Setting REDD+ up for success

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shutterstock 222513934Forests are a fundamental pillar of Viet Nam's sustainable development and prosperity. They provide multiple services for the country's economy and society, yet not all are visible. Forests also regulate climate and water cycles as well as prevent land erosion, which indirectly make invaluable contributions to the national economy as well as people's livelihoods and resilience, especially vulnerable members of society such as women and ethnic minorities. The value of this resource is being increasingly understood in Viet Nam, with national forest cover increasing from 20% in 1975 to 42% today. However, this expansion is slowing and hiding some important disparities. Natural forests are being converted at an alarming rate, which is eroding invaluable potential economic and environmental benefits.

 

In response, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is an international mechanism that creates more financial value for standing and healthy forests, by offering incentives for developing countries like Viet Nam to reduce emissions and increase removal of harmful greenhouse gases from forested lands. However, financial incentives from REDD+ struggle to compete with conflicting land uses. While such uses as agricultural production can be more profitable in the short-term, they fall short of providing benefits needed to serve the sustainable development goals of Viet Nam.

That is why FAO, UNDP and UNEP worked together with the UN-REDD Programme in 2015 to enhance Viet Nam's ability to benefit from future REDD+ payments with significant progress made in introducing enabling mechanisms, building capacity, collecting and disseminating information. At national level, an Interim REDD+ Geo-portal was developed to provide data on national forest cover and links to provincial level REDD+ plans. Viet Nam also officially submitted its national forest reference level to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Strikingly, the programme's budget delivery increased by 94% compared to 2014, highlighting the effectiveness of the One UN multi-agency approach and the massive intensification of action.

Impacts were particularly visible at provincial and site levels, where REDD+ action plans were finalized to channel more financial support to REDD+ participating households, communities, companies as well as to improve the administration of forests. REDD+ plans for 11 communes and two Forest Management Boards were finalized and approved in 2015, and more than 20 other plans displayed significant progress. Training workshops to enhance awareness on REDD+ processes were conducted in 10 provinces, with provincial REDD+ Steering Committees established and activated to oversee work in six provinces. To complement these commune-level developments, an assessment of provincial law enforcement capacity was conducted and training needs identified. This important UN work is helping Viet Nam to progress towards the goal of "protection and sustainable development of forests, increasing carbon removals and biodiversity conservation" as outlined in the National Strategy on Climate Change (2011).

Overall, this UN-driven progress in 2015 has strengthened the foundations for REDD+ in Viet Nam in three key ways. Firstly, enthusiasm for REDD+ at local and province levels has demonstrated how forest protection and sustainable management can spark and enhance people's interest and livelihoods. Carbon is abstract, carbon finance is complex, and conditions for result-based payments are cumbersome. For REDD+ to succeed in Viet Nam, it must be made tangible for populations and decision-makers. Beyond jargon and instruments, designing and implementing activities must combine the multiple values of healthy forests with development purposes, from social inclusion, green jobs, mitigation and adaptation to climate change and drought. In 2015, these issues and questions were central themes at UN-supported workshops, dialogues and planning exercises to build a stronger case for the success of REDD+ in Viet Nam.

Secondly, the country has progressed in terms of technical readiness, with it having moved closer to UNFCCC requirements by preparing and submitting its forest reference level, one of the four pillars of the "Warsaw Framework" for REDD+. It also carried out an important review of its National REDD+ Action Programme, a second pillar of the framework and decided to revise it for 2016-2020 to better reflect the national context. The REDD+ geoportal is also taking Viet Nam closer to a robust and transparent system to monitor its REDD+ activities and results, a third component of the REDD+ framework.

Finally, progress from local to national levels has triggered critical discussions in Viet Nam on the role of forests for its economy and development. It has become more obvious that REDD+ cannot succeed in Viet Nam if it does not embrace a broader approach for the protection and development of its forests. In short, forests cannot be managed only for wood and by foresters. In response, the UN will continue its work to ensure principles like participation and transparency as well as the mainstreaming of forests into Viet Nam's development agenda become progressively understood and piloted. By helping bring forest-related objectives into agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure, climate change and drought control policies, the UN is building the foundations for Viet Nam to fully benefit from REDD+ and help protect its environment in a sustainable manner.