PES and motivational crowding in Colombia

In a new article, led by UAB-ICTA’s PhD candidate Lina Moros, we adopt an innovative research design to test for motivational crowding effects through a forest conservation game in Colombia’s Amazon Piedmont, using individual, collective and crop-price premium economic incentives. We implement a post-experiment survey on different types of motivations based on Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to test for changes in motivations. Our findings show that all types of PES, except for the crop-price premium payment, increased conservation behavior in the experiment. However, not all types of payments affected motivations equally: collective payments enhanced social motivations to protect forests and the crop-price premium reduced intrinsic and guilt/regret related motivations. These findings contribute to disentangling the interaction between incentives, motivations and behaviors in a context of agricultural expansion and growing concern for forest conservation, commonly manifested through incentive-based conservation policies like REDD+ and local projects of Payments for Ecosystem Services.

Towards a just REDD+: Transforming forest conflicts in Nepal

Is REDD+ causing conflicts in Nepal? If so, which kind of conflicts? How does an environmental justice lens contribute to illuminate and resolve these conflicts? What can be done to transform the conflicts in ways that result in a more “just” REDD+?

In this Policy Brief, led by Hari Dhungana and Gyanu Maskey from the Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, we try to provide succinct responses to these questions. The Brief draws from research conducted under the NWO-DFID funded project “Conflict and Cooperation over REDD+ in Mexico, Nepal and Vietnam“, which has investigated REDD+ preparedness and early implementation in these countries over a four-year period.

We argue that achieving just REDD+ in Nepal would require resolving or transforming persisting conflicts in the country’s forest governance and REDD+ implementation processes. This would in turn require action on 6 key domains:

  1. A reform of the forestry sector focusing on tenure issues. The government and international donors should conduct a comprehensive forestry sector policy reform that primarily focuses on forest and land tenure security, including of carbon assets, setting up clear responsibility, resources and accountability for stakeholders.
  2. Harmonization of land-use and forest policies. The government should initiate a process of reviewing discrepancies between existing policies, institutions and instruments including those recommended in the studies carried out as part of REDD+ readiness. These, for instance, concern benefit sharing, translating safeguards principles into operational procedures, and having common institutional structure for REDD+ and existing forestry institutions.
  3. Critical information and knowledge resources. For effective participation, critical information and reports should be in Nepali and/or other local languages to ensure that all stakeholders can participate effectively in discussions at different governance scales. Resources should be made available to improve people’s knowledge and ability, as well as willingness to participate.
  4. Develop workable monitoring systems for benefit distribution at the community level. The government should further refine and develop capacity to monitor community group benefit sharing.
  5. Capacity for facilitating social dialogue and conflict transformation. The government and donors should develop the capacity of government officials, NGO personnel and community leaders on social negotiations and dialogues for conflict transformation.
  6. Build upon existing analysis. REDD+ preparedness and implementation should consider a number of diagnostic studies that have already been published, includingstudies on feedback and grievance redressal mechanisms, benefit sharing, policy and measures and carbon ownership. These studies do not guide concrete action, but have significant value in identifying issues that need to be addressed.

The Policy Brief has been widely publicized across REDD+ actors in the country, and was recently presented at the stakeholder workshop “Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change (CCMCC) Programme Journey in Nepal: Transforming conflict into cooperation for climate change interventions” (01/11/2007), which involved policy makers, practitioners and researchers involved in the design and implementation of climate change policies in Nepal.

Picture copyright: SIAS.

Climate change policies and agrarian-environmental transformations

Routledge Development Studies launched two special issues together from the Journal of Peasant Studies and Canadian Journal of Development StudiesBoth collections are on the broad themes of climate change mitigation/adaptation and agrarian-environmental transformations. Both collections are open access for a limited period of time.

I had the honour of guest editing the collection published in CJDS, with colleagues Carol Hunsberger (University of Western Ontario) and Chayan Vaddhanaphuti (University of Chiang Mai). The articles in the collection explore a range of themes in the intersection of climate change policy, land grabbing and social conflict, and include cross-scalar and case study analyses of different kinds.

