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Guest authors: Tefera Mengistu Woldie1, Ababu Anage2, Ivo Mulder3

A year has passed since an inception workshop was held in Addis Ababa to economically value Ethiopia’s forests. Now a validation workshop has ushered in the final phase of the initiative. The full studies are expected to be launched in June at a high-level event.

The validation workshop, opened by H.E. Ato Kebede Yimam, State Minister, Ministry of Environment and Forests, highlighted the importance of Ethiopia’s forests for its national income. Why is this relevant for the national REDD+ process?  The relevance of forests extends beyond timber and carbon sequestration to its ability to regulate water flows, reduce soil erosion, generate non-wood forest products, etc. Understanding the magnitude of these values provides a basis to strengthen REDD+ implementation. After all, investments to reduce deforestation and forest degradation or removing carbon through rehabilitation of degraded land is not only in the interest of mitigating climate change, but also makes macro-economic sense!

The UN-REDD Programme is supporting the Government of Ethiopia through Targeted Support to identify the actual contribution of forests to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Preliminary findings of the study show that the contribution of forests to GDP is underestimated. This has two reasons. First, the study found a substantially higher value added of wood fuel than currently estimated by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation. Figures for roundwood were also slightly revised upward. Second, forests contribute significantly to other sectors, particularly agriculture. The collection of fodder for livestock, but also forest coffee, honey production and prevention of soil erosion are all tangible economic contributions that forest ecosystems provide to Ethiopia’s agricultural sector. These are tangible economic contributions and compatible with the System of National Accounts (SNA), which forms the basis for estimating GDP. Given that agriculture contributes significantly to Ethiopia’s GDP and that a substantial part of the population works in this sector, the study has effectively visualized the indirect but tangible contribution that forests make to this important sector.

So what’s next? First, the results will be shared with senior politicians during a high-level event scheduled for 15 June. Following the release, and even before, the Government of Ethiopia is looking for ways to embed the key results and recommendations in the REDD+ policy process. Stay tuned!


1Advisor State Minister of Forests, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change.

2Climate change specialists, UNDP Ethiopia.

3REDD+ Economics Advisor, UNEP.

Forest Fires in Sumatraphoto credit: Greenpeace

By Jaime Webbe, UNEP Programme Management Officer

Peatlands are found all over the world, come in many forms, display many different characteristics and are used in many different ways. Within the tropics most peatlands are forested, including large tracts in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Central Africa. However peatlands have recently come under increased threats including from overexploitation, deforestation, and fire.

The links between forested peatlands, climate change and REDD+ are already being drawn.

Although peatlands only cover about four million km2, they contain significant carbon stores[1] with each centimetre of peat depth containing about six tons of carbon per hectare[2]. In tropical areas, where most peatlands are forested, about 50,000-70,000 million tons of carbon[3] has been measured. This estimate does not, however, include the newly measured peatlands in Central Africa which are expected to cover 147,000km2 (the size of England) with depths reaching up to six m[4].

The destruction or degradation of forest cover on peatlands delivers a double blow for carbon emissions with losses from both standing biomass and from the drying and degradation of peat soils. Taking the example of the peat fires in Indonesia, smoke from the fires could be seen from outer space and experts believe it to be the worst environmental disaster of the 21st century. During the peak of the fires in October, 2015, carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires, on some days, exceeded the average daily emissions from the United States[5].

However, carbon emissions aren’t the only consequence of losing peat forests. In the peatlands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, deforestation and drainage clearly increases local flooding and leads to higher flood peaks and lower baseflow. Furthermore, peatlands tend to have very high biodiversity value hosting endangered species such as orangutans and the Sumatran Tiger.

Finally, drained and drying peatlands are exposed to subsidence, which in the case of coastal peatlands can lead to saltwater intrusion with highly damaging effects for agricultural production. For example, subsidence may cause almost the entire area of coastal peatland in Southeast Asia (~250,000 km2) to be lowered to near sea level and become susceptible to frequent or permanent flooding[6].

As such, targeting REDD+ action on forested peatlands can be an effective strategy towards realizing emission reductions and achieving multiple benefits for biodiversity, livelihoods, and human health and well-being.

The UN-REDD Programme is already supporting actions targeting peat including through an assessment of fiscal incentives for Indonesian palm oil production and the mapping of carbon stocks and great ape habitat in key forested peat areas. Furthermore, key commodity producers operating on or near peatlands are being engaged in REDD+ planning and decision making through the cross-cutting priority on stakeholder engagement. Finally, UNEP, in collaboration with a number of partners, is developing a Global Peatlands Initiative to improve the knowledge base on peatlands and their contribution to climate change, and to support sustainable peatland management.

The UN-REDD Programme and its partner countries look to forests for climate change solutions. But the peat lying below the forests is not being forgotten.


