances or federations of local groups to achieve scale and reliable external support for key actions such as developing technical and market information, building capacity, enabling local participation in wider regional or national decision making, and pushing for supportive policy. But in-country REDD strategies so far say nothing about any of this.

IIED facilitates the Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG) and it was members of this group that met in Namaacha. The group is made up of teams of well-connected forest practitioners and opinion leaders in ten countries across Africa and Asia. These teams work to establish the truth about forest problems and then try to take steps to influence the decisions that can tackle them. Most have got engaged in thinking and planning for REDD. For example, in Indonesia, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Vietnam — where REDD strategies are well advanced — they report over-hasty, formulaic and barely credible plans that could do more harm than good.

As we heard in Namaacha last week, the teams have experienced fast-developing national REDD strategies that focus on how to count and monitor carbon rather than how to bring about the major policy and capacity changes needed to be ‘ready’ for REDD. All are based on the idea that with enough money over two to four years, a top-down, government-led process will improve governance and give forest-based practitioners what they need to guarantee emissions reductions and qualify for REDD payments.

Build key bridges, not quick fixes

REDD strategies must stop avoiding what has been painfully learnt about the importance of rights, capacity, and motivation for good forest management and livelihoods. The need to verify emission reductions at national level does not mean that national governments must control the actions to deliver them. Quite the opposite — REDD must be locally controlled. Indeed, the fixation on carbon storage must be abandoned at strategy level — we will not reduce emissions by simply planning actions focused on the emissions themselves. But we can reduce them by planning to improve forest management and people’s livelihoods from the land. So, for example, we must include farming in REDD. Above all we must not allow the urgency, grand ambition and big money in REDD to create large-scale quick fixes — REDD must be carefully built from the ground up.

FGLG continues to push for this — and we are seeking allies. We will continue to convene the ‘fearless forums’, asking the critical questions, exploring the answers. We will focus on learning among practitioners, across countries and sites, and on wielding the evidence of ‘what works’. We have already produced films about tackling forest governance issues that work locally and internationally, as well as local theatre pieces, comics, policy briefs and targeted opinion pieces. We hope to provoke others by developing more models, guidance, tactics and steps on what locally controlled REDD would look like; how strategy processes can connect with reality and stimulate, rather than stymie, capacity; and how monitoring and accountability in governance can be hard-wired into REDD.

REDD is far from being a lost cause — it remains forestry’s best chance ever. But it needs turning on its head if this massive opportunity is to be seized to get things right.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut