The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will meet in Durban, South Africa from November 28, 2011 to December 9, 2011 to hold yet another round of negotiations on addressing the climate change crisis.
This will be the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17), a critical meeting given the inconclusive outcomes of COP 15 and COP 16 in Copenhagen and Cancun respectively.
A major item on the agenda will be negotiations on the need to include forests in climate change mitigation, a mechanism technically termed “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation plus” (REDD+).
Developing countries, including Ghana, are at the heart of implementing the REDD+ mechanism given that the bulk of the world’s remaining forests that need to be salvaged are in these countries.
Though implementation of REDD+ is voluntary, the countries that choose to implement it would be given funds to help them reduce the deforestation and forest degradation rates in their countries and hence avoid the accompanying carbon emissions. Agreement was reached in Cancun that mitigation activities that can be funded also include Sustainable Management of Forests, Conservation and Enhancement of Forest Carbon Stocks (collectively the “+” of REDD+).
However, various details on key elements of the design of REDD+, which include a Safeguards Information System (SIS), and on the finance mechanism needed to implement it are still to be agreed.
Settling as many of these crucial details as possible will be among the priorities for Durban.
In Cancun, Mexico (2010), it was decided that REDD+ mitigation activities should be undertaken in accordance with the following safeguards, which should also be promoted and supported by the implementing countries:
• Actions are consistent with the objectives of national forest programmes and relevant international conventions and agreements;
• Transparent and effective national forest governance structures, taking into account national legislation and sovereignty;
• Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities, by taking into account relevant international obligations, national circumstances and laws;
• The full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular, indigenous peoples and local communities;
• Actions are consistent with the conservation of natural forests and biological diversity… and to enhance other social and environmental benefits;
• Actions to address the risks of reversals;
• Actions to reduce displacement of emissions.
Safeguards as they relate to REDD+ are in two distinct categories; the first category has to do with the social aspect, development and governance, whilst the second is related to reversals, permanence and leakage.
These are elements that are central to the successful implementation of REDD+ for balanced environmental, climatic and social gains. “The Cancun Agreement requests that countries develop an information system to track how safeguards are addressed and respected for REDD+.
This is an important operational step for making the safeguards applicable” (WRI, 2011). The purpose of the SIS is therefore to provide information to national and international actors about how REDD+ safeguards are respected and addressed in achieving the objectives of the mechanism, as well as to identify spending and capacity needs.
The information is of central importance for building confidence of stakeholders and for guiding the application of funds. Without it, REDD+ cannot be implemented successfully.
Such a system needs to be transparent, participatory, consistent, complete, comparable and accurate with the ability to continuously improve the quality of the information and enable tracking of progress in the implementation of the safeguards over time.
The detail that needs to be fleshed out in Durban includes: what specific information will be captured, how the information will be shared and what the information will be used for.
The information to be provided within such a system must demonstrate that REDD+ activities are undertaken in accordance with the REDD+ safeguards and must also show any improvements made over time. The essence of such a system is to ensure calm within the forest sector and society at large, as it would need to also demonstrate the effectiveness of dispute resolution, including publishing specific cases.
Information generated by the domestic monitoring systems that Government of Ghana puts in place for REDD+ should be made publicly available in a format that is accessible and regularly updated. International reporting should be undertaken at least every two years.
Thus information demonstrating that safeguards are being addressed and respected should be provided through a common reporting format that is incorporated into Ghana’s biennial update reports and National Communication Reports to the UNFCCC.
This will ensure transparency and public accountability towards the achievement of good governance. Multi-stakeholder peer review at national level of the information collected and provided and international independent expert review are important to serve as a check for the system.
The Safeguards Information System should also have a facilitative feedback loop to inform the provision of support to enhance capacity and ensure continuous improvements, especially in the face of a dynamic society.
As a country that prides herself as one of the few African countries that always takes the leadership in various initiatives including the EU-Voluntary Partnership Agreement, the African Peer Review Mechanism and others, it would not be out of place to show leadership in recognising and actually implementing REDD+ with good governance arrangements.
Such good governance arrangements involve the recognition of safeguards and a well designed system of providing information on these safeguards to the UNFCCC and the world at large in the face of REDD+ implementation.
The upcoming COP 17 in Durban is an opportunity for Ghana to exhibit this commitment to good governance. I am calling on the government of Ghana and the official delegates to the UNFCCC to be more vocal and supportive of an effective Safeguard Information System (SIS) that has the aforementioned elements.
By Abdul-Razak Saeed, Civic Response