In Redeeming REDD: Policies, Incentives and Social Feasibility for Avoided Deforestation, anthropologist Michael Brown relays a constructive critique of the contemporary aims, standards and modalities for mitigating climate change by reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). Brown advocates for REDD as a viable mechanism for the long-term pro-poor conservation and restoration of tropical forests as well—but only if local forest dwellers and Indigenous. Peoples can join the negotiating table and act as forest stewards. Local people must first be empowered to make ‘socially feasible’ decisions that are necessary for their livelihoods and well-being. In other words, there can be no environmentalism without credible local leadership, which requires investment in capacity building at the local level for sustainable institutions.
As an industry, REDD has evolved from RED to REDD to REDD+. Brown describes in great detail in Redeeming REDD how the devolution of responsibilities and social glue necessary to make REDD+ successful on-the-ground has not emerged as quickly as the ‘participatory’ and ‘technological’ fixes associated with the measuring, monitoring and selling of forest carbon sequestration.
AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL BROWN
Rainforest in Borneo. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mongabay: How has the evolution of REDD+ addressed social concerns such as participation and local representation?
Michael Brown: Both United Nations (UN)-driven processes (UNFCCC and UN-REDD) and voluntary market initiatives have stressed the concept of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), as well as so-called ‘social safeguards’— policies, actions or conditions that protect people from harm. But FPIC is neither binding at national policy levels nor at specific project levels. Recognition of FPIC to achieve it comes from standard setters and auditors such as the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA). And so long as the quality of FPIC obtained is debatable in many program and project settings, obtaining FPIC appears most useful, for the time being, to investors and project developers as opposed to communities themselves. In general, while ‘social safeguards’ utilize so-called ‘best practices’ from development and conservation for consultation and community-level ‘participation’, these do not necessarily mean social feasibility is being achieved.
My book, Redeeming REDD, discusses why, while necessary, social safeguards—and FPIC in particular as currently applied—may be insufficient to assure that REDD programs and projects will work. Even where validation and verification of social safeguards and FPIC may be achieved by CCBA auditors, for example, my book highlights why dubious conclusions about the actual feasibility of REDD projects may remain. Thus, projects may apply safeguards and achieve FPIC, while still not being socially feasible. My book discusses in detail why sufficient local representation and leadership are not necessarily reflected in the application of ‘social safeguards’.
Presently, social feasibility is not an issue of explicit concern to REDD thought leadership and project developers. Rather, it is “apparently” subsumed under FPIC and social safeguards or soundness. I say “apparently” simply because feasibility is generally not an issue directed to social dimensions, but is instead more generally associated with ‘technical’ measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) concerns. But, when it comes to something like local representation, for example, why should feasibility in approach and the outputs thereby generated be of any less concern, especially since sustainability is paramount for REDD and can only be achieved through the active and effective local empowerment and partnership between many different groups of people?
In Redeeming REDD, I also argue that the REDD empirical record shows that many central social feasibility concerns are not covered by obtaining FPIC and applying social safeguards. So while FPIC and social safeguards are promoted as REDD thought leaders contend, the sense and interpretation of what these terms should mean vary enormously among the range of REDD stakeholders. In my opinion, adequate local representation is therefore not guaranteed through current applications of ‘best practice’ to obtain FPIC or employ social safeguards.
Applying ‘lessons learned’ from biodiversity conservation for how local representation in REDD policy settings and project development should occur simply repeats questionable practices from the standpoint of effectiveness, equity, and sustainability. The fact that practices are labeled by standard setters as ‘best practice’ when it comes to enabling local representation just confers an air of authority and inevitability. And this authoritative air only replicates what I argue, as have Benno Polorny, Imme Scholz, and Wil de Jong for most Amazonian ‘pro-poor’ REDD contexts, is “the classic development approach widely disregarding smallholders’ capacities to contribute to local development”.
