On the heels of the UN-REDD Programme's recent-- and highly productive-- Policy Board meeting in Da Lat, Viet Nam, I was grateful for the opportunity to take a slight detour on my journey back to Geneva, to visit some of Cambodia’s forests and to interact with a range of REDD+ colleagues and counterparts within the UN-REDD Programme, the government of Cambodia (national and provincial), NGOs and donors. It was also an opportunity to listen to the voices of the of forest dependent communities in Oddar Meanchey Province. The trip was a valuable reality check in terms of linking global processes to national level action and I gained new insights into the challenges and opportunities facing REDD+ at the national level.
Cambodia has a total of 10.7 million hectares of forest cover, or nearly 59 per cent of its land area. It is one of the first countries in the Greater Mekong region to address REDD+ with pilot activities starting in 2008, and the objective of Cambodia's UN-REDD National Programme is to support readiness efforts, including developing necessary institutions, policies and capacity.
The good news for REDD+ is that Cambodia has a long history of community forestry which is providing useful lessons in the design and implementation of REDD+. The pilot project in Oddar Meanchey province, for example, is very much focused on livelihood improvements, food security and environmental sustainability and as such, the consultation process with local communities and stakeholders has been well received. These early experiences with REDD+, combined with good partnerships between the government, NGOs, communities, the UN, religious leaders and donors will go a long way to strengthening Cambodia's national REDD+ strategy. Second and Importantly, REDD+ enjoys strong political support. In the case of Oddar Meanchey REDD Project, Government Decision (GD) No. 699 designated the Forestry Administration as the official seller of carbon. The same GD decision provides some guidance on how benefits are to be delivered. At least 50 percent of the income will flow to local communities in the project areas and the balance will be used to develop new REDD initiatives and to improve the quality of the forests.
There are, however, challenges to overcome in Cambodia, as in many other REDD+ countries. Pressure for forest land conversion is high in Cambodia and cross-sectoral links and collaboration in the REDD+ process will be critical in addressing the drivers of deforestation. While the broad guidance for benefit sharing is provided by GD 699, the details of how local communities in the project areas will be rewarded still need articulation.
There's a clear recognition in Cambodia that the design and implementation of REDD+ projects will take longer than originally thought, and that benefit sharing mechanisms need to be developed. The UN-REDD Programme looks forward to working with Cambodia as they address these challenges and explore the opportunities REDD+ can offer.
Head of the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat