While the political drama around the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by the United States unfolds, steady progress continues to be made in developing countries on REDD+, the forest-based climate change mitigation mechanism, negotiations on which were also concluded in Paris two years ago.
One somewhat overlooked decision agreed at the Paris summit is ‘UNFCCC 18/CP.21’ on the non-carbon benefits (also referred to as ‘co-benefits’ or ‘multiple benefits’) of REDD+. Forests host important biodiversity, and provide a range of ecosystem services, such as water regulation, production of food, fuel, and fibre, as well as cultural benefits, among others. REDD+ actions can protect or enhance these ecosystem services by preventing forest loss or degradation, or restoring forest ecosystems. Improved livelihoods, clarification of land tenure, and stronger governance may also arise from implementing REDD+.
In Decision 18/CP.21, countries decided that non-carbon benefits are not a requirement for receiving financial support for REDD+ implementation, nor for receiving payments for carbon results. But they did recognise that non-carbon benefits are important for the long-term sustainability of REDD+ and can contribute to climate change adaptation. Consequently, countries are invited to submit information on the nature, scale and importance of non-carbon benefits related to REDD+ implementation.
But if under REDD+ a developing country is only going to get paid for carbon, why make the effort to try and optimise, as well as voluntarily provide information on, non-carbon benefits of REDD+? The answer is threefold.
Firstly, identifying and factoring non-carbon benefits, as well as potential environmental and social risks, into national REDD+ strategy processes can lead to better, more sustainable, REDD+ implementation (as noted in Decision 18/CP.21). Knowledge of non-carbon benefits can inform better design and location of REDD+ actions in a landscape, as well as a country’s approaches to safeguards, with the overarching objectives to enhance benefits and avoid potentials risks of REDD+ implementation.
Secondly, getting REDD+ actions to yield broader environmental and social benefits can contribute to making progress on national policy goals – such as those on biodiversity, green growth and poverty reduction - as well as international policy commitments on the environment and society, including the Sustainable Development Goals.
And lastly, identifying and providing information on non-carbon benefits could result in better ‘market access’ in terms meeting requirements and beyond-carbon objectives of donors looking to finance REDD+ actions or pay for REDD+ results. Providing information on non-carbon benefits could lead to increased investor and donor confidence and might affect volumes of financing obtained.
REDD+ countries, under Decision 18/CP.21, are encouraged to share information on non-carbon benefits via the web platform on the Climate Change Convention’s website. The Convention also invites countries to communicate information on non-carbon benefits for consideration by relevant financing entities, which could include the Convention’s Green Climate Fund. Two possible ways that a country could convey information on nature, scale and importance of non-carbon benefits are: 1) national REDD+ strategies (or action plans); and 2) summaries of safeguards information. Both of these documents need to be submitted to the Convention to be eligible for payments under REDD+. Incorporating non-carbon benefits into one or both documents could be an efficient way to demonstrate good-practice responses to Convention guidance.
So, if we can appreciate why non-carbon benefits are of such benefit to countries, the next questions is how to go about optimizing them in REDD+ planning and implementation, as well as how to mitigate the risks that REDD+ actions might pose to the environment and society? Before the non-carbon benefits of REDD+ can be secured and maximized, they must be identified. And how to do that, and really add value to REDD+ beyond payments for carbon, will be explored in the next article in this series…
UN Environment’s Steve Swan coordinates safeguards activities on the UN-REDD Programme and directly supports countries in meeting their safeguards commitments. He can be reached at Steven.Swan@unenvironment.org
Judith Walcott is a Programme Officer for the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre; her work focuses on supporting countries on safeguards as well as in the planning for and mapping of social and environmental benefits from REDD+. She can be reached at Judith.Walcott@unep-wcmc.org