Article 5 of the Paris Agreement on Global Climate Change stipulates that all parties to the Agreement (1) should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including forests; and (2) they are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (plus) in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivising, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.

      The approaches to REDD plus have been evolved since 2005 which advanced in significant decisions taken by COP 16 at Cancun in 2010- (16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) and finally adopted as the Warsaw framework for REDD plus at COP 19. According to the agreement and decisions as referred to in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, the developing countries will implement REDD plus which will be supported by developed countries.

      However, it is a fact that the implementation of REDD plus is not legally binding if one goes by the Paris Agreement language as contained in Article 5. The words used are “should” and “are encouraged” and not “shall”. This probably was a result of ecological, political and socio-economic complexities associated with forestry sector in practically all developing countries and enormous insurmountable difficulties involved in implementation of REDD plus. Also, a consensus on REDD plus would be improbable in view of a variety of stakeholders and interests. REDD plus policies and approaches as evolved make it a voluntary and incentive-based activity.   Nevertheless, there are international expectations that developing countries should take actions to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and that they manage forests sustainably to conserve as well as enhance carbon stocks. According to 4th Report of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deforestation and forest degradation contribute to about 17 percent of green house gas (GHG) emissions. By implementing REDD plus not only the GHG emissions from forests will reduce but sequestration of GHG from atmosphere will also increase.

      Although REDD plus implementation is not legally binding and obligatory under the Paris Agreement, the developing countries that have submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) with measurable ambitions including actions to increase forest carbon sinks, reduce deforestation (forest clearance) and degradation and undertake afforestation/ reforestation, the climate change mitigation through forests becomes legally binding with or without explicitly implementing REDD plus for results-based payments. Therefore, the voluntary nature of Article 5 does not remain voluntary if a country’s NDCs include mitigation through forests. The implementation of NDCs is required to be quantifiable, measurable and verifiable through a system established and methodology adopted and rules framed by the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC serving as the meeting of the Parties of the Paris Agreement (CMA). This will require monitoring of carbon stocks in forests of a country on a regular basis and report submitted as part of the progress report of the NDCs. For example, India has committed through its NDCs, creation of additional sinks in forests for 2.5 to 3 billion tones of CO2 equivalent by 2030. This may be presumed from a baseline of 2015 as the current carbon stocks in its forests forest must sequestrate and store an additional 2.5 to 3 billion tones of Carbon.

      A country having committed its climate change mitigation and adaptation ambition (or target) through its NDCs is required to prepare a baseline or forest emissions reference level (FERL) and forest reference level (FRL) using guidance and methodology of IPCC as adopted by the COP with full transparency of methodology and report. A periodic progress report of NDCs, every five years, will be submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat for inclusion in a registry. The required information and reports submitted by a Party to the Agreement will be scrutinised by a technical review committee as well as there will be a periodic stock taking by the CMA. The provision of accountability is amply clear in the processes, methods and regulations to be developed and adopted by the CMA under the Agreement.

      A country’s NDCs submission in itself is not an instrument of incentives in form of results-based payment. It is an international obligation for which the concerned country will be accountable. Unless REDD plus is implemented to achieve forest related ambition or target, and the results-based actions are fully measurable, verifiable and reported, no financial benefits will accrue to those countries that implement forest-based mitigation.

      This brings us to decision that REDD plus is implemented in all its phases beginning with development of a national strategy or action plan as well as capacity. The three phases as decided by COP are

I. Development of national strategies or action plans, policies and measures, and capacity-building, followed by

II. the implementation of national policies and measures and national strategies or action plans that could involve

further capacity-building,

technology development and transfer, and

results-based demonstration activities, and

III. evolving into results-based actions that should be fully measured, reported and verified.

      It was also decided that while developing or implementing its national strategies and national action plans a country will address, inter alia,

  1. The drivers of deforestation and degradation;
  2. Land tenure issues;
  3. Forest governance issues;
  4. Gender considerations;
  5. Safeguards identified and agreed by COP;
  6. Full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, inter alia, indigenous people and local communities.

            A country implementing REDD plus, if it seeks or looks for results-based finance, is required to adhere to all principles and take all actions as agreed at COP 16 (Cancun) and reiterated, finalized and adopted as part of the Warsaw Framework for REDD plus at COP session in November 2014 (COP 19-Warsaw). A country is required to develop a national forest reference or sub-national level as an interim measure, emission level or forest reference level; robust and transparent national forest monitoring system for the monitoring and reporting of activities or if appropriate at subnational level; and provide information about how safeguards are being addressed. The sole basis for REDD plus success or failure is the increase or decrease in forest carbon stock compared to a base line or forest reference level. If there is an increase, incentives will flow from whatever sources and the increase has to be retained and desirably multiplied over the years or decades to qualify to continue to receive payments for results-based actions.

            REDD plus objectives can also be achieved without implementing it as an independent action for incentives but as part of ambition or target in a country’s NDCs to mitigate climate change impacts by reducing emissions from forests and sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide by expanding forest carbon sinks. Many developing countries would want to draw payments for REDD plus actions. They are in effect sequestrating emissions pushed by developed countries. They would need for this purpose support from developed countries in form of financial assistance, capacity building, technology and associated transaction costs, fully or partially.

            However, certain risks are associated with implementation of REDD plus. The first risk is that after substantial efforts and investment, the benefits may not commensurate the cost or even there may be a net negative rate of return. Some countries that are not confident about positive incentives from REDD plus (e.g. India, China, South Africa etc.) may avoid this implementation risk and may yet put in place or strengthen their forest carbon inventory monitoring system.

            The second perceived risk is from safeguard issues both environmental and social. A robust environment and social assessment (ESA) is required as an essential part of REDD plus preparedness as well as project development document. Since the stringent safeguard policies of the World Bank are being adopted, many countries may not be comfortable as mitigation plans, if any, will not only involve substantial cost but will also be cumbersome. For example, if an ESA results find that the interests of indigenous people or other forest dependent local communities are adversely affected by way of restricting access to REDD plus forest areas thereby jeopardising their livelihood opportunities or any physical displacement is involves, safeguard issues will be triggered. Safeguards are meant to ensure that REDD plus related activities do not result in any adverse environmental or social impact such as biodiversity, drastic alteration of a natural ecosystem structure and composition. Implementation of safeguards may reduce or offset financial incentives and create unnecessary responsibilities.

         The third risk is possibility of deviation from transparency framework as established under Article 13 the Paris Agreement with a view to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation. The principles and guidance relating to governance, monitoring and reporting, if compromised will deny incentives and adverse international opinion.

        The REDD plus finance for results-based incentive continues to remain elusive. The possibility of US $100 billion climate fund as discussed at the recently concluded November 2016 COP 22 at Marrakech, could not be resolved by the international communities. The World politics is changing fast so are the commitments.