How is REDD+ Money Being Spent on Forest Conservation?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015 14:21 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

There’s a break in the clouds, and I can see the forest below me. I’m flying over the Bosque Seco Tropical – the tropical dry forests – of Colombia on my way to lead a workshop on the issue of forest protection finance. I work for REDDX, an initiative of Forest Trends, a US-based NGO and Skoll awardee.

Staring out the window, I can’t help but think about the importance of these ecosystems. Tropical dry forests once accounted for over 40 percent of the forest cover in Latin America and were teeming with biodiversity. Today, these forests are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the tropics; in Colombia, only about four percent of the country’s dry forest remains.

Tropical forests and climate change

Forests, like the Colombian Bosque Seco Tropical, provide an array of environmental services. However, when degraded or destroyed, these forests become major emitters of greenhouse gases, contributing to nearly 15 percent of carbon emissions worldwide.

The conservation of tropical forests will play a critical role in the fight against climate change. One way the global community is attempting to protect these forests is via the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism. Established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, REDD+ aims to reduce emissions by making forest conservation economically viable and environmentally and socially beneficial for international and local communities alike.

Since 2005, international donors have committed large sums of money to help developing nations prepare to participate in REDD+. Despite these large commitments, information remains limited on exactly how this money is being spent. Forest Trends’ REDDX initiative is working with local civil society organizations to track REDD+ funding in 14 countries. The project aims to increase financial transparency and aid countries in identifying national conservation priorities and programs.

Preliminary tracking results

In December, Forest Trends released its annual global synthesis report,Tracking REDD+ Finance: 2009-2012 Finance Flows in Seven REDD+ Countries, highlighting a few main findings:

  • There is a lag between commitments and disbursements for REDD+. Large commitments by donors for REDD+ are often followed by long delays before initial disbursements of funds. In fact, of the US$1.2 billion tracked by REDDX, less than a third has been released to communities and projects on the ground.
  • Domestic financing is an important piece of the REDD+ finance landscape.Due to the time lag in receiving disbursements, national governments are financing REDD+ activities. In general, levels of domestic finance have been low in comparison to other forms of finance, but will likely become more important as countries set out their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.
  • Multilateral funding is picking upMultilateral donors, such as the World Bank, are beginning to overshadow the donor governments and private foundations that supplied early REDD+ financing. This type of finance is bound to increase as new financing mechanisms come online such as the Forest Investment Program, and the Green Climate Fund.
  • Currently, there are low levels of private sector financing. The private sector is still not making large-scale REDD+ investments. But like domestic and multilateral funding, private sector investment will become more essential as countries progress toward REDD+ implementation.

What does this mean for Colombia?

In Colombia, REDD+ finance continues to improve, slowly defying these trends. The delay between commitments and disbursements is shortening, with over half, or 51 percent, of funding already disbursed. At the same time, private sector investment appears to be growing. This is in part due to increased public-private partnerships. The national government, via the Ministry of Environmental and Sustainable Development, has provided over US$2.1 million to private companies to implement forest carbon projects, which will be eventually be integrated into the national REDD+ strategy.

Yet despite these promising developments, the recent national validation workshop highlighted a few areas of improvement. The key issue is that tropical dry forests and other Andean forests are underfunded. In the coming year, REDDX will be coordinating with the national government and international donors to identify areas for intervention, helping direct funding to the ecosystems and activities that need it the most.

Paris and beyond

This type of analysis is not just needed in Colombia. By providing continued transparency around international REDD+ finance, REDDX will continue to identify national priorities throughout its global network, and prompt political action at the international level. Moving forward, Forest Trends hopes the REDD+ policy community can continue to use the initiative’s findings as they craft the global climate change deal to be signed in Paris later this year, ultimately facilitating increased investment in our climate future.

Jessica Breitfeller is REDDX associate with Forest Trends Association.