So, REDD projects clearly do attempt to attend to local ‘participation’. However, the manner in which they do so is hardly innovative. It simply replicates approaches that employ inadequate tools that lead to all too frequent disappointing outcomes, based on project information available to date in the public domain. And while efforts to employ ‘theories of change’ and ‘participatory’ appraisals as key components in participatory program design is potentially useful from a monitoring and evaluation standpoint, as is being done in many voluntary REDD projects and programs, the lack of rigorous criteria for what defines ‘participation’ and a ‘theory of change’ to measure milestones key to social feasibility is, I believe, sorely lacking.
Arguably, local representation and capacities to engage in planning and decision making have been inadequately addressed by REDD programming from the onset. Current innovations established by industry standard setters are just not establishing the right kind of minimum feasibility thresholds in projects either. To a degree, this was predictable given that the methods employed for community mobilization and ‘all things social’ have become derivative of ‘best practices’ in the conservation and development arenas. Unfortunately, these have never been critically or systematically assessed for impact, and the relation between practice, results, and outcomes in conservation practice is oftentimes unclear. One project currently attempting to redress this by bolstering results and impact monitoring and evaluation of forestry and biodiversity projects is the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Measuring Impacts initiative.
Perhaps the empirical record will show that local leadership and representation in REDD projects will change for the better in years to come. But it is unclear to me how, based on my current reading of ‘best practices’ and the exigencies of donors and investors, this will come to be. Local representation will in my estimation continue to suffer, as the methods used are more useful for project developers and catalyzing funding flows than for facilitating effective local empowerment.
Mongabay: How could greater local representation improve REDD?
Michael Brown: The first thing required is to provide common sense of the term ‘greater’. If ‘greater’ is meant to mean that more groups have been recognized as having provided FPIC to project developers, yet the FPIC in turn remains ill-defined, particularly as related to what ‘informed’ means, than greater numbers of FPIC-certified projects would in my view not lead to much improvement in REDD; nor would more checklists of participatory meetings. Manufacturing more arrows with little wood behind them does not seem that logical to me.
Deforestation in Panama. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
If, on the other hand, ‘greater local representation’ refers to more local people in each and every REDD initiative understanding the nature of agreements they will or may be engaging in with international partners, where all the ‘technical’ jargon along with relative arcane notions such as benefit-sharing arrangements are explored and agreed to after careful consideration of trade-offs involving a credible, grounded local cost benefit and risk analysis—what someone like Larry Page may suggest is “putting more wood behind fewer arrows”—than this type of greater local representation inclusive of the diversity of forest-dwelling local communities would indeed be a welcome change.
To get there, however, will require a different set of REDD standards, in my opinion, along with an additional layer of capacity building and empowerment methodologies that will increase transaction costs. Such increases appear anathema to REDD project developers, as the minimization of transaction costs has been a recurrent theme among REDD thought leaders and project developers from the get go.
In my view, this penny-wise, pound foolish approach to addressing social feasibility and local devolution got REDD off on a very poor footing. And I see little indication that adequate corrections are on the way. And of course, for any correction to the current REDD trajectory, thought leaders and policy makers would need to see that social and local participation issues need to be addressed very differently than at present. That recognition does not appear to be one that is broadly shared.
Mongabay: How then do you envision REDD growing to embrace greater local representation and empowerment?
Michael Brown: Unless REDD policy setters and project developers verifiably demonstrate the ability to better engage local peoples along the lines discussed in the preceding question, I do not see how concessional funding flows will increase (or should increase), nor private investor funds obtained, to enable REDD to go to the scales originally envisioned (e.g., billions of dollars projected in the heady early days of REDD).
This will simply be because, in my opinion, the number of failed initiatives and protests against them will progressively rise and increasingly become known in the public domain over time. Furthermore, as REDD Monitor’s September 21st feature on Norway’s REDD burn rate suggests, even spending money already allocated to governments and the World Bank for REDD readiness is not proving as simple as envisioned — much to do I suspect with institutional absorptive capability and indirectly, the feasibility of broad rollout of REDD programming.
