Safeguard Issues Shadow Forests Rescue Plan

By Matthew O.Berger (Washington)

source : Inter Press Service

3 November 2010

As national policies are developed to implement REDD, the U.N. effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, a key question has been how to ensure social and environmental standards are upheld in REDD projects, both at the national and international level.

In some places, most notably Indonesia, it is far from clear that those policies, called safeguards, will be adopted.

After the REDD mechanism, which allows wealthy countries to offset their emissions by paying poorer countries to not cut down some of their forests, was agreed at 2007’s U.N.-led climate change meetings in Bali, several initiatives were created to deliver the funding that would be provided by donor countries to the beneficiaries in REDD countries. Those included the U.N.-REDD Programme and the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and Forest Investment Programme (FIP).

The governing bodies of those three initiatives will meet in Washington starting this weekend to discuss ways to streamline support for national REDD strategies. Already this week, some meetings, such as those between participants and observers in the FCPF, have been taking place.

At those meetings, a hot topic has been the World Bank’s proposal to allow other multilateral institutions to become delivery partners in its work funneling REDD funds to developing countries.

This proposal would further complicate an already messy web of institutions acting as intermediaries between those paying for and those fulfilling the forest conservation mandated by REDD. NGOs representatives seem okay with the idea, however — as long as it does not deepen the many potential problems already facing REDD programmes.

The primary way to do that is to include in the policies safeguards that guarantee certain social and environmental standards are adhered to.

Currently, the World Bank has a fairly robust safeguards policy, which some NGO leaders who attended the FCPF meetings this week fear might not be replicated by other institutions that could become part of the partnership’s work.

‘If you’re going to allow other partners in the FCPF then we want standards that are going to be at least as strong for them too,’ says the Bank Information Center’s (BIC) director of campaigns, Mark Rentschler.

If not, says Susanne Breitkopf, forest policy advisor at Greenpeace, the proposal could lead to a ‘race to the bottom’ where a REDD country would be tempted to choose the agency with the lowest safeguard standards as their delivery partner for REDD funding.

Rentschler says it is very rare for countries, especially REDD countries, to have safeguards as strong as the World Bank’s and that implementing such standards is a real challenge for such countries — though something that has to be done because some of the activities set to take place under REDD could be harmful to communities and even to the environment.

This has particularly been the case in Indonesia, where in the past the government has evicted indigenous or other communities from forest areas set aside for conservation or given to mining or plantation interests. As has happened in other countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, traditional lands belonging to communities in or near forest areas have been allocated to other interests without prior consultation with the communities that have sustainably managed those forests throughout their history.

One reason for this violation of rights is the lack of safeguards protecting them in the national legal codes, a problem that needs to be addressed as countries continue to draw up their national REDD policies, says a study released in Washington Wednesday by a coalition of Indonesian civil society and indigenous groups.

The study cites both moral and legal arguments for why rights-based safeguards should be required in an Indonesian policy. ‘Since REDD aims to save humankind, it should make people in and around forests a priority,’ it says, before discussing obligations under the U.N.’s Declaration of Indigenous Rights and other international and national laws.

Indonesia, which is receiving nearly three billion dollars for REDD demonstration projects and preparations, released a draft strategy for implementing REDD in September, but that draft has been criticised for not going far enough to address governance issues and safeguards.

‘As this money is flowing to the government, the problem is the lack of necessary mechanisms to design, manage and disclose the money that is flowing in,’ says Jelson Garcia, who coordinates BIC’s work in Southeast Asia from Manila.

‘Indonesia plays a very important role when it comes to climate change mitigation, particularly with reference to the role of forests, and what happens in Indonesia in terms of REDD planning actually applies to all other countries that have REDD projects,’ he says.

In recent years, Indonesia has emerged as the number three emitter of greenhouse gases, largely due to deforestation and peatlands degradation there. Globally, nearly 20 percent of human-related greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation.

Starting this January, a two-year moratorium on forest clearing in Indonesia will halt the spread of paper and palm oil plantations in the country in exchange for a $1 billion grant from Norway.

Citing this moratorium, Brietkopf sees Indonesia as ‘at a very important moment right now’.

But given what she calls its long history of a lack of respect for the rights of indigenous communities, safeguards that ensure rights are protected and natural forests are protected — rather than the practice of clearing forests to replace them with trees used for palm oil production — will be the ‘pillar of success’ for REDD.

‘Without these safeguards in place REDD can easily lead to a very bad outcome,’ Breitkopf says, which could end up hurting the people who have cared for the forests for so long or even encouraging deforestation — the exact opposite of what the mechanism is intended to do.

She says there is already broad consensus at the international level on the need for safeguards that ensure REDD does what it is intended to, but that they need to be adopted at the national level.

She and others stress the importance of those safeguards being standard across different countries and institutions, an issue that will be discussed throughout the week here.

‘Right now, all the REDD decision makers are in Washington trying to formulate and discuss policies with regards to safeguards, governance, etc,’ says Garcia. ‘We do not want REDD to complicate or worsen the forest conflicts that already exist.’