In the Introductory article, we contextualise the special issue and lay out the key contributions made by each contribution. Hunsberger et al. propose a research agenda to explore the interconnections between climate change policies, land grabbing and conflict; these interconnections, they argue, can only be meaningfully understood if one transcends the territorial boundaries of land grabs themselves. Claeys and Delgado Pugley’s contribution (2017) offers a neat account of how two key transnational social movements – the agrarian movement La Via Campesina (LVC) and the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) – have developed distinctive climate justice framings to advance rights-based considerations under the UNFCCC. Franco et al. shed light onto the often problematic translation of well-intended policy into practice, by problematising an array of international regulatory instruments, including state- and corporate-led, that are available to respond to conflicts arising from agrarian transformations driven by agricultural development and climate change policies.

The second half of the special issue concentrates on specific case studies. Work and Thuon explore the intersection of change mitigation policies and economic land concessions in Prey Lang, Cambodia, demonstrating how these two processes facilitate each other physically, discursively and economically. Pye et al. focus on the interactions between different types of resource extraction endeavours along the Kapuas River, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The authors document a number of land-use transformations based on differing appropriation and accumulation strategies according to resource (minerals, lumber, oil palm, fish), scale of operations (smallholders, transnational firms) and the relationships among the economic and political actors. Lamb and Dao explore how Chinese investment has facilitated hydropower projects in Myanmar and Vietnam, and with what consequences. They make evident that governments from both countries need to develop more effective, transparent and robust systems of hydropower governance, while scholars and activists need to understand critiques of Chinese investment from a broader historical, cultural and political economy perspective. Finally, Uson interrogates a post-disaster intervention on a small island of the Philippines, after the typhoon Haiyan devastated the country in 2013. She unveils how a humanitarian intervention, coupled with climate change adaptation policy and discourse, changed the direction of an existing land rights struggle between landowners, a private tourist operator and fisherfolk communities.

This special issue described above, together with the JPS special issue, have deserved a very kind praise by Nancy Lee Peluso, University of California, Berkeley, who has suggested that ‘the authors bring new theoretical approaches, collaborative sensibilities, and hybrid perspectives on socio-natural histories and resource politics together with long-held concerns with the fates of smallholders, commodity productions under varied and opposing regimes, and a panoply of agrarian resources and activities including and beyond agriculture’.

I hope you enjoy reading them all!

Payments for Environmental Services: a theory-informed review

Building on a theory-based approach to synthesize research on the effectiveness of PES in achieving environmental objectives and socio-economic co-benefits, this article led by Jan Börner and published in World Development highlights the role of (1) contextual dimensions (e.g., political, institutional, and socio-economic conditions, spatial heterogeneity in environmental service values and provision costs, and interactions with pre-existing policies), and (2) scheme design (e.g., payment type and level, contract length, targeting, and differentiation of payments) in determining environmental and socio-economic outcomes. We also review counterfactual-based empirical evaluations, comparative analyses of case-studies, and meta-analyses. Our review suggests that program effectiveness often lags behind the expectations of early theorists. However, we also find that theory has advanced sufficiently to identify common reasons for why payment schemes fail or succeed. Moreover, payment schemes are often rolled out along with other policy instruments in so-called policy mixes. Advances in theory and evaluation research are needed to improve our understanding of how such policy mixes interact with the targeted social-ecological systems.

The full article can be found here, or requested by email if you don’t have access to the publishing journal.

Redeeming REDD+? A critical review of Michael Brown’s book

Since 2005, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has worked to establish a cooperation agenda where the Convention’s Annex I parties can incentivize the reduction of land-use related emissions in sub-tropical and tropical countries. Many viewed the original vision to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+) as a market-based policy framework through which developing countries would be paid for measurable and verified land-use emission reductions, thus up-scaling former project-based approaches that prevailed under the Clean Development Mechanism.

However, the design of the international, national and sub-national institutions that could guarantee the feasibility and political buy-in of such an approach have proved challenging and, as a result, the finally agreed framework has resulted in a hybrid mechanism that encourages Parties to pursue REDD+ activities using both market and non-market based approaches. A number of political decisions made over this period provide guidance on how countries should develop land-use emissions reference levels, quantify and monitor progress in emission reductions, involve communities and Indigenous Peoples in the implementation of land-use policies, and find meaningful and politically acceptable means to finance such activities and policies (the UNFCCC provides a useful series of documents in this regard; see: http://unfccc.int/land_use_and_climate_change/lulucf/items/6917.php).