Birdnest fern in Madagascar rainforest. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
While REDD+ issues certainly go beyond forest community representation on the frontlines, this aspect of stakeholder engagement cannot continue to be the caboose to the REDD train if REDD+ is to become feasible and scalable. Thus, for REDD to grow enough to conserve significant tropical forest areas in collaboration with local forest stewards as their advocates, official donor-assisted and discretionary philanthropic or investment-backed REDD+ will have to demand that greater local representation be achieved prior to the engagement of project developers and auditors in REDD programs. And if funders, official or private, fail to do so, then I do not see why and how REDD should grow. Why? The corpus of REDD projects will, in all likelihood, not provide a basis for reasoned future investment.
Mongabay: What is your ultimate outlook on REDD? Will REDD+ or something REDD-like be in place to effectively reduce deforestation and forest degradation 10 years from now?
Michael Brown: Those are million dollar questions, which in today’s world of course do not represent that much money, save for most Ituri or Amazonian forest dwellers. Personally, I attach less significance to the acronym REDD than to the substantive issues behind it.
But to answer your questions, given the investment in the first generation of REDD policy and programming by key intergovernmental stakeholders, governments with bilateral aid programs, big conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international development banks, a number of intermediary private sector groups, and even some private investment banks have, I doubt that these stakeholders will simply allow REDD to disappear or be transformed into a different acronym with similar ambitions without a bit of tussle along the way. Conservation International’s recent ‘SOS call’ for more investment in REDD+ is indicative of a creeping concern that momentum and belief in REDD may be degrading.
To be clear: the ambitions of REDD at the outset were noble, and the concept had great intuitive appeal for some of us. Who after all is conceptually opposed to tantalizing win-win-win scenarios)? And the need to achieve what REDD+ is seeking to achieve that is pro-poor, pro-biodiversity, and pro-climate is no less critical today than when early thought leaders were driving it 10 or so years ago.
However, I have doubts about whether the global community has the wherewithal to step up and do what needs to be done for REDD in its current basic incarnation to succeed—that is to use the current global climate change negotiations framework to raise the standards for how policies and funding are set for either compliance or voluntary purposes. It is why I suggest in Redeeming REDD that a few key discretionary and impact investors play a major role in driving a new negotiation process, in collaboration with governments and more importantly with the local stakeholders key to forest stewardship to secure socially feasible ‘permanence’ and mitigate against ‘leakage’ across regions.
Unfortunately, I fear, only people with significant financial means and vision will be able to exert leverage over the process to influence governments and ultimately, all those currently driving the REDD agenda. The key in my opinion goes back to the negotiation of viable social contracts linking diverse stakeholders and partners to avoid deforestation with local people at the negotiating table, and preferably in the driver’s seat in situations where it is appropriate and potentially feasible.
At present, there is no clear, viable social contract underpinning the policies and projects in which all the REDD planning has occurred at national, subnational, and/or local levels. Yes, of course the rhetoric of ‘participatory development’ has flourished, as it so often does. But this belies a more disturbing reality that the ‘participation’ appears, from available public domain evidence, to be wanting, and the FPIC that has been obtained in specific projects is suspect as well, given the wishy-washy definitions for ‘free’, ‘informed’ and ‘consent’. I will leave ‘prior’ aside for the time being.
If sustainable development and conservation stakeholders driving REDD at policy and project levels were able to see that the only way REDD’s future can be viable is by facilitating in-depth negotiation among key stakeholders, then maybe there would be reason to be optimistic. And by key stakeholders, I mean those persons able to provide catalytic or more substantial impact financing for performance-based avoided deforestation and the local peoples who must lead in the stewardship of these forest resources (even potentially on public forest lands or where their customary rights to forest lands may not be recognized by national Constitutions or by legal title).
If, however, the process continues to be dominated by intergovernmental agencies, a handful of private sector firms, and big conservation NGOs providing funding to standard setters, as well as the conservation NGOs who are the main sources of REDD ‘innovation’, then I would say grounds for optimism should be tempered.
