According to a recent WWF press release, the Democratic Republic of Congo may be on the cusp of unlocking $60 million in payments for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+).
DRC’s emissions reduction program idea note (ER-PIN) was reviewed last month in Paris by the Carbon Fund of the World Bank-run Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), beginning a process of gradual REDD+ implementation in the Central African country.
REDD+ aims to reward forest owners for maintaining their forests rather than cutting them down. The vast Congo Basin rainforest, 60 percent of which lies in the DRC, represents a key prize for REDD+ proponents. In a country faced with extreme poverty, where firewood and charcoal provide a critical resource for local livelihoods, REDD+ appears to show a way where forest conservation could pay for development.
“WWF believes that REDD+ can provide significant benefits to the people and biodiversity of the DRC, and is pleased that the Carbon Fund review has identified areas of the ER-PIN that can be strengthened to maximize effectiveness and potential benefits,” says Raymond Lumbuenamo, head of WWF-DRC.
But is REDD+ missing something?
Between 1998 and 2003, the deadliest war in modern African history ravaged eastern Congo, leaving millions dead and displaced from their homes. Effects of the conflict linger to this day, as the recent fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese Army over the city of Goma attests. Yet even at the local level, many forest dwellers live with insecure tenure rights and conflicts over ownership and usage are common.
As a recent report by International Alert and the London School of Economics highlights, implementing a complex climate mitigation programme such as REDD+ in a country beset with serious governance challenges is difficult enough, but doing so in a context of lingering conflict and displacement raises some particular issues.
The case of neighbouring Uganda, outlined in the report, is instructive. One of the most enthusiastic proponents of REDD+ in Africa, Uganda also has one of the continent’s highest rates of deforestation. Yet due to unclear tenure arrangements the country has also been the alleged site of recent forced displacements related to carbon-offset tree plantations. Considering that wood fuel makes up 90 percent of the country’s energy consumption – even more among rural communities – the potential for negative impacts on livelihoods is clear.
As such, the report recommends that not only will safeguards, land tenure rights and information need to be addressed, but that REDD+ programmes should have mechanisms for conflict resolution built into their design to manage future disagreements.
DRC now needs to ensure that its REDD+ proposal aligns with the five guiding principles outlined by a group of international non-governmental organisations, including WWF. Although the group stresses that local rights and livelihoods should be protected, none of the principles specifically addresses the need for REDD+ to be conflict sensitive.
Poorly conceived policies in vulnerable communities can inadvertently do more harm than good. For International Alert, understanding the links between forest policy and conflict is crucial to ensure that environmental changes are managed peacefully. If REDD+ is going to actively contribute to peace and security it will need to make a positive impact for people on the ground. Ensuring that it is sensitive to conflict will be a good place to start.
Ian Madison is a student in the MSc International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies programme at the London School of Economics, where his studies have focused on REDD+ and forestry in the developing world.