Nine years since the launch of the UN-REDD Viet Nam Phase I Programme, Vietnam has marked a milestone at the end of 2018, by closing its Phase II Programme. What have these nine years achieved, and what has it meant for REDD+ in general and Vietnam in particular?
Vietnamese landscape (Logan Lambert)
“Graduation from the REDD+ readiness phase” is the short answer, but for Vietnam, it is more than that. REDD+ readiness has paved the way for transformational change in the forestry and land use sectors. Back in 2009, when REDD+ was launched in Vietnam, the focus of global and domestic stakeholders was largely on unpacking new acronyms, including REDD+ itself, and attempting to communicate them to multiple audiences. In retrospect, however, the key achievements of REDD+ readiness are represented by slogans of the Government, such as “from more forests to better forests”, advancing the forestry agenda to higher political levels through policies such as the Communist Party’s Directive 13 (2017), and the opening of space for more participation and stakeholder engagement. In 2009, REDD+ was considered the preserve of a specific division in the forestry administration under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD). In 2019, REDD+ is managed through a State Steering Committee headed by the Deputy Prime Minister. This underscores not only the elevated importance of the REDD+ agenda, but also a wide appreciation of the multi-sectoral nature of REDD+, and the relevance of various agencies within and outside MARD.
At the same time, Vietnam has learned many lessons well-worth sharing beyond national boundaries. For example, in the early days of REDD+ readiness, many national stakeholders perceived that the design of a Benefit Distribution System (BDS) was a central element of REDD+. This stemmed from an early misconception of REDD+ as a collection of many individual localised Payment for Environmental Services (PES) projects (reflecting the lessons from the voluntary carbon market projects that were looked upon as forerunners). Such initiatives can indeed contribute to national REDD+ goals, but through various pilots and discussions, Vietnam has learned that the core of a successful REDD+ strategy is effective planning and investment. By development of national and sub-national investment plans, focused on clearly defined objectives, stakeholders can be incentivized towards better forest management (or dis-incentivized from forest destruction). Such incentives may come in various forms, including through access to more secure tenure over land and resources, assistance for market access or through benefits from a separately managed domestic PES scheme.
Rice field terrace in Vietnam (FAO)
Another lesson is that complex and ingrained policy and governance processes, such as land-use planning and decision-making, cannot be reformed overnight. While the idea of financially incentivizing developing countries to better manage forests is innovative and appealing, the urgency of the global challenge to mitigate climate change built expectations that were not always realistic. Even in Vietnam, where conditions for REDD+ were considered relatively ripe, a significant change was needed in policy, institutions and human capacity before sustainable long-term reductions in Greenhouse Gas emissions can be made. Even with strong political commitment, getting the message across and building capacity, among different tiers of government, takes time.
After almost a decade, Vietnam can demonstrate several ways in which REDD+ has contributed to the transformational change in the forestry sector and beyond. A FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) has been signed with the EU last year to institutionalise sustainable forest management practices and legal, transparent trade in timber; state-owned rubber companies are working side by side with local NGOs to develop and implement voluntary standards for sustainable investments in forestry and land use; and mechanisms for leveraging finance from the private sector to forest-based initiatives are in place. However, as with all reforms, momentum needs to be maintained and this will require further investments and strong political commitment. Results-based payments for REDD+, recognizing Vietnam’s progress, are now a tangible prospect, but all eyes are now on Vietnam to show the world how a country can seize the opportunity for transformational change that REDD+ offers.
Forestry Officer, FAO
Akiko is based in Lao PDR. She joined the UN-REDD Programme in 2009 just as the Viet Nam national programme (Phase I) came online, and has been involved in the two phases of the Viet Nam national programmes, as well as engaging with UN-REDD support for Lao PDR and other countries.