People at the Core of Forest Management

By: Tamara Bah, Gender specialist, World Bank Program on Gender Inclusion in Forest Landscapes

Over the past decade, efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (commonly referred to as ‘REDD+’) have catalyzed an unprecedented range of conversations about forest conservation and sustainable forest management.

These conversations, however, often tend toward all things ‘technical’. Concepts such as emission reductionscarbon stocks, and reference levels occupy many of the discussions around how REDD+ can compensate developing countries for reducing carbon emissions in their land use sectors.

What sometimes gets overlooked is the rich traditional knowledge forest-dependent communities can bring to the full range of REDD+ discussions. Indigenous People, especially women, who live at the very heart of forests have been the stewards and original change-agents in sustainable land use. They have the longest history of environmental adaptability, and that experience needs to be captured in REDD+ implementation.

This social inclusion piece of REDD+ work is what many governments and organizations, including the World Bank, are working to strengthen. As we begin our second decade of work on REDD+ in 2019, it’s worth taking stock of some of the key messages we’ve heard recently from Indigenous People and civil society about how REDD+ can better connect with the people at the heart of forests.

Weilburg II Conference

In November 2018, the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) jointly with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) led a global conference on social inclusion in REDD+. As a follow up to FCPF-BMZ’s social inclusion conference in 2013, this second conference in Germany brought together 100 participants from Indigenous Peoples’ groups, FCPF REDD+ country representatives, civil society organizations, donor institutions, and the World Bank to discuss how REDD+ can go beyond emission reductions to catalyze a wider range of benefits for forest-dependent communities.

“REDD+ is triggering a transformation well beyond reducing carbon emissions in forests, and even beyond the forest sector, in terms of inclusive governance, participation and political incidence of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities,” says Ute Sonntag, Advisor on Safeguards and Governance, REDD Programme for Early Movers, GIZ.

Case studies presented by country participants underscored how REDD+ has helped to improve social inclusion in sustainable forest management. Ghana highlighted its efforts to advance environmental safeguards and governance for REDD+; Costa Rica presented lessons learned from setting up equitable REDD+ benefit-sharing arrangements; and Fiji shed light on how REDD+ has helped to clarify land tenure. Participants agreed that the full potential of forests may never be realized without an understanding of how forest-dependent communities use and manage forest resources differently, and how this differs between women and men.

“REDD+ decisions need to be made where the people are, at the grassroots level, in the forests,” says Mina Setra, of Indonesia’s Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago.

As a gender specialist working on REDD+, it was gratifying to see that participants recognized the cross-cutting nature of gender and the importance of women’s roles in forest landscapes. Participants agreed that empowering women in REDD+ and forestry can create significant development opportunities and generate additional monetary and non-monetary benefits for their households and communities.

“It’s really incredible to see the evolution among Indigenous Peoples and civil societies in their engagement with REDD+. Ten years ago, they were skeptical of the mechanism and what it could do for them. Now, they are much more invested and motivated to make sure REDD+ lives up to its potential,” Haddy Sey, who works in the social development unit of the World Bank.

Action agenda messages on social inclusion

Discussion at the conference culminated in a set of action agenda messages developed and endorsed by all CSO representatives and Indigenous Peoples participating.[1] These messages are worth sharing here, as they can help guide others working on REDD+ social inclusion around the world.

Customary land and forest tenure rights (including rights to carbon) must be legally recognized and demarcated on the ground as an essential building block for equitable REDD+ benefit sharing.

Social and environmental safeguards need to be aligned with international standards and made legally binding in national frameworks. This requires finalizing national legal reforms and enhancing capacity for implementation, including effective feedback, grievance and redress mechanisms.

REDD+ benefit sharing must be based on clear legal rights to carbon, fair negotiations including the free, prior and informed consent of participating communities, and should prioritize collective benefits while respecting community norms and preferences.

Rural and indigenous women, including pastoralists, need dedicated support and funding to secure their legal rights, including training, capacity building, and platforms for dialogue with the state.

These messages also called on international donors to implement a rapid-response mechanism for environment and human rights defenders under threat and at risk, including legal and financial support, protection and personal security mechanisms, and evacuation from situations of persistent risk.

“Forest-dependent communities are among the most vulnerable to climate change, to rights inequities, and REDD+ will only be successful if it helps communities reduce these vulnerabilities while reducing emissions from REDD+. That’s what we need to stay focused on achieving,” says Robin Mearns of the World Bank's social development team.


[1] As organizers of the Weilburg II conference, the World Bank and the German Government did not participate in the drafting of action agenda messages. Therefore, these messages have no legal status when it comes to World Bank commitments.