Mongabay: Do you think the outright rejection of REDD during the concept’s early days sidelined key groups who could have helped ensure a better job of incorporating local representation?
Michael Brown: I was not involved in REDD’s early days beyond being a distant observer, so cannot speak intelligently to any outright rejection of it. My book does, however, cover a lot of why stakeholders to avoiding deforestation continue to reject REDD, along with others more removed who reject the approach and apparent injustices caused by REDD projects and oppose REDD for its underlying market-based premises.
The issue of rejection of REDD remains, in my opinion, one of both perceived and real inclusion in establishing priorities and realistic programs. To simplify matters a bit, one might refer to the archive of REDD-Monitor.org. This archive, arguably the single best repository of all things controversial in the evolution of REDD, reveals critiques by a range of civil society organizations in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific about how REDD programming has evolved through national ‘consultation’ processes. For many, the consultative processes instituted were dissatisfying and unsatisfactory, and continue to be so even years into the process. This has to do with how REDD is currently framed for national and subnational levels.
At project levels, in my opinion, there has been a more diffuse or academic critique because: (a) projects are still evolving and local community level stakeholders engaged in REDD are no doubt hopeful that benefit sharing arrangements will play out as their interlocutors have advertised; (b) there is limited public domain information available on how inclusive consultative and planning processes have been, such that more focus has been placed on international and national level processes when it comes to REDD policy and programming; (c) at local forest user and customary right holder levels, the degree of politicization and sophistication as to REDD and its offerings are likely not as well developed as at higher structural levels (national and international) such that outright rejection has yet to occur in many local project-level situations. Obviously, this situation may change if and as negative impacts or disappointment over any unrealistic original expectations of what REDD is delivering in terms of benefit sharing actually are factored into local understandings.
In general, I believe so long as local people remain marginal players in setting priorities and uninvolved in the negotiations of conditions fundamental to their representation in REDD programs as engaged REDD advocates, practitioners and leaders, the sustainability of REDD, inclusive of forest permanence and leakage avoidance objectives, will likely be negatively impacted. REDD planners must ensure that local forest resource stewards become owners of REDD planning and decision making, as opposed to the more traditional, objectified ‘beneficiaries’ or ‘stakeholder participants’ who are consulted but who in all honesty never really understand or fully buy in to the how and why of what is being promoted and conserved.
And this goes beyond consideration of any certification of FPIC that local communities, through their elected or select ‘chosen’ leaders, may have conferred on REDD projects. Again, with so much latitude in how auditors can interpret FPIC, any reasonably appearing and documented efforts to consult with local stakeholders can seem to pass muster for FPIC and ‘participation’. I believe this is not just delusional, but in fact is counterproductive to all who hope to promote avoided deforestation.
Rainforest tree in Java. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
For REDD to have a prayer of working short-term, and for it to become sustainable, local forest dwellers and Indigenous Peoples must become sustainably engaged and empowered as leaders able to advocate for and make key decisions. They must become co-owners of REDD initiatives and believe that their involvement is equitable.
If local people come to learn, for example, that nominal statements for any, say, 50% benefit sharing arrangements (after international pro-rata development costs may be deducted by project developers) really do not translate in practice to much, or become ‘gifts’ based on ‘rapid participatory appraisals’ of their ‘needs’ that require them to give up something they did not agree to or receive something that will not last or eventually makes them poorer, then they may come to feel duped, despite rhetoric to the contrary. This would simply be confirmation of their marginalization, despite public relations statements by REDD project developers to the contrary.
