On paper, the outcomes on REDD+ from Doha hardly set your pulse racing. For the first time, there was no REDD+ agreement on methodologies from SBSTA – with the major sticking point being whether or not there is international independent verification of REDD+ actions, while the REDD+ finance discussions agreed little more than to keep talking next year. Much of the commentary since Doha has focused on the lack of progress in REDD+, with calls that the “honeymoon period is over”, in stark contrast to the days when REDD+ was viewed as the darling of the negotiations. In reality, the lack of progress in the REDD+ negotiations is a symptom of the wider politics of the climate change negotiations. As Bas Clabbers, REDD+ negotiator for the Netherlands tweeted, progress on REDD+ depends on overall progress – and “REDD+ is a minor issue in the endgame”. So does this spell concern for efforts to tackle emissions from forests?
Not necessarily. In contrast to the limp state of the negotiations, many countries – both developed and developing – are still committed to delivering REDD+. As the Doha negotiations took place, news broke of Norway depositing a further $180 million into Brazil’s Amazon fund in response to a drop in Brazil’s deforestation for the third year running; while the UK, Norway, US, Germany and Australia issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to working together to achieve REDD+.
On a panel at a side event organised by the Union of Concerned Scientists focused on achieving development and addressing the drivers of deforestation, we were asked whether the various efforts were enough (with a tone that indicated they didn’t think it was enough!). While the other panellists answered, I racked my brains to think of something positive to say – and had to accept that of course they’re not. While global deforestation rates are declining and there are examples of progress as a response to government, private sector and civil society interventions, the pace of this progress does not live up to the urgency or scale of the issue. But at the same time, there are interesting developments that offer me more hope and confidence about the direction that REDD+ is taking.
Over the past couple of years, there has been increasing recognition of the need to focus on the drivers of deforestation to deliver REDD+ and, with that, recognition that this means looking beyond the “forest sector” to consider forests as part of a wider landscape (as can be seen in the shift from CIFOR’s forests day to the future focus on landscapes). And this shift in thinking reflects the paradigm shift needed in countries to deliver REDD+. Rather than a discrete project with clear boundaries, REDD+ requires a change in mindset about the role of forests and wider land use to meet development needs and achieve environmental sustainability. This means finding ways to strengthen coordination between different sectors – as was the focus of a recent paper by ODI “Unlocking progress on REDD+: sector coordination in Uganda”. There needs to be the involvement not only of government actors, vital for their role in putting in place, and enforcing, the necessary enabling environment to incentivise change, but also private sector actors that need to and can drive change through their own actions and investments.
So, where does this leave the UNFCCC negotiations on REDD+ going forward? The nature of the process means that it is unlikely to be the sort of dynamic and inclusive table at which to bring together all these actors and achieve progress. But this doesn’t mean there’s no role for the UNFCCC to play. Securing long-term finance to support REDD+ efforts is vital to provide an adequate incentive for developing countries to continue to take action. But this is too big a mouthful for the REDD+ negotiators to bite off. Instead it relies on progress in the wider negotiations and without this the REDD+ negotiators will continue to stumble over political pitfalls that hold up progress on issues that appear to be purely technical.
As they again turn their attention to the drivers of deforestation in 2013, giving a signal that all actors should work to address the drivers of deforestation – including international drivers – would provide a stimulus for ongoing action around the negotiations. Just as forests need to be considered within their wider landscape, the UNFCCC discussions on REDD+ are part of a wider landscape of action that collectively needs to drive progress on tackling forest emissions.