How REDD+ Can Help Countries Recovering from Armed Conflict

Forests Jun 14, 2016
Kerstin Canby, Arthur Blundell and Emily Harwell

For almost all forest-rich countries, a major impediment in reversing patterns of deforestation has been weak institutions that have weak rule of law. That becomes an even greater obstacle in countries with a history of armed conflict.

A new Forest Trends analysis of countries supported by the U.N.’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program finds that, since the first REDD+ commitments were announced in Bali in 2007, more than half of participating countries have experienced organized armed conflict. The same is true for countries supported by the REDD+ programs hosted by the World Bank: the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, and the Forest Investment Program. These findings (summarized in the figure below; click to enlarge) will be presented at the Oslo REDD Exchange in Norway on June 14, 2016.

Oslo table1Table 1: Click to enlarge to full size

Fortunately, many of these countries are now relatively peaceful – twelve of them have U.N./European Union missions related to peacekeeping and nine have UN peacebuilding funds. But peace agreements are notoriously fragile. About half of all ceasefires fail within a decade and countries fall back into a “conflict trap” of repeating cycles of violence that undermine both development and good governance (as well as natural resource management). This dynamic poses a risk not only to peace and security, but to the success of initiatives like REDD+ operating in these countries.

But in crisis comes opportunity, and REDD+ could help reinforce peace processes around the globe. REDD+ offers a plausible alternative to industries that have contributed to conflict, such as industrial forestry or plantation agriculture. Governance reform and the convening of deliberative, multistakeholder processes associated with REDD-readiness can also contribute to “environmental peacebuilding.” If properly managed, REDD+ can potentially strengthen peace and security as much as it can mitigate climate change, improve environmental management, and support local communities.

As UN-REDD explains, “REDD+ is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. ‘REDD+’ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.”

But when working in (post-)conflict countries, ensuring proper management requires that REDD+ programs are “conflict sensitive.” This involves understanding the dynamics of past conflicts, as well as the on-going legacy of this violence.

The most obvious legacy of violence is the “conflict trap” that (post-)conflict countries find themselves in, but there are a number of other generalities that separate them from countries that have not had the same history of organized violence. To be effective, REDD+-participants and supporters must first recognize these challenges in order to take advantage of the opportunities, as well as to manage the risk of failure and protect against unintended negative consequences.

The opportunities presented by (post-)conflict environments can include:

  • A “constituency for change” that can build the political will among elites that would otherwise resist change.
  • Popular support for the reform of forest management consistent with REDD+-readiness, especially if the exploitation of forests (such as industrial logging or plantation agriculture) contributed to the conflict and/or disadvantage local people.
  • A spike in international attention, money, resources, and expertise which can help raise the capacity of government, the private sector, and civil society to implement governance reform.
  • “Good will” and the “rebranding” of a country associated with violent conflict that can provide the leverage for reform, especially if the reform is tied to the lifting of international sanctions and/or consumer campaigns.

But (post-)conflict countries also pose challenges for initiatives like REDD+ that are offered as alternatives to “business as usual:”

  • Impatience: immediately after conflicts, often “quick wins” are needed, especially job creation and revenue generation; industrial logging and plantation agriculture are seen as a fast way to rebuild a war-torn economy; REDD+ payments are often not seen as being able to deliver soon enough.
  • Risk is high, so investment by “good actors” is low; many operators mitigate risk to obtain high return by cutting corners and/or operating corruptly. Some investors have no intention of operating in the short-term—they are passive speculators that use their crony connections to get contracts and concessions at “fire sale” prices, selling them once the investment climate improves and the selling price increases.
  • Insecurity is high, especially in rural, forested areas, making it difficult to access and therefore engage individuals in the consultation processes, and making them vulnerable to intimidation.
  • Former commanders co-opt or block reforms as a way to maintain militia networks and revenue streams. Often these actors may become “spoilers” of the peace, willing to resume violence in order to maintain control of these valuable assets.
  • Officials within transitional governments, often in power only for a short time, see logging and plantations as a way to personally benefit (rent-seeking).
  • Discussions over regional forest management are often entwined in national discussions over decentralization and regional autonomy. Any move towards regional autonomy is usually tied directly to grievances underlying the war itself (and may even be a condition of a peace agreement); likewise, so are the demands for self-determination and control of resource management decisions and revenue streams, including those related to forests, and possible treatment of resources as war booty.
  • Land rights are complex and uncertain; concessions often overlap when used for political patronage, “adverse possession” is problematic when displaced people return to find squatters on their land.
  • Populations are traumatized; trust is difficult to build, particularly among communities accustomed to being economically exploited, or at best, disappointed by a torrent of well-intentioned (post-)conflict development efforts.

These problems are complex and deeply-entrenched, and there will be no easy fixes. But given the prevalence of conflict in more than half of all participating countries, at the very least, REDD+ must endeavour to “do no harm.” Interventions should take care to avoid generating grievance that could fuel a resumption of violence that throws a country back into the “conflict trap. “ Better yet, by understanding the unique conditions created by (post-)conflict, REDD+ initiatives can not only increase their own chance of success, but contribute meaningfully to peacebuilding.

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