Additionally, while I am a social scientist (anthropologist) by training, the role that social scientists have played thus far in REDD programming, which is as much if not more of a social issue than a technocratic one, is worthy of reflection. Too much stock, as has often been the case, is put on ‘experts’ providing insights on what is needed to help projects get funding. This translates into what ‘social boxes’ are needed to get checked in order for funding flows. In the case of REDD, whatever has been construed by social scientists and evaluators as credible ‘theories of change’ or stronger ‘social safeguards’ has been promoted at the expense of locally-driven social analysis aimed at identifying the capacity building and institution building must-haves that would lead to community empowerment as determined by forest dwellers themselves. By participating in ‘social soundness’ analyses to help explain to decision makers what needs to be done, social scientists can unwittingly perpetuate the marginalization of local peoples, precluding their empowerment as analysts and decision makers for REDD to work—if expert analysis becomes the only or primary tool for assessing all things social.
There are alternatives to expert guidelines and standard checklists, including toolkits that do prioritize community-level capacity building in analyses of costs, benefits, and risks for different pathways in land and resource use in tropical forests. One example, known as the Community Options Analysis and Investment Toolkit (COAIT), was developed during seven years of funding with USAID and the World Wildlife Fund in Central Africa with a now defunct NGO called Innovative Resources Management. The COAIT toolkit is designed for external facilitators to enable communities to undertake what they need to do in terms of ecological, social, and economic data generation and analysis to reach credible forest use planning decisions. By choosing not to systematically invest in these kinds of approaches, and by relying on big international NGOs as the principal experts for intergovernmental agencies to put REDD policy and project planning into practice—versus say many viable civil society ‘umbrella’ organizations—the opportunity for engendering strong local buy-in was lost.
So although some rainforest nations such as Papua New Guinea took a lead in REDD, when it was acknowledged that national capacities and corruption control were not up to par and fears grew regarding the impermanence of forest carbon and leakage due to unsustainable project actions, reputable big NGOs took the lead and received the lion’s share of funding to launch REDD. Unfortunately, this strategy has often undermined local representation and REDD’s credibility at international and national levels, and continues to plague REDD to this day.
Mongabay: Which REDD projects or programs do you think integrate local representation effectively?
Michael Brown: I have not been asked to systematically evaluate any REDD projects on the ground. In my book, I used a simple criterion for speaking to REDD projects and programs: what information is available in the public domain and what information am I aware of either in gray or published literature? I also considered other, mostly online, communications.
Rainforest cleared for oil palm plantations in Borneo. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
The one REDD+ case that seems most intriguing to me and that may reflect a success story is that of the Surui of Brazil, which was recently reported by Forest Trends on the Ecosystem Marketplace. As there are few Surui—about 1,000 based on my understanding—and because Surui leadership reportedly took the initiative to approach Forest Trends and was able to envision a 50-year plan for their community with the sustained institutional and legal support from Forest Trends, Baker & McKenzie, Google, USAID as a donor, and the company Natura as carbon credit purchaser, the Surui experience seems highly positive and reflects well on what could be.
This is especially true if the Surui situation of local REDD leadership could be replicated by other Indigenous Peoples in Brazil and elsewhere, where their forest carbon and resource rights are already secured or can be secured in the near future. Clearly, for cases where Indigenous Peoples can demonstrate rights to forest resources and the Constitutions of their respective countries support them, the potential for similar success is there.
That said, for REDD to play out feasibly, even in other Brazilian or other Indigenous Peoples situations, there are a number of other variables that need attending to, including the capacity of forest dwelling communities and their leaders to engage and show stewardship, clear forest carbon rights for the purposes of a REDD agreement, and the substantial means and partnerships to fund and sustain the varied community initiatives to do what is needed à la Surui. In short, while tenure is a fundamental necessary precondition, it is insufficient to advance REDD. Other conditions relating to enhanced social capital and institutional capacities must be in place too. For if there is one thing the Surui case demonstrates, having a strong and credible leader that listens to his constituents is paramount.
Unfortunately, based on my reading of available public domain information of programs and projects elsewhere, I honestly have no basis for saying that there are similar cases of effectiveness. I just have not seen or heard of REDD projects really incorporating local leadership and representation that advocates for avoided deforestation and involves a longer-term vision for a local sustainable economy that can reduce poverty, create jobs, and blend ecotourism, traditional land use, and the sustainable harvesting and marketing of varied non-timber forest products using modern scientific approaches paired with local knowledge and know-how.
Mongabay: Do you believe that a carbon market-based approach to REDD, whether voluntary or for compliance, is compatible with local representation and current social safeguards?
Michael Brown: Neoliberal critics argue that REDD as constructed, with an emphasis on structuring avoided deforestation through carbon markets, is incompatible with local peoples’ interests. Thus, to critics, local representation is not well served through market-based approaches. My own opinion is a bit more nuanced.
In Redeeming REDD, I make the point that I have met enough local peoples, indigenous and otherwise, in very remote places over the past 30 to 40 years who engage in markets and are happy to do so. And the apparently successful case of the Surui mentioned above is obviously constructive.
Rainforest waterfall in Uganda. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
That said, the manner in which carbon markets have been brought to local peoples generally — the nature of agreements for marketing carbon, how decisions are made regarding resource use and conservation, what local peoples understand themselves to be agreeing to, whether there is informed understanding across communities where FPIC has apparently been obtained — is in my mind highly suspect.
So at present, based on what I have seen, heard, and read in publicly available documents, I would say that market-based REDD is not compatible with current local ‘participation’ efforts. On the other hand, I do not rule out that market-based REDD could be compatible with local stewardship and leadership. There would have to be a transformation in approach to make it so. I am not sure the main thought leaders and those currently driving REDD projects and programs have the wherewithal to do what it takes to give market-based REDD a chance to work from the perspective of local peoples, by bringing key stakeholders together in a way that empowers local people to be negotiators and decision makers. So most probably, market-based approaches will not prove compatible with local ‘participation’ and FPIC alone.
Mongabay: Can REDD become an effective climate mitigation tool that reduces both deforestation and degradation?
Michael Brown: At present, no. But if REDD can be revisited, along the lines I suggest in the book, which I briefly outline above, then yes.
Mongabay: So what is the new REDD+ roadmap you propose? And what would a socially feasible REDD+ initiative look like?
Michael Brown: The current REDD model needs rethinking. Strategies — including tools, methods and approaches (TMAs) — need rethinking. Most importantly, in my opinion, REDD social standards need upgrading towards more rigorous social feasibility criteria beyond their current wishy-washy and checklist-oriented status.
The transformation of REDD strategies and approaches will only be achieved when local people and persons in positions of power demand it. This transformation could perhaps occur in the following order: impact investors who hold considerable leverage over potential major investment infusions and have the ability to be innovate and catalytic; governments agree to support negotiations for better locally adaptable and feasible approaches to avoid deforestation have the vision and incentivize such adaptations; frontline forest communities, who are unable to hold off international deforestation and forest degradation drivers, are able to engage with governments and project developers effectively. A mix of economic and policy incentives with local-level capacity building thereafter will be needed to systematically and comprehensively make REDD work.
The ideal REDD+ project cannot be prescribed and should be adjusted to each local situation. My book gets into this in greater detail. But at a minimum, a viable performance-based REDD project would assure that all steps to balance social feasibility with technical feasibility from an MRV and economic standpoint are made; ongoing monitoring and evaluation are sustained thereafter once social feasibility is achieved; followed by adaptive management if social and technical feasibility are challenged.
REDD projects would have to ensure that the drive to reduce project transaction costs does not eat into what is needed to assure and sustain social feasibility so that forest dwelling and Indigenous Peoples can co-own and drive REDD initiatives as empowered advocates. Grounded decisions on what to do for REDD to achieve social feasibility should therefore involve the assessment of information about climate change trends, the costs and benefits of mitigating climate change from deforestation and forest degradation, and the full range of values brought to the table by different stakeholders, including those not often invited to the negotiating table such as women or marginalized or unrecognized ethnicities.
