21 March 2016
Interview with Mario Boccucci, Head of the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat
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To mark the occasion of the International Day of Forests, celebrated annually on 21 March, IISD RS conducted an interview with Mario Boccucci, Head of the UN collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN-REDD) Programme.

To mark the occasion of the International Day of Forests, celebrated annually on 21 March, IISD RS conducted an interview with Mario Boccucci, Head of the UN collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN-REDD) Programme.

REDD+ is a long acronym that goes something like: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of carbon stocks. How would you describe REDD+ in a nutshell?

Recognizing that emission reductions and removals from forest systems are critical to mitigating climate change, Parties to the UNFCCC agreed on an approach that would incentivize developing countries to maintain their forest cover, decrease their level of deforestation and forest degradation, and rehabilitate degraded forestland – this approach is REDD+. Through REDD+, developing countries are financially rewarded for achieving emissions reductions results. The design of REDD+ also takes into account the important upfront investment needed to support these countries to develop the policies and measures necessary to change the way they are managing their forests.

The question that prompted the concept of REDD+ was: “Given the global, as well as the national, importance of forests, in particular in tropical forest countries, is there a way whereby developing countries can still develop without having to deplete their forest resources?” This is a question that the practitioners in this space have been trying to address for decades in the context of sustainable land use and forest management.

Humanity historically has never succeeded in this endeavor. For instance, those familiar with the Kuznets curves will remember that Kuznets studied and predicted that in any given country the depletion of the forest resource would continue until a country reaches a certain level of development and only at that point would the forest cover increase again. History has certainly confirmed this, and we see this in many European countries.

When the climate change mitigation challenge rose to global attention, forests were identified early on as the most cost-effective short- to medium-term solution to climate change mitigation, meaning that the investment required to reduce emissions from the forest sector was more cost-effective than investments in other sectors.

The whole idea of REDD+ was a system that could really support countries that wanted to shift their economic development pathway away from cutting down forests into a pathway where they could still develop, but also maintain their forests or increase their forest cover by providing incentives in the form of payments for emissions reductions or early investments toward realizing those emissions reductions.

What does the inclusion of REDD+ in the Paris Agreement mean for its implementation?

The first thing to note is that the Paris Agreement is a turning point for humanity and for climate change more specifically. It’s a turning point because it sends a very strong and powerful signal that a global transformation towards a low-emission economy is not only needed, but it’s possible and it’s underway. The Paris Agreement was both a vote of confidence that this dream of transforming our economies in a way that they contribute to both climate change mitigation and adaptation in the context of sustainable development is needed, is possible and can be done in a relatively short period of time. That is the fundamental value of what has happened in Paris.

Within that, having forests and REDD+ recognized explicitly in the Agreement is of tremendous value because it sends the signal that all of the efforts and evidence that the forests and land-use community has brought and delivered, as well as the progress that has been made in the past years in shifting land-use and forest-use towards more sustainable pathways, have been well-received by the global leadership. They have recognized forests and REDD+ as a fundamental instrument to the climate change challenge. That recognition sends a powerful signal to all of the agents of change and stakeholders that have been working for the past years, and will need to work in the coming years, to turn those aspirations into action. It really signals that there is both political and financial confidence in REDD+ as a climate change mitigation solution that can work at scale in the near future.

This signal will energize, catalyze and scale up actions that so far we have seen delivered on a more opportunistic or smaller scale, as the level of investment that will be required will start to flow. Also, countries are now able to implement forest management policy changes with the confidence that they will be rewarded through a climate change regime that recognizes the value of emissions reduction produced through the forest system.

An additional value of the Paris Agreement, in general and for REDD+, is that it brings together in a very powerful way the climate change agenda with the sustainable development agenda. It says: “You have to do these two things together to reach the level of emissions reductions needed to meet the climate change mitigation target of keeping this planet at a less-than-2°C temperature increase, or as close as possible to 1.5°C.” The fact that it has been recognized in the Paris Agreement that emissions reductions from the forest system are important is very powerful and will trigger real action.

In the lead up to the Paris Climate Change Conference, Parties to the UNFCCC submitted intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) outlining their plans for mitigation and, in some cases, adaptation. Many countries included forests in their INDCs. How can REDD+ play a part in countries meeting their INDCs? How does the UN-REDD Programme support the forest-related aspects of countries’ INDCs?

The number of INDCs that included forests is another very powerful signal that was sent in the context of the Paris Agreement process. These were voluntary, indicative, commitments that countries made. And many said: “We believe that our forest system can provide a significant contribution to the climate change mitigation challenge.” That speaks very well to the essence of what the UN-REDD Programme is designed to do. It is designed to respond to country demands. We are here to support countries that have determined that they want to step up to the mitigation challenge with their forest contribution, and in that context, they have determined that the UN system has a useful role to play as a supporting partner.

Developing countries need to meet UNFCCC requirements to realize REDD+ results-based payments. This includes putting in place the four elements of the Warsaw Framework for REDD+:

1. A national strategy and action plan—identifies what a country will do to address the drivers of deforestation and/or rehabilitation;

2. Reference emission level—a benchmark against which the performance of their country will be measured;

3. National forest monitoring system—a system that will allow the country to take measurements on how their forest cover is changing;

4. Safeguard information system—the capacity to “do no bad” in the process of delivering REDD+ while also maximizing the additional benefits beyond carbon.

