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ZERO TO HERO! How Sri Lanka went from nothing on safeguards to SIS design in 6 months

Blog | Tue, 21 Feb, 2017 · 8 min read
ZERO TO HERO! How Sri Lanka went from nothing on safeguards to SIS design in 6 months…

Having developed concrete actions for REDD+ in 2015, last year, Sri Lanka started work on a ‘national approach to safeguards’. Six months later, the country had designed their safeguards information system (SIS), the main international safeguards requirement for REDD+. UN-REDD Programme’s Safeguards Coordinator, Steve Swan, talks to Conservator General of Forests, Mr Anura Sathurusinghe to find out what steps Sri Lanka has taken to safeguard the environment and people in REDD+, and what other countries could learn from this experience…

(Above: A small stream in the vicinity of Sri Lanka's Sinharajah rainforest. Photo credit: Hiranya Sudasinghe)


Steve: ‘A national approach to safeguards’, what has this meant to Sri Lanka, and what steps have you taken as part of this approach?

Anura: This has meant taking a whole new approach to safeguards, which is different to the traditional donor safeguards approach, where external requirements are applied to national projects. Sri Lanka’s proposed REDD+ safeguards approach is geared to meeting multiple international safeguards requirements. Due to the tailoring of the approach to our needs, many of the systems that already exist in Sri Lanka can be applied and strengthened to meet these requirements.

Five key steps were taken as part of Sri Lanka’s approach to REDD+ safeguards. The first activity was to determine the scope and goals of the safeguards approach. The second step was to align the Cancun safeguards to Sri Lanka’s specific context. This involved developing a method to clarify the Cancun safeguards in accordance with Sri Lanka’s national circumstances; thereafter, a list of national safeguards criteria was produced.

Thirdly, the risks and benefits associated with these policies and measures were determined through a two-day stakeholder workshop. Fourthly, an assessment took place of all relevant existing policies, laws, and regulations, as well as institutional framework that implements them. Lastly, the best options for designing a safeguards information system were determined.

A UN-REDD Programme officer meets a group of indigenous people near their village
A UN-REDD Programme officer meets a group of indigenous people near their village
© Sumedha Amarasena

Steve: That’s a lot of analytical work conducted in a short period of time; can you explain how this national approach to safeguards links with the National REDD+ strategy, and the different REDD+ policies and measures in the strategy?

Anura: While the National REDD+ Strategy details the policies and measures to combat deforestation and forest degradation in Sri Lanka, our approach to safeguards examines what social and environmental risks or benefits could occur due to the implementation of these REDD+ actions. Our safeguards approach strengthens existing policies, laws and regulations, and corresponding institutional framework, to avoid adverse impacts while enhancing the positive benefits when it comes to REDD+ implementation.

Steve: What were the main challenges encountered when developing the national approach and what key lessons can you share with other countries?

Anura: Interpreting the Cancun safeguards within the local context was a challenge. It was also a challenge to understand and align the requirements of different stakeholders while managing expectations that sometimes conflicted.

The key lessons learned include a realization that the process should be kept simple, practical and focused on achievable goals within the context of Sri Lanka. There also needs to be strong co-ordination and consensus among the agencies, which are already implementing safeguards-relevant systems, when proposing recommendations to upgrade Sri Lanka’s existing policies, laws, regulations and institutions to meet international requirements.

Thilal Nanayakkara
© Thilal Nanayakkara

Steve: So, what’s next for safeguards in Sri Lanka’s ongoing REDD+ process?

Anura: In 2017, our efforts will focus on finalising the necessary tools and procedures to collect and analyse safeguards information, building capacities of the main agencies involved in operating the safeguards information system, and ensuring clear institutional arrangements are in place to move smoothly from REDD+ readiness to implementation. Building capacities of the Climate Change Secretariat on the country’s safeguards approach will be key for successful monitoring and reporting on REDD+ safeguards. In addition, the national safeguards criteria will be simplified.

Despite the quick progress made last year, additional work needs to be done to ensure the safeguards information system is fully operational. There are many stakeholders involved in the use, management and conservation of forests: indigenous peoples, forest-dependent communities, investors, and society as a whole. Such a diverse collection of stakeholders has differing interests, such as the ability to participate in decision-making, recognition of customary rights and other forms of land tenure, and the ability to receive benefits from REDD+ policies and measures. Sri Lanka will, therefore, have to report on the national safeguards criteria, through the safeguard information system, to show all stakeholders, how well their concerns are addressed and respected during implementation of REDD+.