Between climate trends, cost-benefit issues, and values, the latter is arguably the most difficult to reach any kind of consensus over at global and even local scales. Values influence the extent to which costs can be willingly imposed by certain stakeholder groups over others in the name of collective goods. If imposed, as social scientists have shown has already occurred by most conservation, conflict is likely to ensue in REDD projects as well. The nominal participatory approaches typically used in REDD efforts are prone to potentially engendering conflict, and are just too risky to be applied universally on the basis of ‘best practice’ distinctions. They tend to co-opt, manipulate, and mask social complexities as much or more than they promote any genuine participation, empowerment, and social feasibility.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
As discussed, social feasibility relates to the adequacy by which programs and projects address social dimensions and demonstrate minimum thresholds as judged by the communities involved. These relate to several domains discussed in greater detail in Redeeming REDD, including the adequacy of governance and social inclusion arrangements in planning, the adequacy of measures in place to enhance and safeguard livelihoods and de facto tenure security, the adequacy of proposed benefit sharing arrangements, and the adequacy of resource allocation dedicated to improving communities’ present and future prospects. In community contexts, the judgment of ‘adequacy’ demands that multiple issues be evaluated against multivariate measures that leads to local consent or rejection of a REDD offering, and if consented to, measures for ensuring outcomes stay on track after they are first verified.
For auditors validating REDD social feasibility and FPIC, a variety of more in-depth questions would have to be assessed. For example, to what extent are local community members and leadership able to present the costs, benefits and risks of REDD proposals they considered and selected? How effectively has REDD information been vetted? To what degree are community decisions ‘representative’? To what degree are Indigenous Peoples, minorities, women, the elderly, and youth verifiably involved and participating in decision making? How well have they understood the issues? To what degree have external stakeholders together with community representatives assessed land tenure as a possible constraint or disabler, and identified what bundle of formal or informal biodiversity access and control rights are needed to justify moving forward with REDD? To what extent have favorable community outcomes been demanded and negotiated, or have communities simply accepted what was offered to them? To what extent have affected communities been adequately trained to partake in forest carbon MRV processes (as recent MRV research suggests they can and should be)? Can communities verifiably demonstrate analytical capacity for sufficiently astute policy and outcome analysis to merit FPIC?
If REDD+ projects now being implemented in the Readiness Phase were to be evaluated using some of the above criteria, few pilot projects would likely respond successfully to these criteria. Moreover, it is not clear if pilot projects are striving to be in the position to answer these questions at the end of the Readiness Phase, when rollout strategy for full REDD+ implementation is presumed for 2015.
However, I nevertheless believe that if impact investors fund and support more community-level groups to feasibly partake in REDD initiatives, the more effective (and easy) the negotiating of new social contracts for REDD will become. This will be the case at project levels, as well as policy and political levels involving rainforest states.
But a lot of ‘good things’ will need to happen to realign REDD stakeholders into effective collaborative action for such optimistic thinking to be realized in practice.
Michael Brown, MA, is the founder and President of Satya Development International LLC, a consultancy based in Washington DC. He has over 30 years of experience as an applied economic anthropologist in Africa and other regions working with non-governmental organizations and for-profit groups, primarily on USAID-funded projects for conservation and in other diverse sustainable development sectors.
How to order:
Paperback: Redeeming REDD: Policies, Incentives and Social Feasibility for Avoided Deforestation
Publisher: Earthscan from Routledge
Authors: Michael I. Brown
Nabiha Megateli-Das is a new contributor to mongabay.com, and an Atlanta-based communications, evaluation and strategy consultant to organizations and start-ups with public health, biodiversity or integrated sustainability missions.
With training, local communities can accurately and cost-effectively measure forest carbon
(10/29/2013) Provided two to three days of training, forest communities can accurately and cost-effectively measure biomass and other data needed to assess REDD+ projects, finds a new study published in the journal Ecology and Society.
40% of Brazil’s rural area owned by 1.4% of landholders
(10/16/2013) Forty percent of the 509 million hectares of land classified as ‘rural property’ in Brazil is owned by 1.4 percent of rural households, finds a new analysis conducted by a group of Brazilian NGO’s.