The UN-REDD Programme has been providing support through technical assistance and policy advice to countries to build these specific capacities, even before they were enshrined in the Warsaw Framework for REDD+, as these are fundamental elements of readiness and implementation.

Apart from these readiness measures that the UN-REDD Programme has been working on for some time and will continue to assist countries with, what other plans does the Programme have post-Paris?

Now, in a post-Paris environment, the 2016-2020 UN-REDD Programme is supporting countries through both the readiness and implementation phases of REDD+. Coming out of Paris, countries are ready to move from aspirations to action, and we are here to support them.

Countries, though, are at different levels of readiness and capacity to enter into action. So the Programme will continue to take a country-led approach, providing tailored support to developing countries, depending on where they are in terms of readiness and implementation. There is the expectation from the global community that within the next five years, countries will be able to show early actions and results. Thus, a post-Paris priority for the Programme is to provide support to those countries that are ready to enter into the implementation phase.

We must remember, though, that there are an even greater number of countries that will be entering the implementation space some years from now, but whose commitment is equally real and who are ready to put in place the Warsaw Framework elements. We will also be providing support to these countries. During the 2016-2020 period, the UN-REDD Programme will focus on facilitating a critical mass of committed countries to make as much progress as they can towards the ultimate objective of the Paris Agreement – which is to deliver actions on the ground at a pace that responds to the climate change imperative.

March 21 is designated as the International Day of Forests and this year’s theme is ‘Forests and Water.’ While REDD+ is largely focused on reducing carbon emissions, much work has gone into trying to ensure the co-benefits of REDD+ are realized and recognized. What is the relationship between REDD+ and water?

There is a very strong, powerful connection between forests and water. The first thing that comes to mind is the key role that forests play in watershed management. While emissions reduction is one of the many benefits that will accrue from a development pathway that sustains forests and forest cover, an additional benefit is water flow management. You can think of it in terms of the fact that forest cover has a direct impact on reduced erosion, decreased siltation and increased water retention, which of course improves the water regulation function of any ecosystem. Therefore it amplifies the values of proper watershed management. Two examples come to mind where this connection is extremely visible.

First an example from Africa: In Kenya, as in many other places in Africa, mountains are considered “water towers” – because mountains are the place where water is generated. These water towers can perform their water supply function when they are covered by forests. In East Africa, you often find yourself in the middle of a savanna and then you see mountains covered by trees. The most extreme example of that would be Mount Kilimanjaro.

Water towers are of critical importance for water management in Africa and for downstream livelihoods, such as smallholders who grow agricultural crops using water that is generated higher up on forested mountains. They are also the backbone of a number of export revenue earners, such as tea and coffee. Maintaining forest cover on those mountain ecosystems in Africa is of critical importance, but this is now being threatened for two, unfortunately mutually reinforcing, reasons.

One is population growth. With an increasing number of people living on these lands, mountains, which were normally considered as marginal lands, are now being put under pressure because there are simply no other lands in the lowlands. People are starting to go up the mountains, and as they do that, they clear forests to plant their crops. The other reason is climate change. Mountains will increasingly become, especially in Africa, places with more hospitable climatic conditions, providing one more reason to go up those mountains. But forests are being cut as a result, undermining the downstream livelihoods.

So what solution can you put in place in a situation like that, where you don’t want to undermine the livelihood development needs and aspirations of a country and its people? That’s where REDD+ can be put in place as an incentive system through which sustainable development can take place without having to cut down the forests. Some examples of this include increasing agricultural productivity; shifting toward agroforestry practices; and finding, financing, investing in and rewarding alternative ways of land-use management that do not reduce the forest cover on those water towers, which in turn will be able to continue to provide downstream water management.

The second example shows this is also true in areas where water scarcity is not the problem. In Indonesia, forests still play a fundamental water regulation process. Deforestation in Indonesia has resulted in floods and landslides, and, with that, siltation of dams and irrigation schemes, generating huge economic losses.

In sum, managing your forested watersheds provides enormous downstream economic and social benefits, even in those areas where water scarcity is not an issue. What the REDD+ mechanism does is find the solutions that maximize the additional benefits in addition to emissions reductions. The UN-REDD Programme is helping countries develop capacities and policies to realize those multiple benefits. Water is certainly one that is clear and will be even more crucial and important as the global community continues to experience more and more extreme climate change-related water events.

These examples also demonstrate that REDD+ is not solely an instrument for climate change mitigation. It is also strongly connected to the climate change adaptation agenda, precisely because there are five activities under REDD+. While one of these activities is reducing deforestation, the others have to do with conservation, reducing forest degradation, and rehabilitating forest cover and degraded forestland. Through these activities, land can be maintained or even reestablished as well-functioning watersheds in areas that would otherwise be negatively affected by increased droughts – realizing important climate adaptation impacts.

In short, forests and water together build stronger and more productive ecosystems on which people depend – and REDD+ is one approach that can not only conserve, but reestablish these productive ecosystems.

IISD Reporting Services interviewed Mario Boccucci on 11 March 2016.

To learn more about the UN-REDD Programme, and to access REDD+ capacity building tools, resources and knowledge, visit www.unredd.net.

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