Forest emerged as central to stabilizing global climate in the past decade. And that has sort of dictated international cooperation in this area in the past several years.

There are many reasons why – according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, deforestation and forest degradation are the second leading human cause of CO2 emissions contributing to global warming. It is estimated that deforestation and forest degradation account for approximately 17 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

International efforts to help developing countries decrease deforestation rates must balance carbon reduction and development goals and strive to formulate clear, coherent models of change.

International efforts to help developing countries decrease deforestation rates must balance carbon reduction and development goals and strive to formulate clear, coherent models of change.

But how well has this international cooperation worked, why and under what circumstances?

Recently, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Evaluation Committee (DAC) synthesized results of evaluations of leading international organizations such as the World Bank and some UN agencies as well as OECD DAC countries’ on using Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to incentivize reform.

For forest geeks, here are some interesting and common evaluation findings:

Trade-offs between climate change objectives and other goals

  1. International efforts to help developing countries decrease deforestation rates must balance carbon reduction and development goals and strive to formulate clear, coherent models of change. Evaluations of UN, World Bank Group and bilateral projects on deforestation and sustainable forest management often highlight the need to clearly articulate a vision of long-term progress (or theory of change) and to better define and measure the delicate balance between environmental, poverty reduction and other social goals or objectives.5 Furthermore, program managers, policy makers and evaluators must do more to capture and take into consideration ‘co-benefits’, which should be more explicitly defined in program planning and policy. Several recent evaluations have underscored the need to better understand the potential trade-offs between climate objectives and broader development benefits.6

A few evaluations have gone a step further and have questioned whether programs which may have proven successful in preventing deforestation include and provide positive benefits for the poorest households, and whether these goals are fully compatible.7  Several mention the growing agreement on the need to further encourage and promote sustainable livelihoods for those living in or near forest areas and to address land-use issues as a necessary step in reducing deforestation rates and CO2 emissions.8  Additionally, the drivers of deforestation are often factors outside of the forest sector and therefore programs designed to halt or reduce deforestation must address a broader range of related issues, including: land tenure, agricultural policies, the potential for climate smart agricultural practices, alternative livelihoods, livestock and gazing practices, urban expansion, mining policies, and other social and economic drivers of deforestation and change in land use.

Encouragingly, there is evidence that program managers and policy makers have been responsive to recommendations concerning the need to better clarify program objectives and rationales. For example, the UN REDD Program made changes to its official strategy following the 2014 program evaluation. The new REDD Program strategic framework includes a clearly articulated theory of change, demonstrating that international programs have been able to adapt and incorporate learning from evaluative findings. The World Bank Group’s strategy in the forest sector has also evolved over time, in part as a result of the Independent Evaluation Group’s (IEG) findings. Additionally, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) Readiness Fund first established an M&E framework following a recommendation made in the Facility‘s first program evaluation.

Encouragingly, there is evidence that program managers and policy makers have been responsive to recommendations concerning the need to better clarify program objectives and rationales.

Encouragingly, there is evidence that program managers and policy makers have been responsive to recommendations concerning the need to better clarify program objectives and rationales.

Overall, policy and strategy has moved in the direction of more explicitly recognizing the need to balance environmental, social and economic objectives and more clearly articulating theories of change. Greater attention is being paid to measuring intermediate outcomes and objectives that are expected to lead to longer term impacts. Policies and programs in the sector have become more holistic in addressing a broader range of issues rather than maintaining a narrow focus on forest carbon. Notwithstanding, there have been some concerns raised in evaluations that despite increased recognition of various tensions and trade-offs, more still needs to be done to increase synergies between development and environmental goals.

Need for co-ordination, alignment and leadership from partners and donors

The complexity of multilateral frameworks working to halt deforestation and the intricate international architecture of aid delivery in the forest sector has featured in a number of evaluations and reviews.  While some question the necessity of the complicated aid architecture in this sector, the more general finding is that the multiplicity of institutions and financing mechanisms requires greater levels of co-ordination among donors and partners. Several evaluations underscore the need for co-operation among donors working at the country level and concerning decisions on financing for multilaterals. Overall, recent evaluations suggest that multilateral aid in the forest sector has shown mitigation effectiveness and is particularly important in helping to ensure that donors respect their environmental commitments. Pooled funding mechanisms are considered essential to gather momentum and ensure harmonization of approaches between donors. There is also a need for collaboration between multilateral initiatives. The 2014 evaluation of the UN REDD program, for example, recommended that UN agencies further their collaboration with the World Bank’s FCPF in order to harmonize approaches and to reduce the duplication of effort.

