REDD+ deals with forests. Its focus is on providing incentives for their better management and conservation, reducing deforestation and the deterioration of forest conditions. This means that REDD+ is not just forestry, but is a much broader, cross-cutting issue. It requires changes to business-as-usual in many sectors, in particular those that are land-use based. In turn, this necessitates the effective engagement of a variety of stakeholders in discussions on REDD+, in getting ready for REDD+ and in formulating and implementing national REDD+ strategies.

Within the UN-REDD Programme this requirement is very well understood and in many UN-REDD partner countries steps have been taken to go beyond the usual suspects (e.g. forestry agencies) and open venues to increase the diversity of stakeholders in national processes, including a variety of line ministries, and representatives of the private sector, NGOs, civil society and indigenous peoples.

Engagement can only be effective if those coming to the table are well informed. As we have learned over the last year, REDD+ is becoming more and more complex, which makes spreading the news and raising awareness on what REDD+ a significant challenge.

How both challenges of enhancing knowledge and understanding on REDD+ and involving a broad range of stakeholders into the discussions was the focus of a panel discussion during the Tenth UN-REDD Global Policy Board meeting. It enabled participants from Cambodia, Ecuador and Tanzania, to learn from each other through dialogue and develop a common understanding of issues. It also provided the Policy Board and observers from many countries, an opportunity to discuss and provide recommendations to enhance implementation of National Programmes.

On paper, it looks like many countries have made significant progress in reaching out to non-forestry stakeholders. Many countries have set up task forces (such as Cambodia’s REDD+ Task Force), committees (such as Ecuador’s Climate Change Inter-institutional Committee) and technical working groups (such as Tanzania or Viet Nam). In reality, there is still work do be done. Some bodies are not operating on a regular basis and they are dominated by the public sector. NGOs, civil society and indigenous peoples are often under-represented; the private sector remains almost invisible, except where technical working groups specifically focus on private sector issues. This is regrettable, as the private sector is a significant driver of deforestation and forest degradation, and without the involvement of local communities and indigenous peoples, it is difficult to envision major changes in forested (or deforested) landscapes. But the situation is not as bleak as described above. Consultation groups are being set up, with the intention of bringing in under-represented groups and giving them a stronger voice.

But can they have an informed voice or will their inputs and feedback lead only to more confusion? That depends on how well they are informed. Partner countries have invested significantly in raising awareness and in helping people at national and sub-national levels to understand what REDD+ is all about and what it might mean for them. A wide variety of materials have been produced, in national and local languages, and distributed widely. In many countries meetings have been held to convey messages directly to participants. There is no doubt that the understanding on REDD+ has been improved and that people feel more confident to participate in processes, such as the formulation of national REDD+ strategies. Yet, the number of informed stakeholders remains small and many have criticized that much information is too technical and not tailored for broader audiences.

Let’s keep in mind that REDD+ will ultimately be interested at the national level, not just in a small number of projects throughout a country. Millions of people with very different information needs have to be reached with the most suitable means. We need to go beyond booklets, flyers and posters. While UN-REDD National Programmes have established websites and experimented with screening video clips, communication approaches clearly have to be diversified. The first steps have been made by involving religious leaders, such as in Indonesia and Cambodia, who can reach millions instead of just hundreds of people. But Programmes have to be far more innovative. TV and radio programmes have been used for many purposes and are in many situations suitable to reach people, even in remote areas. Key messages can even be woven into soap operas to reach people who cannot read. And never underestimate the power of the print media. Building a small network of key journalists and feeding them continuously with interesting news, while result in articles they will reach far more people then the few that can make it to a workshop. Such approaches will not only be more effective, but they will also save scarce funds.  It was also pointed out that difficulties in communicating effectively have arisen because of a focus on communicating how the REDD+ mechanism might work (a very complex subject), rather than what REDD+ means in terms of people’s livelihoods and land-use – a much easier topic to understand.

The call was therefore to think outside the box. To rely more on mass media in raising awareness and find constructive ways to help under-represented stakeholders to strengthen their voice. National Programmes will take the suggestions on board, but they also have to tread carefully to avoid raising expectations, especially of local people, many of whom are already expecting money to grow on trees.

Bio: Thomas Enters is currently working as the UNEP UN-REDD Regional Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific. He has been based in Thailand for the last 12 years working throughout the region amongst others for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and The Center for People of Forests. Although most of his work has been at the environment-rural livelihood nexus and forest policy issues in the Asia-Pacific region, Dr. Enters has also worked on technical forest management issues such as reduced impact logging.