[1]Susan Page, John O’Neil Rieley, Christopher Banks. Global and regional importance of the tropical peatland carbon pool. Global Change Biology, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, 17 (2), pp.798.
[2] http://www.carbonstockstudy.com/hcs-study/soil-carbon
[3]Susan Page, John O’Neil Rieley, Christopher Banks. Global and regional importance of the tropical peatland carbon pool. Global Change Biology, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, 17 (2), pp.798.
[4] See: https://www.utu.fi/en/news/news/Pages/Largest-Peatland-of-the-Amazon-Discovered-to-Contain-Over-3-Billion-Tons-of-Carbon-When-Mapped-for-the-First-Time.aspx
[5] http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/10/indonesia%E2%80%99s-fire-outbreaks-producing-more-daily-emissions-entire-us-economy
[6] Hooijer et al (2012), Subsidence in Drained Coastal Peatlands in Southeast Asia: Implications for Sustainability. Paper submission presented to the International Peat Society, June 2012

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By Gabriel Labbate, UN-REDD Programme Senior Programme Officer, Latin America and the Caribbean

Opportunities and challenges for scoring the three goals of higher carbon stock, stakeholder income and forest cover in rural landscapes through REDD+.

Results from Panama show that increases in carbon stocks, stakeholder incomes and forest cover can be achieved simultaneously through a landscape approach to REDD+ combining avoided deforestation/degradation, the promotion of silvopastoral and agroforestry systems, and tree plantations. In the presence of an appropriate monitoring system, a landscape approach can also create buffer reserves of carbon to manage risks associated with non-compliance of net emission reduction agreements. This article summarily presents some policies to achieve forest conservation and restoration.

Avoid the transformation of primary forests into secondary forests. The economic benefits of this transition are low and therefore have low opportunity costs (between 0.10 and 0.57 USD/TnCO2e). Once there is a transformation to secondary forest, the opportunity cost of preventing a transition to agriculture or cattle ranching increases significantly. Secondary forests are often in unstable equilibria and generally represent a first step in a transition to other, non-forested land uses.

Figure 1. Cost abatement curve for forest conservation and restoration in Panama

panama figure 1Where SA (subsistence agriculture); AF (agroforestry); PF (forest plantations); SF (secondary forest); and PF (primary forest).

A landscape approach that combines conservation and agricultural policies can result in negative opportunity costs (i.e., overall positive economic benefits). The abatement curve in figure 1 shows that even in the absence of carbon payments, a combined implementation of forest conservation, restoration and increased carbon content in productive systems have substantial positive economic benefits (the area with negative opportunity cost is greater than the area with positive ones). Provided that implementation and transaction costs are maintained at reasonable levels, the result is positive economic benefits overall.

Speculation on land tenure calls for a mix of enforcement and incentives policies. The decision to convert forest may not only be influenced by the profitability of other economic activities but also by expectations of achieving land tenure security. In several regions, land-use transitions do not seem to be economically attractive but this situation changes significantly when the value of land is added to the analysis. As such, it will be important for REDD+ to combine incentives for conservation with actions that support enforcement of laws, particularly those that prohibit forest conversion without legal permit.

Figure 2. Opportunity costs with and without residual land values.

panama figure 2     Source: UN-REDD Programme Panama


At current prices, carbon payments are not sufficient per-se but are not negligible either. It is not unusual for policy makers to inquire about the estimated volume of carbon payments that could accrue from REDD+, and Panama is no exception. While it is not possible to provide policy makers with an exact figure, it is nevertheless feasible to estimate a range based on the annual deforestation figure of 13,500 ha/y reported by FAO, estimates of land area converted from primary to secondary forest (3,500 ha/y), and land use change projections.

Under these assumptions, a REDD+ programme that reduces deforestation by 50% would bring gross income to Panama in the order of approximately US$ 11 million annually. If complemented with activities that increase carbon stocks in forest and agricultural lands, then gross income could, all or other things being equal or held constant, reach about US$ 22 million annually. When the carbon price is set at US$ 8 per ton of CO2 equivalent, income increases in a range between US$ 17 million to US$ 34 million annually.

Success on increasing carbon stocks in forest and agricultural lands will depend on policies that diminish the perceived risk of these activities and the influence of high discount rates. Increasing carbon stocks in degraded and agricultural lands is dependent on the participation of the private sector and the economic benefit of these activities is highly sensitive to perceptions of risks as well as temporal preferences. The net present value (NPV) of a sustainably managed forest or a silvopastoril system can increase by a factor of 2 when the discount rate is 4% instead of 12%. This result pales in comparison with that of a forest plantation where the NPV can increase by a factor of 10.

The definition of monitoring and governance structures should undergo a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Net income from REDD+ is dependent on implementation and transaction costs. The estimation of these costs is difficult at the moment because the definition of REDD+ policies and actions in Panama is still at an early stage. However, the available literature shows that these cost, if unattended, can be significant and in some contexts can easily surpass opportunity costs. Ignoring these costs can wipe out net national benefits and derail the whole programme.

In summary, there is potential in Panama to simultaneously achieve the joint goals of higher carbon stock, stakeholder income and forest cover in rural landscapes. An appropriate combination of law enforcement efforts, economic incentives, technical support and attention to costs can achieve a “Panama hat trick”.

More information on REDD+ in Panama available here.

