African countries up their REDD+ safeguards game to take ownership of national processes

In October 2017, I stated that, “no country in Africa has yet to meet the REDD+ safeguards requirements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)”. Referring to the status of REDD+ safeguards progress in Africa, captured in a regional workshop on ‘Navigating the Transition from REDD+ Readiness to Implementation,’ I went on to declare that, “no country in the region has an operational safeguards information system, and no African country has made a start on a summary of safeguards information".

Eight months later, two African countries – Ghana and Madagascar – have online safeguard information system portals, while Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Zambia have begun drafting their first summaries of safeguards information. This progress, together with that of six other African countries – Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, and Uganda – was the subject of a recent South-South Knowledge Exchange event on ‘Country Approaches to REDD+ Safeguards and Safeguard Information Systems’ that was hosted by the Ghana Forestry Commission in Accra in June 2018.

Participant Astrid Ntanga from the Democratic Republic of Congo at the recent South-South Knowledge Exchange on REDD+ safeguards held in Accra, Ghana. Photo credit: UN-REDD Programme

In Accra, we learnt that the number of African countries with a safeguard information system design on paper has almost doubled since 2017. Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, in the west, now join East African nations Ethiopia, Madagascar and Zambia with SIS designs in place.

(See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Snapshot of progress with safeguards information system design for the Africa Region (as of June 2018)

Yet none of these safeguard information systems are fully operational – globally, only Mexico claims to have ‘a fully operational safeguards information system’ – while the rest of the Africa Region is still at the design phase of their systems. Ranging from expectations of harmonising multiple safeguards frameworks applied to REDD+ at the international level, through to domestically securing and maintaining government institutional collaboration and sharing of information, the challenges of safeguard information system design in Africa echo those of other regions.

Nevertheless, the Accra event provided a welcome occasion for African countries to reflect not only on the challenges faced, but the possible opportunities when developing a REDD+ safeguard information system. In doing so, they drew out some key lessons to inform improved design processes back home and to share with countries from other regions.

Following a phased design process

Perhaps the most practical lesson for a country just starting to work on its safeguard information system is the value of following a logically sequenced step-by-step design process. The African safeguard information system design process (Figure 2) – based on the collective experiences of African countries to date – is consistent with good practices in other regions. This process is acknowledged to be highly iterative, with safeguard information system design and functionality progressively evolving with each new version of the system.

Figure 2: Africa's step-by-step process to develop a REDD+ safeguards information system (based on collective country experiences to date)

Engaging multiple stakeholders

Multi-stakeholder taskforces or technical working groups can play a crucial role in coordinating and guiding consultative, if not participatory, design processes. Such working groups should be as inclusive as needs dictate and funds permit, while including representatives from government and civil society. While dedicated resources would still be needed to strengthen institutional capacities to run the systems once built, working groups were noted to be vital in creating ownership of technical safeguard information system design solutions.

Assessing existing information systems

Building on existing systems, as per the UNFCCC guidance, has proven to be a valuable way to embed a safeguards information system in existing institutional arrangements, while keeping operational costs down. There is plenty of information, which can be used to demonstrate that safeguards are being addressed and respected, within existing government information systems and sources. Assessing existing systems and sources of information to find readily available information to populate the safeguards information system has proven to be a crucial step in the design process.

Determining financial requirements

Evaluating the cost of safeguards information system design and operations, and budgeting for it, should not be overlooked during the development phase. While the overall cost of operating a system may not be high – early indications from African countries range from half a percent to five of total REDD+ implementation costs – there is a need to include these costs, and identify potential funding sources, in the budgets of national REDD+ strategies or investment plans.

Taking ownership of the process

Finally, country ownership of the safeguard information system development process, and the resulting product, is paramount. More than any other message, this resonated loudest and clearest among participants in Accra. While development partners and consultants have an important supportive technical-assistance role to play, the safeguards process must be government-led and locally owned if they are to become a sustained operational reality.

For more information on REDD+ safeguards information systems:

About the writer

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

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