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Reflecting on REDD+: Was Copenhagen all that bad?

Written by Leo Peskett

Leo Peskett, ODI Research Fellow

In a paper produced in the run up to Copenhagen, Pius Yanda and I argued that ‘reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation’ (REDD+) might take one of three trajectories in a post 2012 world:

  • a ‘no deal’ situation, which would essentially be ‘business as usual’ with low levels of international support for tropical countries to reduce deforestation and degradation, but with few performance measures;
  • a ‘compromise deal’ in which there is agreement to move forward on a more elaborate REDD+ system through a ‘phased approach’ with finance dependent on performance criteria of increasing stringency; or
  • a relatively ‘fast track’ deal which is more narrowly focussed on emissions reductions, is performance based and outcomes are more immediately obvious, but which entails rapid decisions on some contentious issues.

So after Copenhagen, do we know which direction REDD+ is moving in? And what are the implications?

The third of these scenarios was always unlikely to arise, given the complexities of establishing monitoring, reporting and verification systems in the forest sector in many countries and the conflicting agendas of the many interest groups involved in the REDD+ debate. The actual outcome sees REDD+ currently sitting somewhere between scenarios one and two.

There has obviously been ‘no deal’ on REDD+ as such, but there is assertive language on REDD+ within the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ (paragraph 6); there is final text from the ‘Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA)’ on methodological issues surrounding REDD+; and there is well worked up text from the ‘Ad-Hoc working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action’ on policy approaches towards REDD+. This includes relatively strong language on various ‘safeguards’, such as reference to certain international human rights instruments; and there are some funding pledges totalling around $3.5 billion for REDD+.

None of this is legally binding at this stage, so REDD+ could still fade into the jumbled background of the current international climate change landscape. However, the outcome is positive on at least two contrasting fronts.

  • For the protagonists of REDD+, these small areas of progress indicate that some of the huge momentum that has emerged around REDD+ in the last two years is still there. REDD+ remains one of the few areas where there is still a relatively high degree of alignment between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries. The progression of discussions around key principles and instruments, as well as the financial pledges, might also help to improve pilot programmes, and improve some of the safeguards built into their design.

  • For those with concerns about how REDD+ has been evolving, it takes some of the pace off the REDD+ rollercoaster. As the Head of the UNFCCC, Yvo de Boer implied on Forest Day, the most important thing is to ‘get REDD+ right’ within the context of the wider climate change regime, rather than establishing an instrument that is imperfect from environmental, efficiency and equity perspectives. Initial observations from REDD+ implementation at the country level indicate that the fast pace of the debate could already be having some adverse implications. There has been a risk that poorly coordinated support efforts, missing links between sectors and high expectations of benefits from REDD+ at the country level, could undermine the effectiveness of REDD+ and the confidence of those involved, in its early stages.

So perhaps the REDD+ result was not all that bad? Some progress has been made on the details, and interest from a diverse range of actors is still high. It has bought some time to help ensure that REDD+ is sustainable in the long term. And it may allow for a reality check of what can and cannot be delivered by REDD+ as a climate change mitigation instrument as part of a broader international response to climate change.