The land use sector is crucial to confronting climate change, with forests providing the single largest opportunity to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
In the past decade, countries in Asia and the Pacific have joined a global drive to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and to conserve forests – an approach known as REDD+.
The push requires new policies, institutions and capacities and calls on different sectors, stakeholders and administrations to work together, noted delegates at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) held in Kyoto, Japan, on 13 May.
The panel Spotlight on the journey and implementation of REDD+, co-hosted by the UN-REDD Programme and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), looked at the past and future of REDD+ and presented key insights from Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
FORESTS AS CAPITAL, NOT COMMODITIES
Malaysia is a federation of states at various levels of economic development. “Some subnational governments think of forests, which cover two-thirds of our land area, as a source of income,” noted Dr. Elizabeth Philip, the REDD+ focal point for the Malaysian government.
“We initially saw that as a challenge but then realized that REDD+ can harmonize development and climate goals,” she said.
Malaysia has since focused on the sustainable management of forests to reduce emissions from this sector, and it is one of four countries in the world to have reported REDD+ results to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). “We believe,” said Philip, “that REDD+ can contribute to shifting our perception of forests, so we see them as national capital rather than mere commodities.”
BUILDING CAPACITY AND TRUST
REDD+ presents countries with the chance to address broader land use issues in their territories, including the land rights of Indigenous people. This has been the case for Myanmar, which recorded the third largest area of deforestation in the world between 2010 and 2015.
According to Naw Ei Ei Min, director of Promotion of Indigenous and Nature Together in Myanmar (POINT), the REDD+ process triggered a dialogue to rebuild the long-broken trust between the government and Indigenous peoples.
Naw Ei Ei Min started engaging with the REDD+ readiness process nearly a decade ago. Since 2010, she has participated in the safeguard analysis for her country and worked to ensure that the perspectives of grassroots organizations, especially those of Indigenous peoples, are taken into account – both on paper and in reality.
“Law enforcement is important to fight illegal logging and to foster sustainable forest management,” she stressed. She also urged authorities to protect Indigenous communities from further land-grabbing, particularly as Myanmar strives to achieve its commitments to the global climate agenda, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
“The 10-year process brought about a greater recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights and more transparency concerning forest management, which makes it easier for us to make our voices heard,” she said.
MORE DATA, LESS EMISSIONS
As for Vietnam, the REDD+ process resulted in a significant leap forward in terms of technical capacity. Vietnam’s transition in forest cover is testament to the importance of forest monitoring data, as highlighted by Dr. Nguyen Dinh Hung of the country’s Forestry Inventory Planning Institute (FIPI).
“Vietnam’s forest cover has increased steadily from 18 percent in 1995 to almost 42 percent now, and one of the reasons for this success is our national forest monitoring program,” he explained. Over the past two decades, forest-monitoring data has helped Vietnamese administrations launch large-scale tree-planting campaigns spanning nearly five million hectares.
“Data also helped authorities design reforestation and afforestation projects at the provincial level,” he said. “For example, data about the location and area of barren land, or degraded forests, were used to determine the targets for tree-planting activities.”
PLANS THAT MAKE BUSINESS SENSE
“Reducing deforestation makes climate sense, and it also makes business sense,” said Emelyne Cheney, regional advisor on Forests and Climate Change at UN Environment in Asia and the Pacific. “Companies are increasingly aware of the risks posed by deforestation in their commodity supply chains.”
Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar work closely with the UN-REDD Programme, which builds on the expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Environment. The program supports 65 partner countries with technical assistance, capacity-building and policy advice to help them access REDD+ financing.
The need to build partnerships with the private sector, including banks and traders in land-intensive commodities, is one of the main lessons learned over the last decade, pointed out Danae Maniatis, Senior Policy and Technical Advisor for the UN-REDD Programme at UNDP.
Maniatis also mentioned the importance of working across government sectors, such as agriculture, environment and finance, to transform the forestry and land use sectors, and stressed the need to work across scales, from the national to the project level.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM A DECADE OF REDD+
Reflecting on the efforts of the three countries showcased at the Global Landscapes Forum: Kyoto event, Cheney from UN Environment emphasized that “forests are the fastest, cheapest and most immediate nature-based climate solution.” For her, the greatest achievement of REDD+ has been to raise the visibility of forests as a key part of the climate discussion, including in Asia and the Pacific.
A decade of REDD+ has yielded valuable lessons as well. They include the importance of quality forest monitoring data; Indigenous peoples’ perspectives; and coordination with the private sector, across government areas and across administrative levels.
The diverse panelists reflected on the incredible journey of REDD+ thus far and also looked towards its potential future. Going forth, Naw Ei Ei Min urged decision-makers to coordinate policies concerning REDD+, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and land rights, as well as to ensure the implementation of REDD+ safeguards.
Dr. Nguyen highlighted the role that REDD+ can play in advancing the Paris Agreement, while Dr. Philip saw it as an opportunity to advance sustainable agricultural and forestry practices, and to increase the area and quality of forest reserves.