As one of the leading near-term options for global climate change mitigation, REDD+ has been piloted in over 300 subnational initiatives across the tropics. This book describes 23 of those initiatives in six countries: Brazil, Peru, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia and Vietnam. These initiatives were selected in large part because they had defined their specific intervention areas but not yet offered conditional incentives to reduce forest carbon emissions when CIFOR collected baseline data in 2010. By 2014, they had implemented a broad range of actions both to develop enabling conditions and to reduce forest emissions. Thus, it is now timely to report on their experiences and assess early lessons about REDD+, including finance, tenure, scale, MRV and safeguards.

For each of these initiatives, we state the basic facts (where, who, why and when); explain their strategies; describe smallholders living in and around the intervention areas; and highlight key challenges and lessons learned. This information was collected through a household survey at 17 sites, and interviews with key informants and village meetings at all 23 sites.

Basic facts: Where, who, why and when

Most of the initiatives include between 650 and 6500 km2 of tropical rainforest. There are exceptions in Tanzania and Vietnam, where initiatives are located in dry forest and moist deciduous forest, which have lower carbon stocks and thus lower potential carbon revenues.

Fourteen of the initiatives are led by private nonprofit organizations, while the remaining initiatives are led either by for-profit companies or by the public sector, sometimes in collaboration with nonprofit organizations. To date, the most important funding source for these initiatives has been the public sector, followed by philanthropic organizations and private companies.

Many of the nonprofit proponents were already engaged in conservation work at their sites, which REDD+ has enabled them to continue or expand. In contrast, proponents from the private sector were more often motivated by the carbon market, and proponents from the public sector were generally seeking to demonstrate the feasibility of REDD+ both for climate change mitigation and for co-benefits. While all of the initiatives led by for-profit companies are continuing, six of the initiatives led by nonprofit or public sector proponents have ended and two have re-characterized themselves as low-carbon development efforts.


While all initiatives shared the goal of reducing deforestation and degradation, they pursued a broad range of strategies to accomplish this. Most proponents initially planned to access the forest carbon market to pay for performance-based incentives (direct payments or livelihood enhancements) to reduce deforestation. However, to date, only four of the initiatives have sold carbon credits, and only 10 have made direct payments conditional on actions to reduce deforestation or degradation. Many more have obtained bilateral or other public funding to support unconditional livelihood enhancements. Some initiatives are seeking to bundle carbon revenues with other incentives for sustainable management and conservation, such as sales of certified timber. Thus, many initiatives are continuing to follow their previous integrated conservation and development strategies. At the same time, proponents have sought to clarify and secure tenure for local stakeholders in order to identify who bears responsibility for protecting forests in exchange for REDD+ benefits, to protect forests from deforestation agents and to promote equity. Select proponents have encouraged local involvement in MRV.

Smallholders in the initiatives

At most of the sites, smallholders – whether indigenous to the area or recent migrants – are largely dependent on agriculture. Specifically, at 14 of the 17 sites where household surveys were conducted, smallholders derive their largest share of income from crops and livestock, and hence their livelihoods are potentially at risk from REDD+ interventions that restrict forest conversion. At each site, about 40% of the interviewed households had cleared forest within the previous two years, primarily for crop cultivation. The importance of forest clearing by smallholders varies across regions, partly as a function of the size of a typical smallholding (substantially larger in Brazil than in other countries) and partly in comparison with other deforestation drivers (with typically greater external threats in Indonesia). Forest products are the primary income source for smallholders at only three sites, located in Indonesia and Peru.

Challenges and lessons

The experiences of the individual initiatives reveal huge challenges associated with implementing REDD+ on the ground. Many of these challenges can only be overcome with an international agreement that generates the level of support originally envisioned for REDD+. Rather than waiting for such an agreement, the proponents of subnational initiatives have been adapting and innovating. Here, we summarize the challenges experienced and some lessons learned, especially in the following five areas:

Finance. Of the 23 initiatives, 14 are still functioning under the REDD+ label, and only four have sold carbon credits, which was initially envisioned as the primary way REDD+ would be financed. Another six are still in the process of obtaining third-party certification and/or marketing their credits. With the exception of three initiatives led by for-profit proponents that have sold credits, all of the initiatives that are seeking to continue as REDD+ are dependent on public and philanthropic funding, neither of which promises a stable long-term budget. The challenges of accessing carbon funding have also encouraged proponents to halt, transform or at least relabel nine initiatives by the end of 2014, demonstrating the difficulty of sustaining REDD+ interventions in the face of political and financial uncertainty.

Tenure. In addition to a secure source of funding, conditional incentives require a way to identify who holds rights to forest carbon and who bears responsibility for reducing emissions. Thus, pervasive tenure insecurity in tropical forests poses a challenge for implementing performance-based systems; it also potentially encourages more deforestation and undermines local livelihoods. At 11 of the sites, proponents consider tenure to be among their most important challenges. Most of the proponents have therefore given significant, dedicated attention to tenure clarification, but much remains to be done to assure an appropriate tenure foundation for REDD+.

Scale. REDD+ is an inherently multilevel process, requiring coordination between activities on the ground and policies at higher levels. The 23 initiatives in this book include six that are jurisdictional, in the sense that they plan to monitor carbon emissions and removals over an entire political administrative region. Jurisdictional initiatives are enabled by the power of government to work across sectors and scales, but can be hindered by interests counter to REDD+ that are embedded in some sectors of government; initiatives may also be vulnerable to changes in political leadership resulting from electoral outcomes.

MRV. MRV capabilities are highly uneven across countries, initiatives and emission sources. In contrast to the remote sensing capabilities for monitoring large-scale deforestation and the advance of deforestation frontiers that pre-dated REDD+, there has been slow progress on monitoring the small-scale mosaic deforestation and degradation that are ubiquitous throughout tropical forests. The diversity of emission sources across the 23 sites clearly points to the importance of locally tailored MRV systems, e.g. to capture the role of fire in Indonesian peatlands and Tanzanian dry forests.

Safeguards. REDD+ initiatives could place local livelihoods at risk unless they offer alternatives to forest conversion for agriculture – which is the primary income source for many smallholders in our sample. Our survey indicates that smallholders are concerned about whether they will receive tangible (income-related) benefits and whether their incomes could be negatively impacted by REDD+ interventions. Many of the proponents do plan to offer support for sustainable agricultural practices in compensation for restrictions on traditional shifting cultivation. However, survey results from the 23 sites clearly demonstrate the challenges of promoting social co-benefits in a way that is efficient and equitable given the heterogeneity of livelihood portfolios and varying patterns of forest use and dependence among local stakeholders.

In sum, early expectations of large funding flows induced experimentation with subnational REDD+. The resulting experiences – including the 23 initiatives described in this book – could provide the building blocks for implementing REDD+ as part of a future climate change agreement. Meanwhile, REDD+ can be advanced through strong efforts to: mobilize funding both for carbon and complementary forest benefits; ensure that local stakeholders are not just motivated to conserve forests but also protected against external threats to their resource rights; embed REDD+ in state institutions without leaving it vulnerable to electoral politics; increase capacity for MRV adapted to local conditions; and develop social safeguards grounded in a detailed understanding of local livelihoods.

Erin O Sills and Eskil Mattsson