* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
BOGOR, Indonesia—On the REDD+ stage, one actor speaks prominently under the lights—but remains largely invisible backstage when the decisions are made.
The success of the REDD+ initiative, which seeks to curb carbon emissions through avoided deforestation, rests by design on the inclusion of all forest stakeholders, from national governments to local people and everyone in between.
Recently, private-sector entities involved in deforestation and forest degradation became vocal at a series of global REDD+ events, and a number of transnational, large-scale companies stepped forward to declare zero-deforestation goals for their respective commodity chains.
Yet although the private sector has enormous influence over national REDD+ policies, it is barely visible in the national networks and arenas where stakeholders shape REDD+ design, according to a comparative study of policy networks in seven countries.
In a special report in the journal Ecology and Society, scientists mapped out and analyzed policy networks by identifying the key “actors” in REDD+ design—including government agencies, civil society and research organizations, as well as private sector actors—illustrating how they exchange information and other resources.
Among the private sector actors in all seven countries, quite different types were identified as relevant to REDD+ policy making: those, like palm oil and mining companies, whose activities continue to lead to deforestation and forest degradation; green strategists, who have developed environmentally friendly programs as part of corporate social responsibility strategies; carbon financiers, who seek opportunities in the carbon market; and consultants, who provide advice on how to build and work with REDD+.
Very few actors from the private sector agreed to participate in the policy network analyses, and the few that did were “green” companies interested engaged in carbon markets or those with strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes. Very few of the companies in industries that were considered drivers of deforestation agreed to take part in the study.
LOBBYING IMPACT SEEN
Though companies seem to be largely absent in these networks, their interests are strongly reflected in government language and decisions, the analyses found, suggesting that private sector lobbying to the state is having a significant impact. In fact, internalization of private interests in government over time can even make lobbying even redundant in some cases.
“This is something we see everywhere and is basically a result of lobbying,” said Maria Brockhaus, a senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the lead author of a comparative study of all seven analyses. “So there’s the policy network that you can see, and there’s the one that exists but you don’t see—the shadow network.”
Teams of researchers in Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Vietnam carried out surveys and interviews with key actors, and found from their responses that the private sector was considered by other actors to have a powerful influence on REDD+ policies in all countries, even though they did not take part in the exchange of information and resources with other key actors.
The policy networks analyses, illustrated in complex web-like diagrams , give an immediate picture of how power is concentrated and how actors connect and form coalitions. But they also highlight disconnects—for example, the fact that the teams conducting the analyses were barely able to engage the private sector exemplifies a stark disconnect between research organizations and the private sector, for example.
The team in Indonesia found that many companies did not want to engage in the research, but part of the problem was access.
“We still do not have access to the real decision-makers who steer green strategy in big companies,” said CIFOR scientist Moira Moeliono.
She said some big companies that had committed to ending deforestation had been willing to meet, but only sent someone from their PR or CSR departments.
“They are well informed, but they don’t really make decisions and often it’s clear they are there to simply protect the company from more intrusive questions from us,” Moeliono said.
Interviewees from Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce (known by its Indonesian acronym, KADIN) told researchers that climate change issues were still relatively new to the private sector and that companies still lacked information.
“But the private sector is not involving itself openly in the national REDD+ policy arena, so if you’re not involved, you tend to ignore everything that’s out there,” Moeliono said. “We can only inform people who want to be informed. In general, those from the private sector who want to be informed are.”
In Indonesia, figures with business-as-usual interests have joined the newly formed government and are in a position to serve the private sector’s interests over other stakeholders’, Moeliono said.
Now, all of this may change with the new declarations around zero-deforestation initiatives, and one could hope that not only at the level of global rhetoric but also in national policy and action arenas more positive engagement and openness of the private sector actors will follow, in particular those involved in deforestation and forest degradation.
MAPPING OPPORTUNITIES, CHALLENGES
Scientists have argued that transformational change, including major policy reform, is needed for countries to implement REDD+ effectively, as REDD+ policy progress at the national level has so far been slower than expected. The policy network diagrams produced for each country enable all stakeholders, including policy makers, to identify target areas for reform, as well as patterns that have helped REDD+ progress in some cases.
The policy network diagrams connect nodes, representing actors, to other nodes in a complex web, and show how one actor may work as a broker or bridge between two others.
“Even though something might be common knowledge—we all know there are power centers and coalitions—if you measure it and can see it described visually, you can provide an argument to actually tackle it,” Brockhaus said, describing the analyses as “unpacking the ‘black box’ of REDD+ decision making.”