There have been some challenges with multilateral programs and pooled funding, such as those seen with the UN REDD program, which has had a relatively slow rate of implementation. These challenges seem to stem from unanticipated obstacles and capacity gaps that need to be addressed prior to full program implementation. Recent evaluations highlight the complexity of initiatives in the sector, the slow pace of progress and the need for programs to adopt a cross-sectorial approach. A global program review of the FCPF conducted by IEG in 2012 summarized this view, stating that “the REDD+ readiness process is a more expensive, complex, and time-consuming process than originally envisaged” and suggested that a crosssectorial approach would help increase effectiveness. Similarly the 2014 UN REDD Program evaluation found that “UN partner agencies and participating countries should place greater emphasis on integrated crosssectorial approaches to REDD+…”.

Not only is a cross-sectorial approach needed, but bilateral development providers also need to focus on environmental policy integration and the overall coherence of their international development co-operation portfolios.  A recent evaluation by Belgium found that while many of their programs had positive results in stabilising or increasing the land area covered by forests, greater attention could be paid to negative environmental externalities, such as the impact of other programs on forest coverage. Furthermore, a 2014 SDC evaluation, ‘Swiss International Co-operation in Climate Change 2000-2012’, noted that climate change mitigation requires long-term commitment and suggested that it be “mainstreamed as an aspect of all development projects… This approach would ensure that good progress in climate change mitigation or adaptation is not undermined or ‘undone’ as a result of other interventions.”

A few evaluations have expressed concern regarding the large number of partner countries now engaging in multilateral programs. In particular, there is concern that some partners interested in REDD+ readiness programs may lack capacity or have unrealistic expectations; some evaluations question the appropriateness of engaging such a large number of new partner countries when many have faced challenges moving successfully into the results based payment phase.  For instance, as of early 2016 there are 64 partner countries engaged in the UN-REDD Program. Hence there are apprehensions, such as those highlighted in a 2014 ‘Real-time evaluation of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI)’, about raising the expectations of partners unrealistically when an international co-operation agreement on financing for REDD+ has so far not been put in place. The 2012 Global Review of the FCPF mentions the large number of interested client countries as a case of ‘over-demand’. Serious discussions among donors, multilaterals and partner countries need to be had to assess if the current approach of multilateral engagement with a large number of partner countries is advisable and realistic, including how these programs can best align with country generated strategies.

Norway’s 2014 real-time evaluation of its forest sector program found that strong bilateral relationships, such as between Norway and Brazil, can lead to successful outcomes; however, there are concerns that this success may not be replicable with other partners. While evaluations have repeatedly highlighted Brazil as a key success story, it has often been noted that this success has been possible due largely to the strong leadership and political will in Brazil to halt deforestation. Norway played a key role in supporting Brazil and the Amazon Fund with financing and strong partnership; although the most recent real-time evaluation of Norway’s large-scale commitments in the sector suggest that Norway’s bilateral relationships with other key partners have advanced less quickly. The uneven progress has been attributed to differences in local governance and varying levels of commitment and political decision-making within partner countries.

Donors such as Norway have been successful in using large financing commitments to gather support for and to influence the international dialogue on approaches in the sector. Evaluations of Norway’s and Switzerland’s development co-operation in the forest sector both conclude that their countries’ aid has been crucial in advancing the dialogue and has influenced decisions and contributed to progress made on REDD+ and in the UNFCCC climate change negotiations. Generally, there is strong recognition of the need for co-ordination among donors, particularly in regards to financing for multilaterals and on thinking about ways to improve their transaction costs and to address the challenges caused by the slow implementation process, which has often led to a lower level of disbursements than anticipated.

Local ownership and inclusive engagement of national and local stakeholders

Recent evaluations suggest that more attention should be given to local ownership and ensuring inclusive dialogue with a wider range of stakeholders.

Recent evaluations suggest that more attention should be given to local ownership and ensuring inclusive dialogue with a wider range of stakeholders.

