Current State, Barriers and Perspectives for REDD+ in the Congo Basin - CBFP

The report draws on a thorough review of the available literature. It is complemented by 21 semi-structured anonymous interviews with key REDD+ experts. The authors conducted the interviews between November 2020 and February 2021. Interview partners include representatives of Congo Basin countries, donor states, academia, NGOs and independent technical experts. Instead of going to lengths in elucidating the entire range of options for reducing deforestation and forest degradation, the study report lists concrete courses of action which might be pursued in the future.

 

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Report: Current State, Barriers and Perspectives for REDD+ in the Congo Basin

Policy Brief : New perspectives for REDD+ in the Congo Basin

The Congo Basin is the second largest contiguous tropical forest area in the world. It is among the last large remaining forest carbon pools on the planet and currently remains a stable carbon sink. At the same time, the forests of the Congo Basin are under anthropogenic pressure from various drivers and underlying causes. Despite ongoing efforts toward conservation and sustainable forest management, the risks of losing the Congo Basin´s forest ecosystems and their natural capital are increasing. To counter this trend, many Congo Basin countries have engaged in efforts aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conservation and sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and are committing to forest protection measures.

 

The Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) is a multi-stakeholder forum that brings together 119 members and forest stakeholders to improve natural resource management and human well-being in the Congo Basin. In 2020-2021, the CBFP is facilitated by the Government of Germany. The German Facilitation has commissioned a series of background studies on topics relevant to the future of the Congo rainforests. The study at hand focuses on the status quo of REDD+ in the Congo Basin and potential courses of action to overcome identified barriers to REDD+ implementation.

 

Globally, the progress of REDD+ (from “readiness” via “implementation” to “results-based payments”) varies from country to country. However, particularly for African countries, there is a wide consensus that REDD+ has not made the progress initially hoped for. This report summarizes the status quo and highlights barriers to the effective implementation of REDD+, with a specific view to the Congo Basin. The study focuses on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, and Cameroon, as exemplary case studies for the Basin. Where possible, the study presents conclusions at the regional level.

 

The report draws on a thorough review of the available literature. It is complemented by 21 semi-structured anonymous interviews with key REDD+ experts. The authors conducted the interviews between November 2020 and February 2021. Interview partners include representatives of Congo Basin countries, donor states, academia, NGOs and independent technical experts. Instead of going to lengths in elucidating the entire range of options for reducing deforestation and forest degradation, the study report lists concrete courses of action which might be pursued in the future. Key findings on barriers to REDD+ progress in the Congo Basin and ideas for overcoming these are outlined below.

 

Severe governance challenges persist. Political will to implement REDD+ varies amongst national governments and local stakeholders and merely increasing REDD+ funds will not necessarily increase political will. Incoherence between sectoral land-based policies (e.g., agriculture, forestry, and mining) is detrimental to the REDD+ agenda. In this context, highlighting win-win solutions for forests and other land-based sectors is crucial. This calls for sustainable agricultural intensification, which reduces pressure on natural forests. Also, land tenure should be strengthened, and proactive policies for land-use planning, infrastructure and family planning to reduce demographic pressure could be promoted. Cross-sectoral alignment and policy coherence can be achieved by anchoring the REDD+ agenda at a high political level.

 

Monitoring and MRV capabilities have been significantly improved in most Congo Basin countries. However, most systems to measure, report and verify (MRV) emissions in the region are still unable to reliably track more gradual and nuanced forest degradation, or the carbon sequestration function of standing forests. Regional off-the-shelf solutions with potential for national-scale adaptation provide a promising pathway toward more coherent forest monitoring. Forest inventories merit more attention from donors and might be facilitated by the advent of disruptive technologies. At the same time, it should be noted that improved MRV capacities per se will not solve the complex challenges of rising rates of deforestation and forest degradation.

 

Conceptual and technical challenges persist around the notion of reference levels. While the historical average over a reference period is the most commonly used approach under UNFCCC´s Warsaw Framework, upwards adjustments due to national circumstances are possible to potentially obtain higher levels of results-based payments (RBPs). In this context, environmental integrity and methodological soundness should be key criteria for assessing emission reductions to ensure a real mitigation impact.

 

There is growing scope to include “Plus activities” from REDD+ in RBP schemes. As opposed to avoided deforestation of threatened forests, these new models emphasize the important role of standing forests, including their role in the global carbon cycle and the ecosystem services they provide. Conceptual challenges persist concerning the notion of additionality and the scope of REDD+ under UNFCCC. More robust MRV systems and resulting data and information are needed to allow for an accurate appraisal of the role of stable forests. In parallel, effective lobbying with international funding mechanisms has the potential to increase funding streams that reward standing forests in high forest low deforestation countries in the Congo Basin for their role in the global climate system.

 

Multiple financing sources exist for REDD+ which, to date, have focused on readiness and the RBP phase. Several funders and multi-donor partnerships are discussing stronger provisions for countries with historically low deforestation rates, so-called high forest low deforestation (HFLD) countries, some of which can be found in the Congo Basin. The year 2021 represents a window of opportunity to influence reforms of existing REDD+ financial incentive structures in favor of HFLD countries and sub-national regions. More attention should be directed towards alternative and complementary set-ups such as local schemes of payments for ecosystem services funded by small domestic taxes on consumables, nature swaps and conservation offsetting.

 

Given limited available public funding, the private sector plays a critical role in future efforts to preserve Central African forests. The industrial forest sector manages immense forest areas in the countries’ national forest domains through the concession system. While concessions hold strong provisions for halting deforestation, the sector is under pressure. The Concessions 2.0 concept integrates multiple land uses within the boundaries of existing forest concessions and may represent a much-needed new business model for sustainable forestry. Changes in the fiscal system of the industrial logging sector may incentivize more sustainable production. Cocoa is one of the few agricultural products from the region with a substantial role in international markets. In Cameroon, the cocoa sector is elaborating policies to free the supply chain of deforestation. Such efforts offer a valuable entry point for support via the CBFP as well as by Germany and other invested parties. The High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach to “earmark” the most valuable forests for preservation is an important framework for the private sector.

 

The ‘business as usual’ outlook for the Congo Basin forests is dire. For REDD+ to be implemented more effectively, the following measures are recommended and necessary: (i) stronger political commitment to REDD+, (ii) increased policy coherence across different land use sectors, (iii) stronger financial incentive provisions for HFLD countries in REDD+, and (iv) lobbying for alter-native funding sources for forest ecosystems within and in addition to REDD+.

 

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