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Norway puts $1.6B into rainforest conservation

Tropical rainforest. Photos by Rhett Butler
Tropical rainforest. Photos by Rhett Butler.

Since 2008 Norway has been the single largest foreign donor to tropical forest conservation, putting more than 10 billion Norwegian Krone, or $1.6 billion, toward programs in several countries under its International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI). But how effective have those funds been in actually protecting forests? A new assessment by the country’s Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) concludes that the program is indeed having an impact despite an inauspicious start.

Norway burst onto the rainforest conservation scene in 2007 when it pledged to allocate up to NOK3 billion per year from its aid budget for programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The concept, known as REDD+, aims to offer performance-based incentives for environmental stewardship, rather than the traditional conservation model, which often funds projects that lack concrete measures of success.

Norway’s first major country-level commitment was a billion dollar pledge to Brazil. That was followed by similar agreements with Guyana, Tanzania, and Indonesia, as well as funds for civil society and initiatives run by the U.N. and the World Bank.

But while the dollars committed were substantial, there have been open questions about the effectiveness of various programs, especially in sectors and countries rife with poor governance and corruption. For example, deforestation in Indonesia has remained stubbornly high — even increasing by some measures — despite Norway’s money.

Norway has pledged a billion dollars to both Brazil and Indonesia, representing 60 percent of its pledges to date. But while Brazil has received some $720 million in disbursements, Indonesia had gotten only $30 million due to lack of capacity and readiness as well as a later start to the program.

However the new report claims “considerable progress” in three critical priority areas: including forests in a new new international climate regime, establishing the infrastructure needed for performance-based compensation for reducing deforestation, and promoting natural forest conservation.

“The evaluation points out that the initiative has made considerable progress. In general positive results have been achieved in the three climate change goals,” said Ida Hellmark, an adviser in Norad’s Evaluation Department, in a statement. “The initiative has been crucial for the international work on setting up systems to reduce deforestation. With regard to the development goal, the initiative has assisted in mapping forest areas, thus clarifying who has the right to use the forest.”

“Better governance has been achieved by mapping the land and the activities that take place in the forests and by identifying who owns them. Civil society has played a significant role in the work on anti-corruption measures, illegal tree felling and the rights of indigenous people.”

Another bright spot has been the substantial drop in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2008, part of a continuing decline in forest loss in the region over the past decade.

Nonetheless, the report finds some areas for improvement. For example, it notes that money given to the U.N. and World Bank has not been well-spent to date.

“The multilateral organizations are ineffective and badly coordinated,” stated Norad. “The multilateral organizations are also increasing the number of countries they support even though many of the countries that have already received support show little progress. The cause of the lack of progress should therefore be analyzed before more new countries are included.”

The report also concludes that results-based financing may not work in some countries, while uncertainty about REDD+ financing could jeopardize the whole concept of payment for performance.

“The lack of certainty over results based REDD+ funding is regarded as the single greatest risk to progress yet there has been a lack of attention to the cost of systems in relation to national capacity and the likely levels of REDD+ finance available to sustain them,” states the report. “Readiness activities have so far been overly focused on start-up costs, with insufficient attention given to running costs and whether these will be affordable by partner countries given the likely level of rewards to be earned.”

Deforestation for palm oil production in Indonesia

CITATION: Norad. Real-Time Evaluation of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative. Synthesising Report 2007-2013. August 2014

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