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date: 15 September 2019

Summary and Keywords

The clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol did not cover projects to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries. The reasons were in part technical (the difficulty of accounting for leakage) but mainly the result of fears of many Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that this was a soft (and cheap) option that would discourage interventions for mitigation of emissions from fossil fuels. The alternative idea of a national, performance-based approach to reduced emissions from deforestation (RED) was first developed by research institutes in Brazil and proposed to the UNFCCC in a submission by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica with technical support from the Environmental Defense Fund in 2005/2006. The idea was to reward countries financially for any decreases in annual rates of deforestation at a national level compared to a baseline that reflected historical rates of loss, through the sale of carbon credits, which as in the case of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) would be used as offsets by developed countries to meet their international obligations for emission reduction.

REDD+ as it is now included in the Paris Agreement of 2015 (Article 5) has evolved from this rather simple concept into something much more complex and far-reaching. Degradation was added early on in the negotiation process (REDD) and very soon conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks were also included, hence the “+” in REDD+. The idea of “safeguards” (social, environmental) is now also firmly embedded, and the importance of non-carbon benefits is being underlined in official policy. In the absence of legally binding emission reduction targets in developed countries, the notion of a market approach and offsets is no longer the only or even the main route envisaged. Instead, countries are being encouraged to coordinate financial support from a range of public, private, bilateral, and multilateral sources. The mechanism is still, however, seen as a results-based instrument, although this may not be so clear in alternative policy approaches, such as “joint mitigation and adaptation,” also included in the Paris Agreement.

Outside of the official policy negotiations, there has been a move away from operationalizing REDD+ as a purely forest-based mechanism toward developing a more holistic, landscape-based approach, given that many of the drivers of deforestation and degradation lie outside the forest itself. Countries in the vanguard of REDD+ implementation, such as Mexico, as well as several CGIAR organizations are visualizing REDD+ essentially as sustainable rural development. The central role of communities in the implementation of REDD+, and the importance of secure land tenure in this, have to a large extent been incorporated through the adoption of safeguards, but there remain a few lobbies of indigenous groups that are opposed to the whole nature of REDD+. The challenge of measurability, of both carbon and of non-carbon benefits, is addressed in this article.

Keywords: policy discourse, safeguards, non-carbon benefits, results-based, measurability, transparency

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