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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.