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FEATURE: Tropical forest countries explore the keys to unlocking REDD+ finance

 CDKN’s Mairi Dupar reports from the first global conference on Reporting for Results-based REDD+

In late January, more than 50 forest and climate change experts from around the world gathered in Milan, Italy, to share their progress on measuring the carbon stocks in forests, agriculture and other lands. They were as diverse and far flung as the tiny Pacific nation of Vanuatu and the large central African nation of Democratic Republic of Congo. They share a common desire to save their countries’ tropical forests, for the benefit of local populations and the global climate. They also share the goal of accessing international finance to pay for forest conservation.

Deforestation and other land use changes account for a third of the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity. However, stopping deforestation is a complicated job and needs many resources. For instance, it requires government officials to enforce forest protection laws, monitor and  fight fires, and work constructively with private businesses and communities – and local development to give people alternatives to cutting trees.

Finance for forests: a long game

The conference participants are involved in a long-term effort to obtain sustainable financing for forest conservation. The essential first step is to create greenhouse gas inventories associated with different kinds of land use change over time.

If they can report robust and reliable data to the United Nations, and show that they are reducing or turning around deforestation (and so avoiding or reducing emissions) or increasing forest carbon stocks by conserving forests or establishing new ones, then they will be eligible for ‘results-based’ funding for REDD+. REDD+ stands for  ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks’.

CDKN and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN) are supporting a total of 21 tropical forest countries to muster the best possible forest and land use emissions data for the task, and help them get REDD+ funds flowing. The project builds capacity for measuring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and enhancement of carbon stocks in agriculture, forest and other land use – working with technical specialists in the countries concerned. The finance may eventually come from foreign governments, or equally, from businesses and agencies looking to offset their emissions by paying for forest conservation (and emissions saving) elsewhere. The three-year CfRN-CDKN project is called Reporting for Results-based REDD+ and is funded by the Government of Norway. The global conference in Milan was the first time that representatives from all 21 participating countries gathered to compare progress and investigate common challenges.

Gathering data on land use: the first hurdle

The 21 governments are at different stages of ‘REDD+ readiness’. Some have already filed several reports to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (reports known in UN lingo as National Communications, Biennial Update Reports and Forest Emissions Reference Levels/Forest Reference Levels). Others are barely off the starting blocks.

Despite the differences in achievement, participants highlighted a strikingly similar set of challenges when it comes to the national ‘stocktaking’ of their forest- and land-based emissions. The challenges are as much institutional as they are technical:

  • Lack of access to data. This may be due to difficulties in motivating colleagues across government to cooperate and share data.
  • Lack of consistent data. Sometimes different domestic agencies are using different methodologies to calculate land use emissions (or different data sets, from different satellite services, for instance).
  • Different arms of government work at cross purposes. In the worst cases, different arms of government are reporting to the UN on forest and land use and related emissions, and the numbers are out of sync with each other.
  • Lack of political attention and support to REDD+ and the implications (including opportunities) for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Participants identified a ‘catch 22’ situation by which they need robust, credible data about the state of the country’s forests to convince high level policy-makers of the case for forest conservation and financing. And by the same token, political leadership is needed to get all branches of government cooperating together to generate that reliable and consistent data. Which comes first, and how to jump-start a virtuous cycle of motivation and cooperation.

‘People’ solutions for complex problems

Many of the solutions that will help to get countries ‘REDD+ ready’ by gathering adequate data are people-orientated solutions. Initial suggestions included:

  • Mount an informal ‘campaign’ geared to specific groups within government: It might take a campaign-style approach to get people thinking beyond their ‘turf’ and in the mindset for data-sharing on forest and land use. Line up arguments about the benefits of data-sharing: not just for the country as a whole, but for the ministry or agency (or individual) that holds the data. What’s in it for them? If you cannot answer that question, then think about what tangible return you can offer for their cooperation. How will you make the improved, standardised forest, land and emissions data available to others, and how will that make them more effective in their work?
  • Work toward formal Memoranda of Understanding between agencies: It’s not enough to win hearts and minds. Get the data-sharing commitment in writing and, if possible, in a form that is likely to outlast turnover among political leaders, and establish long-lasting channels for data exchange among technical officers.
  • Work towards centralised data archives: Fragmentation of data is the enemy and so, there was a common call among conference participants for centralised national bodies for data archiving and analysis. Despite the strength of support for this idea, few countries reported that they have centralised bodies (yet) with standard methods and strong quality assurance.
  • Consider how to create shared accountability to a national focal point: Representatives from the Government of Panama said that they had made strides in marshalling data once a central government climate change committee was established, to which diverse data-holders must report. This new accountability mechanism has brought people out of their agency silos.
  • Recognise that it takes significant human resources: Although representatives from the 21 countries were confident that they had pinpointed key problems and solutions to greenhouse gas emissions measuring and reporting, many of them acknowledge painstakingly slow progress. One reason is that it takes a lot of human resource to coordinate among players and build better institutions. Discussions turned toward sources of funding that would help developing countries to become ‘REDD+ ready’. Luckily, major international climate finance institutions, such as the Green Climate Fund, do have money available for countries to prepare the data and documents necessary to tee up for larger grants and loans. In his presentation, GCF Board member Tosi Mpanu Mpanu described the different opportunities to access readiness funding from the GCF.

The bottom line message was: keep working on the people side of the equation that will facilitate data-sharing, and consider the resulting national technical reports as products to be iterated and improved over time. When a country submits its forest, land cover and emissions reporting to the UNFCCC, there are built-in rounds of technical review and quality assurance, on the UNFCCC’s side. Even so, it is expected that even once a country’s report is accepted, the government will continue to improve the accuracy of its data in future reporting cycles.

New technical tools on the horizon

Finally, the Global Conference heard that new technical tools are due to be launched imminently. These will bring the possibility of more standardised data sets for countries, using the power of Google Earth images. Danilo Mollicone of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization treated participants to a sneak preview of the Collect Earth application, which will enable users to derive accurate land use data from Google Earth views.

New tools such as these may, eventually, allow those responsible for country reporting to the UN to overcome some of the difficult institutional issues that currently stymie their efforts. Such tools will provide a high quality, free, international source of granular, nationally- and subnationally-relevant information.

We will bring more news on Collect Earth when it launches in mid-2018 and will publish more lessons learned about Reporting for Results-based REDD+ as the 21 countries’ efforts progress – watch this space.

Keep track of the Reporting for Results-based REDD+ project on:

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