This piece was written with Gaia Larsen and Crystal Davis.
This spring, Parties to the UNFCCC must decide whether or not to continue discussions on the REDD+ safeguard information system (SIS) guidance that started in Durban. In particular, Parties have the option of developing further guidance related to the “transparency, consistency, comprehensiveness and effectiveness of the information” in the SIS. Parties may not wish to reopen this discussion given the many topics that still need to be addressed to make REDD+ operational, but not re-opening the discussion may be a missed opportunity for REDD+ countries seeking to improve the effectiveness of the implementation of the REDD+ safeguards. In order for these conversations to move forward, Parties may wish to have informal discussions next week during the REDD+ Partnership  meeting in London. The new guidance  to support countries developing a REDD+ safeguard information system is incomplete. While most Parties and Observers that submitted views to SBSTA in advance of Durban included examples of the types of information that an SIS should include (see this summary of country submissions by WRI and ClientEarth  for more information), no guidance on types of information is in the Durban SBSTA text. Many feel that this omission may result in the REDD+ safeguards not being addressed and respected in a robust manner (see here  and here ).
REDD+, Safeguards, and the Safeguard Information System
In December 2010, the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to a set of “REDD+ safeguards” to guide the development and implementation of activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The inclusion of this language in the Cancun agreement confirmed the centrality of addressing all potential impacts and maximizing the benefits of implementing REDD+ activities, including those related to respecting human rights, improving governance and protecting biodiversity.
Parties also agreed to develop a safeguard information system (SIS) to track how REDD+ safeguards are being addressed and respected in REDD+ countries. Parties requested the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) to develop guidance on how this information system should be implemented at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa.
In Durban, Parties expressed concerns about sovereignty and the potential administrative burden that might occur if SBSTA developed guidance on types of information. These concerns manifest in the negotiations in two ways.
First each new iteration of the text that came out had less guidance on the types of information that should be included than the version before, until finally all language was entirely gone.
Second, in the end, even agreeing to include language that would allow Parties to re-open this guidance discussion at a further date was a lengthy and difficult process, and the language was carefully negotiated.
Given the different safeguard information requirements linked to existing REDD+ programs and finance; and the likelihood that there will continue be multiple types of REDD+ finance; it is understandable that REDD+ countries be concerned about adding additional information requirements to what is already a complicated landscape. Harmonization of reporting requirements across all existing REDD+ programs may be unlikely in the near term .1 However, if undertaken carefully – that is by considering current requirements and providing sufficient guidance to influence new REDD+ programs -- the development of the guidance could lead to a more common approach for providing information about how REDD+ safeguards are being addressed and respected across different REDD+ financial instruments. This in turn should reduce the costs of administering REDD+ investments for both hosts and investors, and lead to increased efficiency and coordination with regards to the implementation of the REDD+ safeguards.
Rather than thinking about the SIS guidance as adding a new layer of requirements, the guidance about the types of information needed in the SIS could be used to lay the groundwork for coordinating the various standards and reporting requirements likely linked to future of REDD+ finance.
Before returning to the negotiating table however, Parties should consider both:
The different institutions and types of finance that already are and may become available for REDD+, the different safeguard systems and approaches linked to these various types of finance, and the type of information requirements that they entail; and
National experiences to date with different types of REDD+ finance and safeguards, and with challenges associated with different information requirements.
Parties are not starting from scratch. The submissions to SBSTA from Parties and Observers provide a wealth of suggestions as to the types of information that REDD+ countries should submit to the SIS. The six most frequently cited categories of information include:
- Information related to stakeholders and their engagement in the SIS and REDD+ activities generally, including decision-making processes;
- Information about dispute resolution and grievance mechanisms;
- Information about the potential impacts on forests and biodiversity;
- Laws, policies or regulations in place to implement the safeguards;
- The effectiveness of these legal frameworks and gaps, barriers and challenges to their implementation;
- How the country collected the information and verified its accuracy.
The successful development of a REDD+ SIS will not be easy, but should also not divert significant resources from actually implementing the activities needed to ensure that REDD+ initiatives achieve the objectives in the safeguards. All efforts should be made to provide effective guidance to the actors involved to reduce confusion and enhance coordination and effectiveness. More instruction from SBSTA on the type of information that should be submitted to the SIS could help provide such guidance.
In addition to thinking individually about what may be useful, Parties may also wish to start conversations before the SBSTA meeting in May, such as at the REDD+ Partnership meeting in London at the end of February.
Though certainly there have been some initial steps taken towards harmonization in some REDD+ programs like the FCPF and UNREDD, this is rather a subset of the financial REDD+ flows, which currently tend to flow through bilateral REDD+ programs. ↩