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Gabriel Labbate is the Team Leader for the UNEP UN-REDD Programme team in the Latin America and Caribbean region. He holds a degree in Biology, a master degree in Economics, a Ph.D in Environmental Studies and has 20 years of experience in Latin America, Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union, and Asia Pacific. He can be contacted at Gabriel.Labbate@unep.org

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By Josep A. Garí, UN-REDD Programme

Social inclusion is a key feature of sustainable development, including in REDD+, a new international policy and incentive scheme to address the forest-climate interface. Social inclusion is essentially about enabling local communities and marginalized groups to participate in, and benefit from the policies and measures that governments design, enact and implement for sustainable development.

In the context of REDD+, it typically concerns rights holders and other stakeholders that tend to be excluded in development processes, notably indigenous peoples and local communities whose livelihoods depend on forests, including equitably women, men and youth. Social inclusion thus refers to both the processes and the outcomes that surround the policy cycle. Critical in this work is not only to actively involve neglected actors in defining the policies for REDD+, but also to ensure the resulting policies are responsive to their development priorities, thus creating a cycle of social equality.

The UN-REDD Programme promotes these approaches and, accordingly, a number of its partner countries are already taking steps towards social inclusion in their REDD+ policy work. During the most recent FCPF/UN-REDD Programme Global Joint REDD+ Knowledge Exchange Day held in November 2015 in Costa Rica, a session was devoted to the sharing of pioneering experiences and approaches on social inclusion in REDD+ (watch video / access all presentations). It focused on two major features of social inclusion in REDD+: (i) the advancement of gender equality, and (ii) the realization of the rights and development priorities of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Watch video above — Session 7: Social Inclusion and REDD+

Contrary to expectations, the event coalesced about 15 interventions from government officials, representatives from indigenous peoples and civil activists from around the world, sharing the same view: REDD+ is not just a commitment to reduce the carbon footprint from forests, but also a gateway to embed social inclusion and gender equality in sustainable development concerning forests. Kenya opened the session by recognizing that countries, although familiar with the technical requirements for REDD+, are insufficiently experienced in how to advance social inclusion and gender equality in their climate actions, including in REDD+.

The keynote presentation, dealing with the linkages between forests and gender, was delivered by a grassroots woman leader from Panama. She described the community-based, gender-responsive and women-led series of consultations on forests and REDD+ conducted in her country. This original process has not only empowered rural and indigenous women, but also crucially enabled them to inform national policy with their specific realities and insights. Other multi-stakeholder, inclusive consultations were simultaneously held in the country. If these grassroots perspectives are duly integrated, the resulting national policies will be more realistic and gain broader support, thus improving their performance as well as their contribution to social equality.

Showing a different approach to that of Panama, albeit complementary, Cambodia referred to the establishment of an inter-ministerial team on gender to promote and integrate a gender approach into its REDD+ national strategy. Building on these pioneer initiatives, the UN-REDD Programme representative of indigenous peoples in Latin America added that, under the auspices of the UN-REDD Programme, various indigenous women leaders have started a global dialogue process on how to mainstream gender in forest and climate programmes.

Concerning the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, Myanmar showed the steps its government is taking to engage ethnic minorities in the national REDD+ roadmap as well as in the process to develop the national strategy for REDD+. This represents a progressive effort in the country, serving to scope ways for inclusive development and thus strengthening the political transition to democracy.

Peru referred to the different types of local actors that have stakes in its forests and who often play divergent roles in both deforestation and forest conservation. This sort of complex realities demonstrate the value of multi-stakeholder engagement as the only means to craft policy options that will foster cohesion and equality among actors. Furthermore, Peru emphasized that social inclusion also means enhancing local livelihoods and the productive capacities of communities.

Complementing these exchanges, Costa Rica presented, with the support of a pedagogic video, its comprehensive stakeholder engagement process, describing the different practices employed, the challenges confronted and the lessons learned. Welcoming the inclusive approach of Costa Rica, a civil society activist from the region noted the importance of institutionalising the mechanisms for participatory policy making to secure their impact and durability. In a similar fashion, an indigenous leader from Southeast Asia highlighted the need of creating mechanisms for public participation early on in the policy cycle in order to ease the integration of social rights and equality considerations in the intended policy reforms.

Beyond participation and stakeholder engagement, social inclusion also requires concrete and lasting instruments. In this light, Kenya shared some of the initiatives its government has launched to build social inclusiveness in REDD+ in more institutional terms. For instance, a multi-stakeholder task force for transparency and accountability in REDD+ has been created and is already functional, bringing together representatives from government, the national anti-corruption agency and non-governmental actors. This task force has examined a number of issues and initiated response measures, including regulatory reforms in the Kenya Forest Service and training to forestry actors on anti-corruption practices. In addition, the Government of Kenya has commissioned an indigenous peoples’ organization to conduct a participatory drafting of national guidelines for Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), to be employed – once reviewed and adopted by the public administration – in the design of forest carbon projects.

Ecuador also mentioned how the construction of the national REDD+ action plan served to position free, prior and informed consultations as an important tool to ensure the full and effective participation of key stakeholders when implementing REDD+ actions. As a result, the Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment defined a blueprint for consultations for the implementation of REDD+ activities in the territories of indigenous peoples, which aligns with international provisions for consultation and participation of indigenous peoples.

