OPINION: World Forestry Day reflections – what next for REDD+?
World Forestry Day on 21 March allows us to reflect on the many and varied benefits of forests to communities around the world. One of the biggest of these is the important role forests play in carbon sequestration and storage. Recent attention on forests from the international community has focused on this role in climate change mitigation, particularly through the REDD+ mechanism agreed as part of the UNFCCC agreements reached in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010.
But the agreement also took important steps to recognise the other roles that forests play. The Cancun Agreement on REDD+ sought to safeguard the multiple uses and benefits of forests, and discuss the challenges of integrating forests and REDD+ into broader low-carbon development strategies.
Throughout its development, the REDD+ mechanism has been criticised for focusing too heavily on the role of forests in the carbon cycle, to the exclusion of other values. The safeguards (Annex 1) in the REDD+ agreement recognise and promote these broader values, suggesting that REDD+ activities should take into account the ‘multiple functions of forests’ and be ‘implemented in the context of sustainable development and reducing poverty’. The safeguards also underline how the knowledge and rights of indigenous people and local communities, as well as full participation of local stakeholders, should be promoted and supported when undertaking REDD+ activities. But the success of these safeguards will be measured by the success of national-level implementation. This will determine how well the broader values are not only protected, but enhanced by REDD+.
In order for REDD+ effectively to protect additional forest values, and to be sustainable and effective in the long term, REDD+ will need to be integrated into broader low-carbon development strategies. Reducing emissions in the forest sector will necessarily involve changes in other sectors which drive deforestation and forest degradation, such as in agriculture and energy. So it’s vital that the equity impacts of all these changes are carefully analysed and managed.
Another way to embed REDD+ within a low-carbon development strategy is to ensure that the economic opportunities in the forest sector are maintained and enhanced, although they may be transformed to low-carbon alternatives – for example, jobs in commercial logging might be shifted to agroforestry. REDD+ may also provide opportunities for enhanced community benefits from forest conservation and sustainable management activities.
But the size and distribution of these potential benefits will depend on national and regional-level benefit distribution frameworks. To ensure that these are designed equitably, we’ll need a sound understanding of the costs and benefits of implementing various REDD+ policies and programmes, and to involve all stakeholders in the design process.
Forest protection at a large scale can increase the resilience of some sectors – such as hydropower, drinking water and tourism – which are particularly dependent on forests. However, the impact of REDD+ on adaptation is not always positive, and the design of REDD+ policies and programmes should carefully consider the present and future adaptation needs of forest-dependent communities. This will be necessary not just for implementing the internationally agreed safeguards, but also for effectively integrating REDD+ into countries’ low-carbon development agendas.