Recent evaluations suggest that more attention should be given to local ownership and ensuring inclusive dialogue with a wider range of stakeholders. Some evaluations, such as the 2014 UN REDD Program evaluation, have recommended “a more bottom-up approach”. Within this evaluation were some concrete recommendations on how to ensure greater partner country ownership including: 1) prioritizing the use of national and regional experts 2) using existing structures and co-ordination mechanisms 3) strengthening national capacity in regards to financial management and accountability mechanisms, and 4) delegating decision making authority to the level closest to the field “while applying basic principles for robust resource governance…”

Evaluations also conclude that local stakeholders, particularly forest-dwelling communities and those that depend on forest resources for their livelihoods could be better incorporated into local forest governance structures. While there has been growing recognition of the rights of indigenous groups, recent evaluations have highlighted the need to consider the participation of non-indigenous local groups and the specific role of women as forest users and stakeholders. Programs must seek to understand the ways that forest dwellers and local people traditionally use and manage forest resources and better understand the existing governance structures, local access issues, land tenure and tribal or local authority systems. These findings have led to a greater acknowledgment of the fact that success in halting deforestation may depend on the extent to which programs incorporate understanding of these systems and practices into forest management programming. This requires more careful consideration and analysis of local contexts, including more extensive political economy analysis and the deliberate inclusion or design of mechanisms to ensure that local peoples’ needs and voices are fully incorporated into programming.

While programs in the sector have developed official policies of inclusiveness and increasingly work with more local stakeholders, some evaluations such as the 2014 UN REDD Program evaluation have noted that substantial ownership and decision making powers regarding programming may be lagging. There is a need to move from the ‘recognition of local peoples rights’ to ensuring that in practice, local communities are fully involved in all stages of programming, starting from conception. Well-organized civil society groups have been relatively effective in influencing the dialogue and practice in many countries, however, it is likely that the needs and views of groups lacking more structured representation will need continued attention.  At the same time, there is acknowledgement that the process of involving more stakeholders and the move towards greater inclusiveness comes with its own set of trade-offs and potential short-term efficiency losses.

Repeatedly, success in reducing deforestation rates and progress within the REDD+ framework has been attributed to strong local political will in partner countries. Many stakeholders have clearly understood that future payments and distributions of benefits must be equitable and that there must be assurances that the benefits will accrue to local people, to avoid the risk of elite capture, if programs are not well-managed. Overall, the trend has been towards recognition of the need to focus more extensively on capacity building, readiness and ensuring inclusive local governance. Significant attention and funding must continue in these areas as potential achievements in halting deforestation and cutting CO2 emissions appear, unsurprisingly, to rely to a large degree on strong local political will and good governance.

Emerging specific findings on program approaches

This section looks briefly at what some recent evaluations have to tell us about the effectiveness of various approaches to programming in the forest sector, specifically looking at the available evidence on: 1) payments for environmental services; 2) protected areas; and 3) community / participatory forest management.

Payments for Environmental Services

A common approach in forest sector programming has been the use of Payments for Environmental Services (PES) which have frequently been implemented under the REDD+ umbrella.

A common approach in forest sector programming has been the use of Payments for Environmental Services (PES) which have frequently been implemented under the REDD+ umbrella.

A common approach in forest sector programming has been the use of Payments for Environmental Services (PES) which have frequently been implemented under the REDD+ umbrella. A 2014 systematic review of PES schemes drew evidence from 11 quantitative evaluations of PES programs in four countries (Costa Rica, China, Mexico and Mozambique).30 It concluded that PES schemes likely have a modest, positive effect on deforestation. However, there appears to be a lack of evidence that PES has beneficial effects on poverty, with evidence suggesting that PES schemes have been “less effective in poor areas and are less likely to attract the participation of poor households than wealthier ones.” A 2013 IEG evaluation, for example, found that “…running PES in the most cost-effective manner may conflict with other objectives such as poverty alleviation”. The evaluation found that there are “possible trade-offs between the effectiveness of particular payment arrangements and the transaction costs of implementing them”. Furthermore, an IEG evaluation entitled ‘Climate Change Phase II: The Challenge of Low Carbon Development, Climate Change and the World Bank Group’ found that while PES schemes have been popular, “a substantial proportion of payments has gone to areas that are not at high risk for deforestation, diluting carbon and environmental benefits and prompting attention to targeting.” While attention to targeting and poverty has increased in PES schemes, to date there does not appear to be a strong evidence base demonstrating that conservation and poverty-reduction goals can effectively be complementary in PES programmes. That said, the existing evidence base in this area is weak and more efforts should be made to assess the effects of PES programs in order to potent

Click here to read the original article.