Highlighting similar efforts, the UN-REDD Programme indigenous peoples’ Africa representative discussed how, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the multi-stakeholder platforms that REDD+ has been nurturing have enabled a number of social inclusion measures in the forest realm; they include a decree on community forestry, the choice of land-use and land tenure reforms as pillars of the national strategy for REDD+, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2012, and a draft law in recognition and support of indigenous peoples, which is currently under consideration at Parliament.

In essence, several pioneering countries are already scoping and employing some approaches to drive social inclusion and gender equality in their policies for REDD+. Moving forward, these initiatives need to become more systematic, widespread and truly able to translate principles of social inclusion into concrete policy and institutional reforms. In fact, provisions for social inclusion are becoming central features of international agreements for REDD+, such as the joint declarations of intent on REDD+ in Colombia, the Congo Basin, Indonesia and Peru. Such provisions include the establishment of multi-stakeholder platforms to sustain the formulation of policies for REDD+ and the governance of climate funds, the recognition of the territorial and resource rights of indigenous peoples and local communities over forests, the imperative need to mainstream gender equality, and the promotion of participatory land-use planning.

In order to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, the policies and measures for REDD+ should not only improve the carbon footprint of forest areas, but also address the rights and development priorities of forest-dependent indigenous peoples and local communities, including equitably women, men and youth. This requires robust mechanisms for public participation in policy-making, the mainstreaming of gender-responsive approaches, and courage with reforms so that REDD+ policy is transformational and a catalyst for equality. Although social inclusion is a key pillar in sustainable development, it is often the weakest one – hence the need for the pioneers to become the mainstream.


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Josep Garí leads the UN-REDD Programme’s work on stakeholder engagement and social inclusion as senior policy advisor at UNDP’s Sustainable Development Cluster, based in Geneva.



Acknowledgements should be given to Mr. Alfred Gichu (Kenya) for chairing the referred event; to colleagues Ken Rapp (The World Bank), Javier Jiménez (UNDP), Elizabeth Eggerts (UN-REDD Programme) and Gaya Sriskanthan (UN-REDD Programme) for their co-organization roles; as well as to the circa 15 speakers who generously shared experiences and reflections.



Lera Miles, UNEP-WCMC

Each year, UNEP releases its Emissions Gap Report comparing the overall scale of countries’ intended actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the total reductions needed to hold global warming below 2°C by the end of the century. The 2015 report includes a special chapter on forest-based mitigation. UN-REDD Programme authors have taken the lead on this chapter, collaborating with CIFOR and others. It covers opportunities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and to enhance forest carbon stocks by restoring degraded forests and re-establishing those that have been lost. As well as contributing to climate change mitigation, all these activities are called for under Sustainable Development Goal 15 (“15.2: By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally”).

For the 2015 Emissions Gap Report, we estimated the technical potential for each of these broad activities in developing countries. We drew on the literature for reducing deforestation and forest degradation, and did some fresh analysis to identify the potential carbon sequestration that could in principle be possible from wide-scale forest restoration. To do this, we applied standard IPCC biomass accumulation figures for different forest ecosystems to the restoration opportunity areas map from WRI’s Atlas of Forest Restoration Opportunities. The estimated potential across all the “wide-scale forest restoration” area is equivalent to 3.8 GtCO2 in 2030, which is very similar in scale to the estimated emissions reductions that would result from halting deforestation in these countries (3.5 GtCO2 in 2030). Reducing degradation in standing forests, through sustainable forest management, fire control and other measures can further contribute to climate change mitigation.

Shortly after presenting on these findings at a Rio Convention Pavilion session on forest and landscape restoration in Paris on the margins of COP21, I listened to Detlef van Vuuren from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency providing some insights on land-based mitigation from scenarios and integrated assessment models. It was striking to hear that “most models” anticipate that to meet a 2°C target, the world will need to sequester around 2 to 4 GtCO2 per year through afforestation (and reforestation) in the period up to 2050. Our calculations suggest that this is approximately equivalent to reforesting all of the area included in the above analysis for wide-scale forest restoration in developing countries– around 350 million hectares.

The forest landscape restoration ambitions described so far by developing countries often involve mosaic restoration approaches that seek to include more trees across agricultural landscapes in a way that meets local needs. This might involve expanding agroforestry, planting new woodlots or restoring forests critical for ecosystem services. Compared to our simple analysis on the reforestation of large areas, this means that in reality we can expect a much more diverse set of approaches over a greater land area to be involved in meeting the global mitigation target.

The “intended nationally determined contributions” documents of developing countries, prepared under the climate convention, often emphasize the need for international financial support to enable forest-related mitigation, and some funders are stepping up to the mark to support REDD+ efforts. Ahead of COP21, developing countries had already stated an intention to restore, afforest or reforest at least 141 million hectares of land, including through mosaic and wide-scale restoration. This figure is the sum of the largest restoration area any given country had proposed under different fora, including the INDCs and the Bonn Challenge. During the COP, an additional 15 million hectares were pledged above and beyond those included in any existing national statements. These were announced under the Bonn Challenge and two associated endeavours, the AFR100 initiative and Initiative 2020. Asia Pulp and Paper also made a pledge of 1 million hectares, the first private-sector led contribution to the Bonn Challenge.

