Clarifying the Role of Non-Carbon Benefits in REDD+

(This post was written with the help of Sarah Marlay, EDF summer intern and graduate student at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies)

In the face of the growing threat of climate change, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) has been a hot topic in international climate negotiations for nearly a decade.

Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are currently in the process of deciding on many important elements of the REDD+ policy framework. The ‘non-carbon benefits’ of REDD+ activities is one such issue that is just now being discussed in two different forums under the UNFCCC.

In June, countries at the UNFCCC’s 38th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) proposed a draft text to be considered at the Conference of the Parties’ (COP) 19th session this coming November. The draft text acknowledged the need for clarity on the types of non-carbon benefits and related methodological issues and for the discussion to take place in 2014.

Also, this week Parties will convene a workshop on the COP Work Programme on Results-based Finance for REDD+, with the mandate to explore ways to incentivize non-carbon benefits.

In this post, I offer my answers to the two key issues related to non-carbon benefits that have been raised by the Parties this summer: the lack of clarity surrounding non-carbon benefits; and the need to identify ways to incentivize non-carbon benefits in REDD+.

For a more in-depth discussion, please see  our policy paper on non-carbon benefits.

Lack of Clarity Surrounding Non-Carbon Benefits

Defining Non-Carbon Benefits

‘Non-carbon benefits’ are positive outcomes resulting from REDD+ activities beyond those associated with carbon storage and/or sequestration. Non-carbon benefits are often broken down into 3 main types: social, environmental and governance benefits.

The diagram below provides several examples of potential non-carbon benefits in each of these 3 categories:

One difficulty with the term ‘non-carbon benefits’ is that it encompasses such a wide range of potential benefits that it becomes challenging to target and promote specific non-carbon benefits at the national level.

To provide additional clarity on non-carbon benefits, specific non-carbon benefits should be identified and prioritized at the national level, according to each country’s objectives and context.

Once selected, these priorities for non-carbon benefits can inform the design of the national REDD+ program.

Clarifying the Relationship between Non-Carbon Benefits and Safeguards

At COP 16 in Cancun, Parties of the UNFCCC adopted a list of safeguards that should be promoted and supported by REDD+ activities. Through this decision, key non-carbon benefits were formally incorporated within the framework of ‘REDD+ safeguards.’

While certain safeguards are protective in nature and set minimum standards for REDD+ actions, other safeguards fall within the category of ‘non-carbon benefits’ by extending beyond protective measures to require that REDD+ activities promote and/or enhance social, environmental and governance benefits.

Incentivizing Non-Carbon Benefits

Centrality of Non-Carbon Benefits to the Success of REDD+

There has been growing global recognition of the fact that, if REDD+ is to succeed in mitigating climate change, non-carbon benefits must play a part. It is often through the promotion of these benefits that many REDD+ strategies address the root causes of drivers of deforestation and achieve real and permanent emission reductions.

Ways to Incentivize Non-Carbon Benefits

The discussion in the COP Work Programme this August will focus on Phase 3 of REDD+, when payments for REDD+ results will be made.

Here, I suggest ways that non-carbon benefits can be incentivized in Phase 3 by both the UNFCCC and avenues external to the UNFCCC.

The UNFCCC should incentivize non-carbon benefits by making results-based payments conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards link more explicit.

Despite significant progress in the UNFCCC in institutionalizing safeguards, Parties have not clearly defined ‘results-based payments.’

‘Results-based payments’ should be defined under the UNFCCC as payments for emission reductions that are conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards. Under this definition (and as already stated in the Cancun Agreement), only REDD+ activities that enhance social and environmental benefits, incentivize the conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and promote effective forest governance mechanisms, along with the other safeguards, will be eligible to receive payments.

Outside of the UNFCCC and the REDD+ mechanism, REDD+ activities can receive direct compensation for non-carbon benefits by securing funds from funding sources that promote specific non-carbon benefits.

For example, Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) initiatives worldwide have promoted and directly paid for diverse ecosystem services, like biodiversity conservation.

Additionally, emission reductions associated with non-carbon benefits are more competitive in carbon markets and in attracting multilateral or bilateral funding, thereby providing another incentive for REDD+ activities to promote non-carbon benefits.

In the voluntary carbon market, emission reductions achieved while promoting non-carbon benefits often receive higher prices, and there has been growing demand for larger quantities of these credits. Also, national REDD+ programs with prominent non-carbon benefits may have a higher likelihood of securing multilateral or bilateral funding arrangements (the case of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s Carbon Fund).

The Role of the UNFCCC Moving Forward

To help bring clarity to the discussion surrounding non-carbon benefits, Parties of the UNFCCC should begin identifying and prioritizing non-carbon benefits at the national level. This progress will help clarify the types of non-carbon benefits that will be promoted and potential challenges to their implementation.

In order to incentivize non-carbon benefits, Parties should adopt a definition for results-based payments that clearly defines them as payments for emission reductions that are conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards.

While there is general consensus that non-carbon benefits are closely tied to the success of REDD+, what remains is for the Parties of the UNFCCC to clarify the role of non-carbon benefits in the global REDD+ framework, and in doing so, strengthen the foundation of REDD+ itself.

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