REDD ready or not?

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation was thought to be a quick way to slow global warming. But after ten years of testing the international REDD framework, scientists express their doubts in three new publications, with some good news, says Robert Finlayson


To evaluate the international REDD framework and other processes that were supposed to improve people’s livelihoods to encourage them not to deforest, the European Union joined with the World Agroforestry Centre and other partners from 2009 to 2012 in a project called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation from Alternative Land Uses in the Rainforests of the Tropics (REDD-ALERT). This complemented work carried out with support from the Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation for the Reducing Emissions from All Land Uses project with technical facilitation from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which all in all provided extensive and in-depth data sets and analyses.

The findings show that avoiding deforestation and restoring forests is definitely not a ‘quick fix’ but will require a complex and contextually adjusted mixture of regulatory approaches, emerging market-based instruments, persuasion and hybrid management measures at all levels of governance, from village through to global scales.

Land-use planning in Indonesia is now more likely to include rather than segregate forests

Land-use planning in Indonesia is now more likely to include rather than segregate forests. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

The policy analysis and modelling work carried out during REDD-ALERT, which drew on the complementary studies mentioned above, showed the high degree of complexity, particularly at local levels, and highlighted the need to take this heterogeneity into account: it is unlikely that there will ever be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to REDD+ (the ‘plus’ is conservation).

Nevertheless, the pressure is on to make REDD+ happen because of indications that there is now only a small window of opportunity: emission of greenhouse gases from deforestation, as a fraction of total global emissions, have been decreasing over time owing to the increase in emissions from fossil fuels; and the cost efficiency of REDD+ may be much less than originally thought owing to the need to factor in the costs of safeguards, transactions and monitoring. To put it another way, it is looking increasingly like there might be cheaper and more effective ways of slowing global warming.

Nevertheless, REDD+ has raised global awareness of the world’s forests and the factors affecting them and future developments should contribute to the emergence of new, landscape-based approaches to protecting a wider range of ecosystem services.

Two related analyses delve more deeply into REDD+ in Indonesia and Viet Nam. Indonesia has converted its alleged role as global leader of land-use-based greenhouse gas emissions into a global leader in exploring different ways to implement REDD.

In Indonesia, readiness to apply the REDD+ framework has largely taken the form of attempting to improve governance of forests. The scientists conducting the study found evidence that 1) land-tenure issues (unclear rights to land are the source of hundreds of conflicts across the archipelago) are now taken more seriously, as can be seen in the development of social safeguards, accelerated gazettement of forest boundaries and a constitutional court ruling in 2013 that asserts that ‘customary’ (traditionally ‘owned’) forests are not part of State forests; 2) spatial planning by government agencies now more clearly links forests to other parts of the landscape, which complies with Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for reducing the effects of global warming; and 3) the moratorium on conversion of forests and peatland to other uses has led to a revamp of forest management. But despite progress, the analysis showed that there are still major obstacles to full REDD+ implementation in Indonesia.

In Viet Nam, World Agroforestry Centre scientists conducted a rapid ‘REDD+ readiness’ assessment through a document review, questionnaires, in-depth interviews and round-table discussions with the National REDD Network. The results show that the experience Viet Nam gained through reforesting the nation over the last several decades does not foretell the nation’s readiness to implement REDD+: Viet Nam’s ‘readiness level’— as perceived by interviewees—ranged from low to medium across all functions.

Despite the poor rating—in particular of its policy, legal and institutional framework—the creation of a REDD+ implementing structure by the Government of Viet Nam, with all its imperfections, can however, be seen as a leap of faith and a significant step towards achieving readiness, albeit this should not mask inherent structural flaws and many unresolved post-reforestation issues that underlie forest degradation and deforestation.

For the country to improve its level of readiness, the analysis recommended 1) shifting from the heavy focus on replanting policies to a more balanced policy approach so that local people can access a wide array of benefits not only from REDD+ but also other relevant programs; 2) refining the National REDD Action Plan and amending relevant forest policies to reduce the drivers of deforestation and degradation; 3) removing policy and institutional bottlenecks through reform of the forest and land law, and the judicial process, to address tenure and carbon rights, equitable sharing of benefits, and conflict resolution; and 4) enhancing inter-agency collaboration and broadening sectoral participation to include the private sector and indigenous peoples’ so as to increase the legitimacy and effectiveness of REDD.

As these analyses reveal, REDD+ has not been the overwhelming ‘win-win’ solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but we should recognise that it has mobilized global attention and social actors on the need to understand forests and human–forest interactions and to deal with forests at a global level.

The REDD-ALERT project has contributed to a much better understanding of the drivers of deforestation in different countries and the limits to dealing with them. This has led to a realization of the need for a’ systems view’ to consider all land uses and to mainstream forests into national development, agricultural, energy and mining policies. However, if the resources are not forthcoming, this may lead countries to revert to their original position of seeing forests primarily as an issue of national sovereignty and source of income.

Future work should aim to build on the institutional progress made and have it contribute to the emergence of new landscape-based approaches—beyond the REDD+ forest focus—that link the local, national and global dimensions of a green economy with the accountability needed to achieve effective climate policies.


Read the articles

Matthews RB, van Noordwijk M, Lambin E, Meyfroidt P, Gupta J, Verchot L, Hergoualc’h K, Veldkamp. 2014. Implementing REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation): evidence on governance, evaluation and impacts from the REDD-ALERT project. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change June:1381–2386.

Agung P, Galudra G, van Noordwijk M, Maryani R. 2014. Reform or reversal: the impact of REDD+ readiness on forest governance in Indonesia. Climate Policy [in press].

Hoan DT, Catacutan D. 2014. Beyond reforestation: an assessment of Vietnam’s REDD+ readiness. Working Paper 180. Hanoi, Vietnam: World Agroforestry Centre.


Van Noordwijk M, Matthews R, Agus F, Farmer J, Verchot L, Hergoualc’h K, Persch S, Tata HL, Lusiana B, Widayati A, Dewi S. 2014. Mud, muddle and models in the knowledge value-chain to action on tropical peatland conservation. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change June: 1381–2386.


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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry


Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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