Because trees and other plants are made up largely of carbon, it is released into the atmosphere as CO2 when forests are cleared or degraded. On the other hand, healthy forests absorb (‘sequester’) CO2 from the atmosphere when growing, and store it while standing. For these reasons, forests are important in global efforts to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limit the impacts of climate change.
Recognizing this, the annual meetings of Parties to the UNFCCC (known as “Conferences of the Parties, or “COP”s), beginning in 2005, developed the approach known as “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, and the Role of Conservation, Sustainable Management of Forests, and Enhancement of Forest Carbon Stocks in Developing Countries”. This mouthful of a term is thankfully usually abbreviated as “REDD+”. The basic idea of REDD+ is that developing countries which reduce GHG emissions from forests (and/or increase the amounts sequestered by forests) will qualify for “results-based payments” (RBPs) from the international community.
At COP19 in Warsaw in 2013, seven REDD+-related decisions were adopted, which are collectively known as the “Warsaw Framework for REDD+”. These decisions were subsequently reflected in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement.
So how does REDD+ work?
Under the Warsaw Framework for REDD+, in order for a developing country to qualify for RBPs, they must have four elements in place:
- A National REDD+ Strategy (and/or Action Plan)
- A National Forest Monitoring System
- A Forest Reference Level (measure of baseline GHG emissions)
A Safeguard Information SystemBut what should the National REDD+ Strategy contain? One of the key issues is which of the five “REDD+ activities” that are reflected in the title of REDD+ (deforestation, degradation, conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks) the country intends to address. A country need only cover one of these, or can cover any other number, including all five. But a country cannot ignore a REDD+ activity if it is very significant in that country. For example, Myanmar could not ignore deforestation because deforestation rates are so high. The choice of which REDD+ activities will be addressed is known as the “scope” of the National REDD+ Strategy.Having established the scope of the National REDD+ Strategy, it is essential to identify what “policies and measures” will be implemented in order to address drivers of deforestation or forest degradation, or to overcome barriers to the “+” activities. These policies and measures will certainly require cooperation from a wide range of stakeholders, so stakeholder engagement is a very important aspect of the REDD+ process. A very important aspect of REDD+ is that it is expected to be national in scale, covering all forests in the country. A country can begin implementation of REDD+ at a sub-national level, as long as there is a clear plan to scale up to a national level as soon as possible.
A major focus of REDD+ is on safeguards. At COP16 in Cancun, a set of seven “Cancun safeguards” was agreed that should be addressed and respected by countries when implementing REDD+ policies and measures. These cover issues such as respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples, stakeholder engagement, and biodiversity conservation (not converting natural forests to plantations).
Recognizing that implementing REDD+ is challenging, the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ confirms that, in any country, REDD+ should be implemented in phases, beginning with (Phase 1) the development of national strategies or action plans, followed by (Phase 2) initial implementation, that could involve further capacity-building, and evolving into (Phase 3) results-based actions that should be fully measured, reported and verified.
So where is Myanmar in this REDD+ process?
Myanmar began preparing for REDD+ in 2012 with the formulation of a “REDD+ readiness roadmap”, developed with broad stakeholder consultation. Currently, especially with support from the UN-REDD Programme, the roadmap is being implemented. By early 2018, it is expected that Myanmar will have two of the four elements of the Warsaw Framework in place – a National REDD+ Strategy and a Forest Reference Level. In terms of scope, it is expected that Myanmar’s initial Forest Reference Level will include deforestation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks, which includes reforestation and forest restoration. The Forest Reference Level needs to be aligned with the National REDD+ Strategy, meaning that the strategy will prioritize policies and measures to address deforestation and to promote reforestation.
Currently, Myanmar’s National Forest monitoring System is not able to accurately measure emissions due to forest degradation, but efforts are underway to upgrade the system so that measuring degradation will be possible in future. Finally, a Safeguards Information system is also under development.