Photo; Bobulix via flickr/CC 2.0
In 2008, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) embarked on its national REDD+ journey as one of the first countries with a National UN-REDD Programme. Over the past 10 years, the DRC has deciphered the vagaries of UNFCCC negotiations and their application at the national level to address the requirements of various initiatives. Over the years, DRC has become both a pioneer and a testing lab for REDD+.
The DRC is a country of superlatives: it is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world and boasts the third highest population growth globally. But it also sits at the bottom of the Human Development Index. Despite its position as the world's leading producer of coltan, a mineral that allows many other countries to use mobile technology for sophisticated forest observation systems, the DRC does not benefit from it. Instead, coltan is a cause of conflict and the loss of the country’s unparalleled natural resources including its trees, soil and biodiversity.
In its dual role as a REDD+ pioneer and testing lab, the DRC has witnessed many successes, but it has also learned many lessons over the past 10 years. The DRC played a major role in the UNFCCC negotiations during the first, defining years and as a founding member of the Rainforest Coalition and chair of the African Group on Climate Change negotiations under the UNFCCC. Yet this active position in the negotiations also raised high expectations on the ground.
Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, representing Least Developed Countries (LDCs ) on the Board of the Global Climate Fund (GCF) , stresses the importance of global accords trickling down to the local level: “The DRC has been a trendsetter and a model REDD+ country, following guidance and meeting global requirements. However, certainty with regards to finance is still faltering, yet necessary, if we are to maintain the momentum of this win-win solution offered by REDD+.”
A multi-sector approach
In 2012, with the UNDP’s help through the global UN-REDD Programme, DRC presented its National REDD+ Strategy with the ambitious aim of stabilizing forest cover to 63.5 percent by 2030 and maintaining it thereafter. Endorsed by the Council of Ministers, this strategy puts land use at the heart of the nation’s sustainable development pathway. The 2015-2020 DRC REDD+ Investment Plan, one of the first to be developed in REDD+ countries, stems directly from this strategy. The country then proceeded to set up a National REDD+ Fund (FONAREDD). The innovative governance structure of this fund, combined with the quality of the investment plan, triggered a commitment of $200 million USD through the Central African Forest Initiative in 2016.
Decisions on fund allocations are made by a National Steering Committee, chaired by the Minister of Finance, which convenes no less than 6 Sectoral Ministers to decide how to save the country’s forests. This committee, which also allocates voting rights to members of civil society, has already approved major programs to launch reform on land use planning and land tenure; enhance existing actions at the provincial and territorial level in high deforestation areas; and support civil society and indigenous peoples partaking in the process.
We know that REDD+ is a cross-cutting issue in the vast majority of countries, but how many can showcase inter-ministerial coordination for forest preservation? “The role of the Ministry of Finance is often questioned by partners, as REDD+ has been traditionally placed within Ministries of Environment,” said Felicien Mulenda, Coordinator of the Technical Committee in charge of public sector reforms for DRC’s Ministry of Finance. “However, in order to push through tough sectoral reforms while enabling the Ministry of Environment to deliver its mandate on forest governance, it is sometimes necessary to muscle through the resistance of grounded practices. The Ministry of Finance levels the power asymmetry that the Ministry of Environment usually faces in these circumstances. It will take all our combined efforts to deliver a development pathway that considers standing forests as an asset.”
Strides in REDD+ Safeguards Information System and Forest Monitoring
Safeguards are a second pillar of the UNFCCC Warsaw Framework. Here again, DRC has been a pioneer, painstakingly establishing a complex SESA and a nationally-owned Safeguards Information System with UN Environment’s support via the UN-REDD Programme. “REDD+ offers significant social and environmental benefits, but, if not assessed, some risks to communities and the environment may arise,” said Issa Lingbelu from Groupe de Travail Climat Redd Rénové. “Hence the need for these safeguards. Today, as the DRC has transitioned into its implementation phase, we recognize that despite the document on SESA, we still have a long way to go to ensure it is operational, respected and applied. As a civil society platform, we see it as our role to remain aware of such risks and ensure the country’s investment portfolio is balanced.”
The DRC also invested in strengthening its capacity on forest monitoring, initiated in the 1980s with Canadian support that received additional impetus with the emergence of REDD+ through FAO’s support via the UN-REDD Programme. Today, DRC’s National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS) is being finalized with funding from the Central African Forest Initiative to become a support tool for decision-making. “Figures and trends of forest cover loss are not generated by far removed international experts, but by Congolese technicians proud to work for their country,” said Dr. Jean-Paul Kibambe, lead author of the FREL at the FAO 2018 COFO side-event.
It is thanks to the NFMS that the DRC was able to submit its FREL in 2018 – a major landmark, but also one attesting to the fact that the country has transitioned from a HFLD to a HFHD during this period. This trend makes funding at scale all the more urgent, particularly if the forest transition curve is to be curbed.
As the DRC made progress with the requirements of the Warsaw Framework, the need for financing was exacerbated. DRC is positioned to become one of the first countries to sign an ERPA with the Carbon Fund. As Victor Kabengele, negotiator of the ERPA for the DRC explained recently: “We’ve come a long way with the inclusion of Article 5 in the Paris Agreement and similarly, with the negotiations of the Carbon Fund methodological framework, term sheets and the preparation of foundational documents. However, in both cases, we are confronted with significant disappointment considering shifting goal posts, increasing requirements, and the high cost of verifying emission reductions. In the meantime, we are expected to provide solutions that will help communities meet their needs and those of the global community.”
For all these reasons, REDD + in the DRC is both a challenge and an opportunity to provide forest-compatible solutions while ensuring access to services, jobs and decent livelihoods. The DRC can also demonstrate that REDD+ is a true, tangible game-changer enabling forest countries to take a different development pathway. For this to happen, risks need to be taken on both sides, based on mutual trust and a common will to jointly manage the ebbs and flows of this journey.
Despite its pioneer role, the DRC must continue to work to create a lasting relationship of mutual trust with the international community. Together, we can prove that the REDD+ concept can work well and together, we can manage the pitfalls that will inevitably be encountered along this journey.
Mirey Atallah, Chief Technical Advisor, FONAREDD
Mirey Atallah holds two post-graduate degrees in Land Use Planning and Environmental Management and Policies and has fourteen years of professional working experience in the field of environment predominantly consisting of resource mobilization, project/portfolio management and coordination of operational support to countries. Her work experience spans the private sector, public administration (Ministry of Environment), national and international NGOs as well the UN where she has been employed since June 2006 with the UNDP/GEF then UNDP/REDD+ teams. She has hands on working experience across the Arab States as well as over 20 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including a focus on Central Africa and the Congo Basin states from May 2011 to July 2013. She has supported political negotiations and track 2 process of the Nile Basin Initiative and represented UNDP at the Nile Basin Trust Fund Committee. Since July 2013 she has occupied her current position of Senior Officer for National Programmes within the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat. In this function she is in charge of the programming cycle from cradle to grave and supports informed decision-making of the Executive Board and Management Group. An active member of the Lebanese diaspora, she occasionally writes opinion pieces as voluntary contributions to a Lebanese magazine.