The growing momentum behind forest landscape restoration shows that it is a significant opportunity – and if the models are to be believed, an essential strategy – to help narrow the emissions gap and limit the global average increase in temperatures to less than 2°C by 2100. As world leaders have now committed under the Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, our forests may be needed more than ever.


Author bio:


lera miles


Lera Miles is based at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), coordinating its work on REDD+ benefits and safeguards in support of the UN-REDD Programme.

GLF-UNEPUNEP organized a high-level dialogue at the Global Landscape Forum in Paris in December 2015 highlighting the need to seek greater alignment between stimulating agricultural production through fiscal incentives, with efforts to reduce and remove forest carbon emissions.

By Ivo Mulder, UNEP-FI

Agriculture is estimated to be the direct driver for around 80% of deforestation worldwide. In order for countries to contribute to mitigating climate change in the land use sector, it is important to tackle both the direct and underlying or indirect drivers associated with the production of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy and beef. While these issues are context-specific for each of the UN-REDD Programme’s partner countries, these underlying drivers include government fiscal policies and incentives that directly or indirectly promote agricultural expansion into forests.

At present, domestic subsidies to the agricultural sector vastly that contribute to deforestation outweigh international REDD+ funding seeking to prevent deforestation. Brazil and Indonesia together provided over US$ 40 billion in subsidies to palm oil, timber, soy and beef sectors between 2009 and 2012, which is more than a hundred times the US$ 346 million these countries received through REDD+.

The Paris panel sought to address if and what can be done to seek greater compatibility between climate funding and domestic finance that contributes to significant carbon emissions in the land-based economy with the need to achieve higher agricultural output. It was chaired by Achim Steiner (UNEP’s Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary General) and included Felipe Calderon (Chair, Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and former President of Mexico), Maria Kiwanuka (Senior Presidential Advisor and former Finance Minister, Uganda), Braulio Dias (Executive Secretary, CBD) and Pavan Sukhdev (CEO GIST and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador).

While the need for fiscal reform in the energy sector has been known and debated for some time, including reducing subsidies for fossil fuels while simultaneously providing public funding to scale up investments in the renewable energy and energy efficiency space, the need for fiscal reform in the land-based economy has so far received far less attention. Very few countries, if any at present, call out the need to review and reform existing fiscal incentives as part of their REDD+ readiness activities, based on reviewing 43 country REDD+ readiness plans.

At the same time fiscal incentives supporting agricultural production have the potential to promote sustainable land use and support multiple land use sector objectives, if they are conceptualized and designed to do so. Decoupling economic growth from deforestation and land degradation is possible, and provides a pathway toward sustainable land use and sustainable inclusive economic growth. The panel highlighted that political willingness across different ministries is key to making this happen in practice. First of all there needs to be a greater level of awareness among policy makers, legislators and other stakeholders about the relationship between agricultural fiscal incentives and REDD+. Second, the panel highlighted the need for political willingness at the highest level and across ministries to harmonize allocation of budgets and governmental financial support for land-based sectors such as agriculture and forestry.

As we enter 2016, the UN-REDD Programme has the opportunity to support countries when designing their REDD+ national strategy where there are inconsistencies in their fiscal policies — and to bring greater coherence across sector policies to promote agricultural production and economic growth, while enhancing the removal and reduction of forest carbon emissions. This can support the smart design of REDD+ policies and measures in investment plans to tackle these underlying deforestation drivers.

Watch video of Global Landscapes Forum session.

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Ivo Mulder is with the UNEP Finance Initiative (UNEP-FI).

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By Steve Swan, UN-REDD Programme Safeguards Coordinator

One of the key requirements for countries choosing to participate in REDD+ is a “safeguards information system”. In the past five years, since the Cancun safeguards for REDD+ were agreed, no country has yet put an operational SIS in place (although a few are getting close).  Just what is a safeguards information system? And what might countries want to consider when putting one together, as they move towards REDD+ implementation and need to demonstrate that safeguards are being addressed and respected if they are eligible for results-based payments?

A new climate deal was agreed by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at their 21st meeting in Paris in December 2015. This agreement confirms REDD+ as a core element of the new global climate regime under the UNFCCC. Additionally, with the adoption of three more technical decisions on REDD+ in Paris, negotiations around the mitigation mechanism have been concluded and a complete and comprehensive rulebook for REDD+ now exists.

Developing a “system for providing information on how safeguards are being addressed and respected throughout the implementation of REDD+ activities” is a key requirement for REDD+.  Such safeguards information systems (SIS) can be challenging pieces of REDD+ architecture to design.  Only now are a significant number of countries embarking on the important process of developing a SIS that is anchored to a national REDD+ strategy or action plan.  The complexities and ramifi­cations of designing a SIS, and the importance of safeguards information, are beginning to be understood.

A few fundamental design characteristics – transparency, comprehensiveness, flexibility to allow improvements over time, and built on existing systems as appropriate – are reflected in UNFCCC guidance on SIS. These characteristics, however, do not directly answer the questions most frequently asked by countries when designing a SIS: What does a SIS look like? How do I go about designing one? How much will it cost to build and operate?