3 Peruvian states join sub-national push for REDD+
(10/11/2013) An initiative that is developing a framework for REDD+ programs at state and provincial levels gained three more members last week.
Credits from first African government-backed REDD+ project go on sale
(09/17/2013) Carbon credits generated from protecting thousands of hectares of endangered rainforest in northeastern Madagascar have now been certified for sale, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the project’s main organizer. The development represents the first time that credits generated by African government-owned project have been put on the voluntary carbon market.
Indigenous people of Honduras granted one million hectares of rainforest
(09/12/2013) One-hundred and fifty years after a treaty with England granted the Miskito people rights over their land–a treaty which was never fully respected–the government of Honduras has officially handed over nearly a million hectares (970,000 hectares) of tropical forest along the Caribbean Coast to the indigenous people. The Miskito are found along the eastern coast of both Honduras and Nicaragua and number around 200,000.
Amazon rainforest tribe sells REDD+ credits to Brazilian cosmetics giant
(09/10/2013) The Paiter-Suruí, a rainforest tribe that in June became the first indigenous group to generate REDD+ credits under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), has now closed their first deal. As reported by Ecosystem Marketplace, Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura Cosméticos has purchased 120,000 tons of carbon offsets from the the Surui Forest Carbon Project in Rondônia, Brazil.
Indonesia finally establishes REDD+ agency to tackle deforestation
(09/07/2013) Indonesia has finally established an agency to implement the country’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program. The REDD+ agency, established by a decree from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday, is a ministry-level body that will coordinate a national REDD+ strategy between various ministries that influence and control land use policy across the sprawling archipelago.
$450/ha tax on deforestation could help curb forest loss in Bolivia, suggests new simulation
(09/01/2013) Levying a $450 per hectare tax on deforested lands could help curb forest clearing in Bolivia, suggests a new game-based simulation developed by researchers.
UN REDD program failing to build capacity for indigenous people in Panama
(08/22/2013) The U.N.’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD) program may be faltering in Panama due to its failure to build capacity for indigenous people who should play a central role in the initiative, argue researchers writing in the journal Nature.
Researchers produce the most accurate carbon map for an entire country
(07/22/2013) Researchers working in Panama have produced the most accurate carbon map for an entire country. Using satellite imagery and extremely high-resolution Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data from airplane-based sensors, a team led by Greg Asner produced a detailed carbon map across the Central American country’s forests. The map reveals variations in forest carbon density resulting from elevation, slope, climate, vegetation type, and canopy coverage.
California’s next innovation: performance-based rainforest conservation (Commentary)
(07/22/2013) Californians are known as innovation leaders, and once again, we are on the verge of demonstrating critical leadership. Only this time it isn’t about the Internet, social networking, reality television, venture capital or electric cars. It is about stopping tropical deforestation and supporting local communities. ‘What!?’ you say? How is the great state of California, home of bankrupt and massive, thirsty desert cities and Silicon Valley, a place that elected such juggernauts of history as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, about to lead in avoiding tropical deforestation?
Deforestation rate falls in Congo Basin countries
(07/22/2013) Deforestation has fallen in Congo Basin countries over the past decade despite a sharp increase in the rate of forest clearing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a new study published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B as part of a set of 18 papers on the region’s tropical forests. The special issue, which was put together by Oxford University’s Yadvinder Malhi, covers a range of issues relating to the rainforests of the Congo Basin, including deforestation, the impacts of global change, the history and key characteristics of the region’s forests, and resource extraction, among others.
Developer of Indonesia’s first REDD+ project confirms status of forest conservation initiative
(07/19/2013) Infinite Earth, the developer behind Indonesia’s first approved REDD+ project, has refuted an NGO’s claims that the project has not been approved by the Indonesian government.
Panel lays out best practices for REDD+ credits in California’s carbon market
(07/19/2013) A panel of scientific experts has released a final report outlining how carbon credits generated from tropical forest conservation could be used under California’s cap-and-trade system while minimizing risks to forest-dependent communities and wildlife.