Guest Post: Fighting Corruption in Anti-Deforestation Programs — The Case of REDD+

Aled Williams, Senior Advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, contributes the following guest post:

The protection of tropical forests is a hot topic, particularly in light of the pressing threat of global climate change. The 2014 UN Climate Summit saw a range of national and subnational governments, along with numerous business and civil society organizations, endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests, which set a timeline for cutting natural forest loss in half (by 2020) and ending it completely (by 2030). A major goal of the declaration is to agree at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris is to reduce deforestation and forest degradation as part of a post-2020 global climate agreement. And financial contributions are now stacking up, with more than USD 9.6 billion pledged by 22 countries to the UN’s Green Climate Fund.

Securing a global climate agreement that includes tropical deforestation would no doubt be a historic achievement. But once world leaders return from Paris next year, the proof of the pudding will lie in national implementation. They may well wish to consider what can be learned from recent schemes for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (known as REDD+), to date largely funded by the Norwegian government through bilateral arrangements with major deforesters like Indonesia and Brazil, but also channeled through multilateral agencies. It turns out that even when donors have pledged substantial amounts of money, spending that money effectively can be challenging. A major part of that challenge relates to the difficult political-economy of forest sector reform in developing countries, where corruption in its various guises can be a core feature. Indeed, despite being described as a potential game-changer for addressing tropical deforestation, REDD+ financing also risks increasing corruption and related problems like land grabbing.

These challenges are not new and indeed were well-known among Norwegian aid practitioners as REDD+ pilots began some four years ago. But the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre has just completed a three year research project–based on case studies of REDD+ pilots in the DRC, Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, and Tanzania–that sheds some new light on the issues. The report’s empirical findings suggest three main lessons:

  • First, although the UN-REDD Programme (a UN initiative which supports national REDD+ programs) has developed governance safeguards for REDD+, these safeguards are not, by themselves, sufficient to mitigate corruption in the schemes. This is because they depend on more fundamental country reforms that are in many instances still pending and highly political, such as the enactment of access-to-information laws or whistleblower protection provisions.
  • Second, REDD+ pilots have been accompanied by national anticorruption campaigns attempting to raise awareness of the risks. But these campaigns do not reach down to the local project level. Practical access to forestland and to the economic and livelihood benefits such access assures are the most important incentives at the local level. It is these incentives that ensure bribery or nepotism to avoid forest sector regulations persist, and it is unlikely they can be changed through financing alone.
  • Third, national and local actors assumed to play an anticorruption watchdog or monitoring role in REDD+ may be subject to conflicts of interest. Because many NGOs and community-based groups directly receive REDD+ financing, it may not be wise to rely primarily on their warnings of abuses.

There is no evidence of large-scale corruption linked to REDD+ to date, although minor misuses of funding have been seen, for example, in Tanzania, and the activities of “carbon cowboys” have been widely reported. This may be because much REDD+ money has yet to hit the ground in tropical forested countries. On the other hand, empirical evidence of continuing corrupt practices in the forest sector is considerable. The potential for forms of corruption to undermine national implementation of any post-2020 global climate agreement needs to be taken seriously. The lessons are already being learned. The question is, will they be heeded?

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Fighting Corruption in Anti-Deforestation Programs — The Case of REDD+

  1. I think the third finding is particularly important, perhaps because it may be the easiest (relatively) to address but also because the conflict of interest problem appears in myriad other development aid scenarios where implementation units have every incentive to complete projects, regardless of abuse of funding. I remember reading about a required, independent body for monitoring, reporting, and verification in a U4 report on REDD+ in Indonesia. The report I looked at is several years old but it sounds like interested actors still figure prominently in monitoring and evaluation. Is independent MRV standard in REDD+ programs? What are some barriers to a well-functioning, independent system of review?

  2. Pingback: REDD in the news: 5-11 January 2015 | REDD-Monitor

  3. The UN-REDD Programme has established MRV guidelines and offers technical support and advice to countries in setting-up MRV systems. But the precise nature of the MRV system is up to national governments, with the idea that what constitutes an effective and robust system will vary in different contexts. This obviously offers a lot of scope for variation in the way MRV is done.

    The third point I raise in the initial post is really made up of at least two issues, which it might be helpful to unpack more.

    The first issue is how national and local non-governmental actors monitor REDD+ and whether there are conflicts of interest with any monitoring role and their implementation work, where they will depend on REDD+ financing.

    The second issue is how the national, governmental, system for MRV works, including how it mitigates the potential for conflicts of interest and integrates feedback from communities and NGOs, among others.

    In Indonesia the national MRV system is under preparation and is coordinated by the Ministry of Environment. The system will use a combination of satellite, forestry, agricultural, and topographical data from a number of agencies to calculate carbon emissions.

    I think the important thing for both national MRV systems and NGO/community monitoring is what types of empirical data are collected, how this is collated, what the process is for validation, and how are decision then made based on the validated data. Including only interested parties in data collection, validation or decision-making is likely to be problematic, so there needs to be a range of techniques for data collection, a range of actors involved in validation, and real debate about solutions.

    Technology can help, although certain types of technology may not always be appropriate and it is not the only issue. Just by way of an example, I have been following the work of the University of London’s Extreme Citizen Science Project which seek s to ground-truth changes in forest land in the Congo Basin based on what they call ‘intelligent maps’. See:

  4. Deforestation is one of the major contributors to climate change, a change in water and weather cycles, and a loss of biodiversity all around the world. As many scientists have explained, many of the world’s largest rainforests are at their tipping points when it comes to just how many trees they can have and still function normally, but if deforestation continues at the rate it is now, there will no longer be a tipping point, there will just be reality. It is estimated that in 80 years, there will no longer be any forests on Earth if deforestation continues at the rate it is now. My solutions to this problem involve the help of people around the world, because they are finally realizing that this issue is actually jeopardizing our future, and want to do something about it. Making conscious choices about the things we use everyday and cracking down on illegal logging companies will make an enormous impact on the rate of deforestation, and may just be enough to turn the tables. The takeaway here, though, is that everyone contributes to deforestation and the destruction of our planet in some way, so if everyone were to do something to reverse the damage, real change could happen.

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