In order to help countries try and answer these questions, the UN-REDD Programme carried out an initial consultative process with a range of REDD+ stakeholders, representing developing country and donor country governments, civil society and technical advisors. Through this process, insights were gathered from early country experiences in SIS development during regional knowledge exchange workshops and one-on-one interviews.  The resulting detailed resource document, and corresponding technical brief, present a synopsis of stakeholder perspectives and country experiences on practical considerations for the design of systems that provide information on how REDD+ safeguards are being addressed and respected.

The opinions and perspectives among key REDD+ stakeholders on what a SIS might look like, how it should be developed and what it might cost, remain diverse. This is due to the different political expectations among various constituencies, a lack of existing generic SIS models that can be tailored to national circumstances, and alternative interpretations of the UNFCCC requirements. It is hoped that the practical considerations captured in the new publications present an opportunity for those developing a SIS to consolidate their thinking and develop design solutions adapted to meet their country’s needs.

There are no single, or even simple, answers to the questions of SIS design; no global model can be prescribed. Each country will need to tailor the objectives, functions and institutional arrangements of their SIS to meet their policy priorities and information needs. These needs will depend on the particular benefits and risks of the REDD+ actions countries choose to employ to address the specific drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in their countries.

Despite the divergent opinions and expectations of SIS design, a number of common themes have emerged from consultations with stakeholders, which are elaborated in the new publications:

  1. SIS design and operation will be di­fferent in each country due to different national circumstances, existing legal and institutional frameworks, and choice of REDD+ actions; consequently, generic blueprint SIS models cannot be prescribed at the global or regional levels.
  2. Development of a SIS does not require establishment of an entirely new system. It is likely to be more cost effective, in the long term, to develop a SIS from a combination of existing information systems, sources and institutional arrangements to meet desired SIS objectives.
  3. Three practical design elements could be considered by countries when developing a SIS (see figure 1 below):
    • SIS objectives – what national and international policy goals will the system contribute to?
    • SIS functions – what will the system need to do to meet these objectives?
    • SIS institutional arrangements – who will be responsible for performing these functions in, and perhaps outside, government?           SIS
  4. Important steps in the process of developing a country’s approach to safeguards will influence SIS design, including:
    • assessing the environmental and social benefits and risks of possible REDD+ actions;
    • defining the goals, scope and scale of safeguards application;
    • clarifying the Cancun safeguards in accordance with national circumstances; and
    • identifying, assessing and strengthening existing policies, laws and regulations; institutional arrangements; and information systems and sources.
  5. A SIS provides a strong basis for developing summaries of safeguards information. Once a country has an operational SIS, this will be a key source for reliable and credible information on safeguards.


These considerations, around which there is some consolidating consensus among different REDD+ stakeholders, are offered to help countries fill in some of the blanks between the broad guidance agreed under the UNFCCC.  More details on how stakeholders have understood such terms as clarifying the Cancun safeguards, SIS functions and safeguards goals, scope and scale, may be found in the new publications.  Each of the emerging SIS design considerations is elaborated in the new resource document (and summarized more concisely in the accompanying technical brief).

It is hoped that these papers stimulate further exploration and refined assistance on this complex, multi-facetted piece of the REDD+ puzzle, but one of potentially much broader application and benefit to countries than just meeting UNFCCC requirements alone.

Download the new publications in the UN-REDD Programme’s Technical Resource Series:

  • Technical Resource Series 1: REDD+ Safeguards Information Systems: Practical Design Considerations (English – Español – Français)
  • Technical Brief 1: REDD+ Safeguards Information Systems: Practical Design Considerations (English – EspañolFrançais)

For more information on broader country approaches to safeguards:

  • Technical Resource Series 2: Country Approaches to REDD+ Safeguards: A Global Review of Initial Experiences and Emerging Lessons (English – Español – Français)
  • Information Brief 4: Country Approaches to REDD+ Safeguards: A Global Review of Initial Experiences and Emerging Lessons (English – EspañolFrançais)

Access other new UN-REDD Programme materials on safeguards:

  • Video: Lessons and experiences on Safeguards from Africa
  • Video: Safeguards and SIS lessons learned from Asia-Pacific

Coming soon:

  • REDD+ Summaries of Safeguards Information: options for ensuring quality, reliability and credibility of contents (information brief)


For more information, please contact: UN-REDD Programme Safeguards Coordination Group – safeguards@un-redd.org

Access more information on the topic of REDD+ safeguards and key resource materials on the UN-REDD Programme Online Collaborative Workspace  

About the author: Steve Swan coordinates the global safeguards activities of the UN-REDD Programme’s Safeguards Coordination Group; an inter-agency team of specialists providing guidance and technical assistance to the Programme’s regional and in-country teams, as well as developing and sharing knowledge at the global level.


Armando Cuichán / La Imagen Libre

Daniela Rey, Director of Climate, Law & Policy, Ltd.

Steve Swan, Safeguards Coordinator for the UN-REDD Programme

Five years have passed since Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed on seven broad principles constituting a set of safeguards for REDD+.  Since these Cancun safeguards were agreed in 2010, a number of countries have initiated planning and actions to meet the associated UNFCCC safeguards requirements, as well as those of other initiatives and sources of financing (such as the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s Readiness and Carbon Funds), through a single country approach to safeguards. 