Michael Brown’s Redeeming REDD. Policies, incentives and social feasibility for avoided deforestation is a broad, encompassing book that provides valuable history, insights, and analysis for those interested in the role that REDD+ may play in re-framing land-use governance in the global South. In the book’s first three chapters, including the Introduction, Brown presents his argument, covers the early years of negotiation and reviews the distinct arguments that were mobilized by different parties – including NGOs, governments, and indigenous peoples – to either support or confront REDD+. While Brown considers REDD+ a good idea in general, he is explicit in his belief that ‘the strategies employed are inappropriate and unfeasible’ and that ‘the front line communities who will make or break sustainable forest use that REDD is predicated upon, remain marginalized players in setting policy, identifying practical approaches, and receiving commensurate benefits given the risk they bear’ (p. 9). In a nutshell, the book’s core argument or narrative is that the rural poor can potentially use REDD+ to help save forests if they are recognized as key stewards, allowed to participate fully in policy design and implementation, and provided with the necessary political, technical and financial capacities to do so. But for this to happen, according to Brown, REDD+ would require ‘a new social contract’ (p. 6).

Chapters 4-10 are developed to make the case for his argument, although chapters like the science and policy (5) or finance (9) could well be read as stand-alone contextual information. In chapter 4, Brown draws on some of his early work experience with the Pygmies in Africa in order to illustrate the challenges that REDD+ will face in realizing informed consent and providing the necessary capacities to local people so that they can equitably negotiate their terms of participation. He argues that REDD+, as it stands, pays little attention to how national countries will deal with these issues, and how such efforts should be mainstreamed and funded. I could not agree more. Chapter 5 is dedicated to relating REDD+ to other development or mitigation initiatives, such as the MDGs and joint implementation, and to problematizing the foundations upon which some early REDD+ initiatives were built (i.e. the theory of change), the safeguards and the transaction costs issue. Brown maintains that the theories of change that can be used in ongoing and future REDD+ projects run the risk of simplifying the environmental, economic and social complexities of a given territory. He also suggests that transaction costs calculations disregard the costs of building local capacities, while safeguards do not guarantee the right of many communities who might prefer other development and conservation options than REDD+.

In chapter 6, Brown develops the perspectives of most REDD+ stakeholders, including large and national NGOs, project standard setters, peasant organizations, rural communities and Indigenous Peoples. Brown uses key documents and reports to present these views, without developing an exhaustive analysis covering specific organizations or countries, or examining the views of commercial actors such as timber industries, agribusiness, infrastructure developers and the like. Nevertheless, the chapter still serves its central purpose which is to demonstrate that the interests in REDD+ vary within and across groups. Among Indigenous Peoples, for example, Brown notes that there have been groups that consider REDD+ ‘a possible solution’ to ameliorate climate impacts while others have manifestly opposed its development at national or local levels (p. 182), in line with his view that if REDD+ is transparently developed and provides the necessary capacities to local people, it would not be surprising if ‘a good number of IPs [indigenous peoples] at the end of the day may actually opt for REDD as a best option for the present and future’ (p. 185).

In chapters 7 and 8, dedicated to social feasibility and capacity building in REDD+, Brown begins to distil the foundations of his suggested ‘social contract’. The first pillar of this contract, he argues, should be the recognition that REDD+ design and implementation must treat rural communities and Indigenous Peoples as equals, which means that ‘planners must get past the simplistic logic of needs assessments and treat communities with the same respect they would demand for their own community’s present and future’ (p. 187). In chapter 7, Brown draws a concrete proposal for how this desirable objective should and can be pursued, comparing what he labels a ‘social feasibility’ approach with the REDD+ social safeguards. Here, he stresses the importance of involving communities in developing their own assessments of capacities, equitable benefit-sharing, monitoring abilities and so on, before any consent to REDD+ development is even considered (pp. 189-192). He uses an example from Cambodia to illustrate the risks involved in pursuing a project informed only by social safeguards, and contrasts such an experience with a social feasibility approach developed in the context of a biodiversity conservation initiative in Cameroon and the DRC (pp. 201-202). A second pillar of the new ‘social contract’, according to Brown, is the need to mainstream capacity building efforts. Drawing mostly on his professional experience, Brown explains why building capacity among government, NGOs and local communities is necessary to guarantee the future effectiveness and social success of any REDD+ actions, whatever the scale of implementation. In his view, many development and conservation projects have failed in the past because the capacities for project implementation among involved stakeholders were not been properly assessed and addressed prior to implementation.

