India’s draft mechanism to report on compliance to social and environmental safeguards to mitigate potential risks from implementing the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation program, a vital tool for combating climate change, relies on forestry and other land-use policies to ensure programme actions are not used for the conversion of natural forests.

Released on September 13, ahead of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the draft mechanism detailing safeguards (Safeguards Information System for REDD+) that will help check if the programme is done right, lacks teeth because of the absence of specifics and robust impact evaluation framework, according to experts.

The draft document released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is open for public comments till October 15.

The REDD+ framework created by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties is also geared towards the sustainable management of forests and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

The seven safeguards (called Cancun safeguards) articulated as per the Cancun Agreements at Cancun, Mexico, at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference, need to be addressed and respected during the implementation of REDD+ activities to prevent any negative impacts of REDD+ actions on natural forests, biological diversity and local communities.

As per the agreements, developing country Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change such as India, are required to create a Safeguards Information System to report on compliance to the safeguards while implementing REDD+ activities.

The National REDD+ Strategy of India endorses the adherence to Cancun safeguards during the implementation of REDD+ activities, states the draft document. The Strategy also ties in with India’s Nationally Determined Contribution to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

India’s draft Safeguards Information System in alignment with the Cancun principles underscores that actions complement or are consistent with the objectives of national forest programmes and relevant international conventions and agreements, transparency and access to information, the full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular, indigenous peoples and local communities; the safeguards should address land-use based risk of reversals, reduce displacement of emissions and ensure that the actions are not used for the conversion of natural forests.

The draft Safeguards Information System zeroes in on 20 indicators identified for information/data collection on addressing and respecting safeguards during REDD+ implementation.

Serious impacts

Since monitoring social impacts of REDD+ requires a long-time frame using indicators and methods that allow impacts to be tracked consistently and at regular intervals, the selection of indicators should be realistic and should be based on a robust impact evaluation framework, said Indian Forest Service officer Pushpendra Rana. Case studies from around the world have shown that unless these safeguards are given due consideration, the consequences of REDD+ actions can have negative impacts.

One such example comes from Indonesia where Rana and a co-author examined the impact of early REDD+ activities in the context of REDD+ social safeguards, for 18 projects in Kalimantan, using publicly available social and spatial data. Two of these safeguards are meant to secure respect for rights (safeguard 3), and social welfare and biodiversity (safeguard 5).

“A rigorous impact evaluation requires baseline data, which needs to be included in any Safeguards Information System mechanism to evaluate and track the progress of any forestry intervention and the associated social safeguards over time. This is especially true in India wherein poor communities still depend on forests for their livelihoods to a significant extent.”

Women planting a tree in Umaria, Madhya Pradesh. Photo credit: Yann/ Wikimedia Commons

“Any Safeguards Information System mechanism should ensure that not only objectives pertaining to forest cover and biodiversity are met, but also, people’s livelihood needs are met and any shortfalls are adequately addressed,” Rana, who is with the forest department of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, told Mongabay-India. “Moreover, indicators should be specific, measurable, time-bound, and attributable.”

For Indonesia, their baseline data was from 2008, the year of REDD+ inception in the archipelago while data from 2011 was used to measure early REDD+ safeguard outcomes. Early REDD+ interventions in Kalimantan may be negatively impacting human welfare, their study found.

Track record

The draft Safeguards Information System mechanism banks on some of India’s major forestry and land use policies, laws and regulations such as National Forest Policy, 1988, National Environment Policy, 2006, Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (amended in 1988), National Agroforestry Policy, 2014, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (amended in 1993), Biological Diversity Act, 2002, Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The scale for application is national, subnational and local.

However, the implementation of forestry and land use policies, laws and regulations in India has often been problematic for many reasons including failures in securing rights of indigenous communities and forest-dependent communities over their land and addressing biodiversity loss.

For example, the safeguard to address the risks of reversals of emission reductions, carbon sequestration actions, water regimes, community livelihood, biodiversity and other environmental and social benefits, hinges on Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management And Planning Authority among other policy instruments to minimise the possibility of reversals of REDD+ actions and benefits including carbon service from either natural disturbance (eg, fires, disease, pests and unusual weather events) or from any untoward human actions.

But a closer look at Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management And Planning Authority, set up to streamline the management of funds for compensatory afforestation, reveals gaps in its ability to compensate for the lost, old-growth carbon-rich forests. Experts earlier told Mongabay-India that the complex biodiversity of a forest can never be compensated for by a monoculture plantation.

“Bamboo forms an important component in the forest and agroforestry system in India. Bamboo mass flowering and subsequent die-off events cause substantial ecosystem carbon loss. How will this issue be handled in the Safeguards Information System,” questioned Arun Jyoti Nath, Associate Professor of Ecology and Environmental Science, Assam University, Silchar.

Further, the Joint Forest Management concept introduced in 1990 for people’s participation in forest governance which would be crucial to the safeguard ensuring participation of relevant stakeholders, such as indigenous peoples and local communities, has fallen short in many of the desired objectives.

“Several of the existing legislation such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 are under review,” said Rana. “There is a need to create an appropriate Safeguards Information System mechanism specific to the forestry and community needs of India and a new collaborative, legal and technology-driven institutional mechanism would be more helpful rather than bank on old or existing policies, laws, and regulations, which at many times, are at loggerheads rather than in cohesion.”

“The Safeguard Information System must also give voice to local stakeholders, especially indigenous communities and other forest-dependent communities. They must be able to share their perspectives for an inclusive system,” concluded Indian Forest Service Pushpendra Rana.

This article first appeared on Mongabay.