In a new and consultative review, Country Approaches to REDD+ Safeguards: A Global Review of Initial Experiences and Emerging Lessons, the UN-REDD Programme has captured some of the key common country experiences and emerging lessons learned from these country approaches to safeguards. The review draws on a series of one-on-one consultations with REDD+ countries, together with dialogue and learning that emerged from regional knowledge exchange workshops organized by the Programme throughout 2015.

It helps to address such key questions as: What has worked? Where do challenges remain?  What might be the way forward as countries move towards implementing REDD+ actions?

 Five key common elements

In exploring and synthesising the different country approaches, this review identified five key common elements that could serve to inform strengthened implementation of both existing and new country safeguard processes, in those countries that are just getting started with safeguards. 

  1. Setting the goals and scope of a country’s approach to safeguards:
    1. Choosing which safeguards the country will choose to adopt (the Cancun safeguards by default and/or any other additional safeguards).
    2. Determining to which interventions beyond REDD+ the chosen safeguards may be applied.
  1. Clarifying safeguards in accordance with national circumstances:
    1. Presents an opportunity to anchor safeguards to existing policies, laws and regulations to the REDD+ actions comprising evolving national strategies or action plans.
    2. Serves as a basis for the design of a country’s UNFCCC-required safeguard information system – a well as subsequent production of summaries of safeguards information.
  2. Robust governance arrangements:
    1. Present strategic opportunities to strengthen existing governance arrangements – such policies, laws and regulations; institutional arrangements to implement these; and information systems and sources to demonstrate this implementation in practice.
    2. Assess and make use of existing governance arrangements.
    3. Identify gaps and weaknesses in existing and relevant governance arrangements.
    4. Develop appropriate measures to fill these gaps that are both cost-effective and politically viable.

  3. Safeguard information systems:
    1. Information needed to demonstrate that safeguards have been addressed and respected should be informed by the country’s clarification of the Cancun safeguards.
    2. Information content in a country’s safeguards information system should be aligned with the scope of REDD+ actions in the national strategy/action plan.
    3. Information structure to be employed in the safeguards information system should be in accordance with the country’s national (and possibly subnational) circumstances, to ensure design of a safeguards information system that is both feasible and suitable in its operations.

  4. Engaging stakeholders:
    1. Define the quality and ownership of processes and outcomes – this is recognized as paramount in any country approach to safeguards.
    2. Determine how, when, where and to what degree different constituencies are engaged – also very critical to the success of a country approach to safeguards.
    3. Devise effective stakeholder engagement strategies – a challenge identified by countries where improvements are being made as countries continue to learn by doing.
    4. Manage stakeholder expectations – a similar challenge to the above where improvements are being made.

The potential of country approaches to meet multiple international safeguards requirements through a single country driven process appears promising, and a rich and diverse body of knowledge has now been generated and shared through the publication of this technical resource.

Through this process, one clear message resonates the loudest from countries –approaches to safeguards should not be instigated and undertaken in isolation. Linking safeguards to REDD+ actions as part of the development of national REDD+ strategies and action plans is now widely acknowledged as imperative to ensuring that safeguards are effectively addressed and respected with REDD+ implementation.

Download this new publication in the UN-REDD Programme’s Technical Resource series: Country Approaches to REDD+ Safeguards: A Global Review of Initial Experiences and Emerging Lessons.

Access more information on the topic of REDD+ Safeguards and access key resource materials on the UN-REDD Programme open platform – the Online Collaborative Workspace.


A village sits behind a large hill which has been cleared of timber by slash and burn methods ready for agriculture, in north-eastern Myanmar. (Photo Courtesy jidanchaomian)

A village sits behind a large hill which has been cleared of timber by slash and burn methods ready for agriculture, in north-eastern Myanmar. (Photo Courtesy jidanchaomian)

by Teng Rithiny, the NGO Forum on Cambodia

“The full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities” is one of UNFCCC’s Cancun Safeguards. How should a national REDD+ process be designed to include relevant stakeholders, especially indigenous peoples (IP) and civil society organizations (CSO) which have limited engagement in the policy process?

Earlier this year, the UN-REDD Programme organized a regional meeting of sixteen IP and CSO representatives from the Asia-Pacific region to share experiences of how their countries have been approaching this issue [see video].  The current IP and CSO members of the UN-REDD Programme Policy Board and UN-REDD Programme country Executive Boards were given the opportunity to discuss challenges, lesson learned and opportunities to support the full and effective participation of IP and CSO stakeholders in national REDD+ processes. During the meeting, representatives from Myanmar shared how REDD+ is improving the culture of engagement between IP/CSO stakeholders and government representatives, as well as creating new mechanisms and opportunities for participation.

Following the regional meeting and Myanmar’s presentation of its Expression of Interest at the 14th meeting of the UN-REDD Programme Policy Board, a mission to the country was undertaken in August by the IP organization Tebtebba, the NGO Forum on Cambodia, and the Asia-Pacific IP and CSO representatives to the UN-REDD Policy Board.