Chapter 9 provides an overview of all the possible options that REDD+ might have available in terms of funding, from the yet inexistent markets following the Clean Development Mechanism approach to one based on climate aid or national systems of payments for ecosystem services. In this regard, Brown argues that a hybrid financing platform, made up of ODA-type funding and carbon markets, is ‘inevitable’ (p. 222) and events since the book was written has not proven him wrong, as subsequent relevant REDD+ decisions at the UNFCCC level acknowledge that parties should be able to access finance from markets, governments or other mechanisms based on their results (i.e. the amount of carbon emissions avoided or reduced through REDD+ actions), as well as being able to receive financial support from the same or other sources to support the development of joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, regardless of the level of emissions reduced. In chapter 10, Brown provides a very balanced synthesis of all the risks involved in REDD+, including the potential perils of: misconduct in carbon accounting and monitoring; simplifying deforestation and forest degradation narratives; and developing poorly designed policy and project approaches that would ultimately impact local livelihoods and the political, economic and social rights of rural communities. At the same time, he also warns against ill-founded critiques of REDD+ on behalf of web-based NGOs or the strategic politicizing and simplification of Indigenous Peoples perspectives.

In chapter 11, Brown concludes the book and returns to his vision of a new ‘social contract’ in REDD+. For REDD+ to be redeemed, rather than discarded on the grounds of its top-down and technocratic character, he argues that first and foremost it needs to develop new mechanisms for recognition and participation across governance levels, from international to local scales, which effectively and equally involve rural communities and Indigenous Peoples in decision-making. In the design phase, this means deploying sufficient resources to build capacities across all parties, and during implementation internalizing the high costs of effective land-use emission reductions, which will necessarily involve compensation for local people. REDD+ should account for the costs of developing grounded social feasibility assessments so that, for example, it does not become a means to encroach upon peoples’ land and other rights. Finally, REDD+ initiatives need to avoid oversimplifying local contexts and mobilizing excessive resources to clarify tenure regimes, and should instead recognize social-ecological complexity, the existence of legal pluralism and messy tenure arrangements, which in turn translates to a range of plausible implementation outcomes (both positive and negative).

Overall, Brown’s book is a very useful guide to the early years of REDD+ formation and implementation, the social and environmental risks it entails, and ideas about how it can work better in the future. There are, however, a few weaknesses in the book that concerned me. First, I think that Brown often mistakenly refers to a REDD+ framework that has barely existed until very recently – i.e. a REDD+ based on tradable carbon offsets – when in reality most of the pilots in place at the time the book was written were conservation and development projects that, at best, were trying to generate carbon credits for the voluntary market. Second, while I agree that REDD+ has been excessively technocratic and top-down, it is also true that many have warned against its blueprint character and host countries have often been quite supportive of bottom-up or sub-national REDD+ activities that have tried to accommodate local realities, though success in doing so has been highly variable. Third, I would argue that the book fails to maintain its argument consistently throughout. This might be because it employs too many sections that can easily distract the reader, including (as indicated before) the chapters that could have been considered contextual information, as well as the extensive discussion in the central and final parts to develop the new ‘social contract’. Finally, and most problematically, I found scant evidence about the role that large-scale and commercial actors driving deforestation and forest degradation have played in REDD+ developments or, more critically, how to account for them in such proposed ‘social contract’. These actors are the missing piece in the REDD+ puzzle, and I would argue that it is impossible to fully redeem REDD+ until this piece is found and placed as a central part of the overall picture. Communities and indigenous peoples, whether they are involved or not in REDD+, cannot alone save the remaining tropical forests: in order to do this, they would also need a firm international and national commitment against the expansion of large-scale agriculture and timber operations, as well as profound changes in the global political economy of natural resource extraction and consumption.

An edited and published version of this text can be found here:

Corbera, E., (2017) Redeeming REDD. Policies, incentives and social feasibility for avoided deforestation, by M.I. Brown. Book review, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 44:2, 502-506. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2017.1287671