We had the opportunity to have a dialogue with Myanmar national CSOs and IP constituencies, as well as to learn and share how CSO and IP participation in the national REDD+ strategy process can be strengthened. We were also able to meet with the Forest Department from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Forestry and key development partners including FAO, UNDP and the Royal Norwegian Embassy. We shared with them the results of the national dialogue with CSOs and IPs in Myanmar, while advocating support for CSO and IP engagement in the national REDD+ strategy process.

The CSOs and the IPs we met with identified mining, fire wood consumption, over exploitation of forests and shifting cultivation as drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. By engaging in the REDD+ readiness process, they have an opportunity to address these key challenges through:

  • Coordinating and linking up with other like-minded CSO networks to strengthen participation in REDD+ readiness processes.
  • Strengthening the Myanmar Ethnic Minorities/Nationalities Network established during the ASEAN Forum in 2014.
  • Identifying interested and committed network members to participate in the technical working groups of the national REDD+ readiness process.
  • Deciding on an “interim representative” to the national REDD+ process and to coordinate the CSOs and EM engagement in the processes.
  • Collaborating in awareness raising activities for local community and forestry staff on REDD+, land tenure and community based forest management, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and the process of free, prior and informed consent.

As part of our dialogue with national IP and CSO groups we shared useful examples of how other countries have dealt with complex issues, such as dealing with the representation of IPs in post-conflict situations, as well as providing examples of how other countries have approached challenges to full and effective engagement. During our discussions with the forest department, they expressed support for inclusive and participatory processes and welcomed the role of CSOs and IPs in developing and implementing the national REDD+ strategy successfully.

We will visit other countries in the region over the rest of our term as CSO and IP UN-REDD Programme Policy Board representatives to hold similar meetings. As with this engagement with Myanmar, such opportunities will allow us to build understanding with government counterparts and connect directly with CSO and IP stakeholders in countries so that we can better represent their perspectives at the global level.

La comunidad Wao de Miwaguno es 'protectora' de una de las 'puerta' de acceso a la reserva de la biósfera del Yasuní. En medio de la explotación petrolera ellos se esfuerzan por mantener su entorno natural y su cultura ancestral.

La comunidad Wao de Miwaguno es ‘protectora’ de una de las ‘puerta’ de acceso a la reserva de la biósfera del Yasuní. En medio de la explotación petrolera ellos se esfuerzan por mantener su entorno natural y su cultura ancestral. Photo: UN-REDD Programme Ecuador/ Armando Quichán

By Lola Cabnal, Maya Q’eqchi’, Observadora Pueblos Indígenas ONU-REDD+ para la región de América Latina

Los pueblos indígenas mantienen una relación armónica con sus bosques, agua, recursos naturales, biodiversidad y demás elementos de la Madre Naturaleza. Esta relación tiene su base en su visión cosmogónica de la vida y se sustenta en la estrecha relación e interdependencia, de todos los elementos de la naturaleza. Esta visión se refleja en las relaciones culturales, políticas, sociales, económicas y espirituales, que le dan una visión particular al concepto de desarrollo, entendido como el buen vivir, que se sustenta en el equilibrio y relación armónica entre el universo, madre tierra, la naturaleza y seres humanos.

Para los pueblos indígenas, es fundamental analizar las implicaciones de implementar programas y proyectos REDD+, en susterritorios. Para los pueblos indígenas, REDD+ es una iniciativa que tiene que definirse claramente, que tiene que consultarse ampliamente, se deben definir los derechos y propiedad del carbono, se debe construir un sistema de salvaguardas desde lo que establece el Convenio 169 sobre pueblos indígenas de la OIT, la Declaración de Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas y las leyes nacionales que reconocen los derechos indígenas.

En estos momentos REDD+ como planteamiento global y como documentos nacionales (R-PP o ERPIN) deben fortalecerse para que reconozcan, respeten claramente los derechos colectivos particularmente los relacionados a la libre determinación, tierras y territorios,  participación, consulta y consentimiento previo, libre e informado, para esto es necesario crear las condiciones para que los pueblos indígenas tengan una participación plena y efectiva.

La visión cosmogónica indígena, plantea que hay una interrelación, entre todos los elementos de la naturaleza, no separa, más bien integra; de ahí nace la dificultad y la critica a las políticas monoculturales, entre ellas REDD+, que además plantear conceptos ajenos a los idiomas indígenas, no se apega a la realidad y modelo de uso, manejo y conservación de los bosques en territorios indígenas.

En lo que se refiere a REDD+, los pueblos indígenas plantean que si no se les involucran en su diseño, planificación, implementación y monitoreo, afectará los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, impactara en el modelo o sistema de uso, manejo y conservación indígena, creara una posible división entre las estructuras organizativas, impactara en el sistema de conservación de los bosques, aguas, recursos naturales y culturales, biodiversidad y modelo económico.

REDD+ considera a los pueblos indígenas como otro actor más de sociedad civil y lo sitúa como partes interesadas relevantes, mientras deben considerarlos como un sujeto político, respetar y reconocerse como titulares de derecho sobre sus tierras, territorios y recursos naturales, y con el derecho al consentimiento libre, previo e informado, así como a su libre determinación para definir, a través de sus propias organizaciones, reconocer que el papel y función de las mujeres y la juventud es fundamental en estos procesos y asimismo su participación plena efectiva en las tomas de decisiones.

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