Monday, January 27, 2020

Saving REDD. Seymour aims to reverse the ‘narrative of disappointment’

Results-based funding for forest protection has failed to take off as many had hoped six years ago. Frances Seymour wants to bring back the momentum for REDD.

Frances Seymour  Photo: Aris Sanjaya / CIFOR

After heading the international forestry research centre in Indonesia, CIFOR, for six years, Frances Seymour has become an influential voice in global forest politics. Having observed traditional forestry aid projects for more than two decades “and seen what doesn’t work”, she speaks strongly in favour of REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and land degradation).

The idea of REDD is that rich polluting countries reward less developed forest-rich countries for keeping their forests in tact instead of cutting them down. It is in theory a win-win scenario where countries use the earnings to finance sustainable development and, since deforestation is believed to be responsible for about one-fifth of global greenhouse emissions, there are potentially huge positive climate benefits as well.

Norway is perhaps the donor country that bought most strongly into the REDD concept, promising to spend billions of crowns in aid money for countries that could show they had reduced deforestation. Seymour’s six years at CIFOR coincide with Norway’s massive climate forest initiative which has turned a small Nordic nation into a leading global forest donor. 

Norway’s climate forest funding - concentrated mainly on a few key countries, Brazil, Indonesia, Guyana - is meant to have a demonstration effect by creating models of how REDD might work on a large scale.


But internationally, REDD has failed to take off in the way that people like Frances Seymour and former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg had hoped and predicted. (Norway’s own REDD programme has moved more slowly than initially anticipated - See DT 11/13)

“REDD came up just as the financial crisis hit,” Seymour says in an inteview with Development Today. “There has been a climate of austerity in many of the large donor countries. This made the possibility of others making commitments like Norway’s very unlikely.”

Seymour left CIFOR last year to join the Washington-based Center for Global Development. In her first blog at CGD, she refers to the “narrative of disappointment” surrounding REDD. “In many ways, we are still recovering from what didn’t happen” at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, she says to DT.

“There has been a gap between the commitments and hopes for huge financing for REDD and the lack of money. Many political leaders ... have been left waiting for funds to materialise. If you remove the results-based payments, you remove the linchpin of what makes REDD different” from traditional forestry projects, she says.

At CGD, Seymour says she will try to confront the negativity that is “infecting the discourse on forests and climate change” in an effort to “regain the momentum behind REDD”. How does she intend to achieve this? 


Her first task, she says, will be to make the case that forest is important for climate and development. Seymour says that since the Stern Review put forests on the map in 2006, there has been a gradual erosion of interest. “I have been surprised since returning to Washington how little appreciation there is of the importance of forests,” she says. “If we want to have a shot at limiting climate change to 2 degrees, forests must be part of the equation.”

Seymour wants to raise the awareness of the role of forests for climate adaptation, hydrology, pollination and their importance for mainstream agriculture.

CGD will also conduct in-depth case studies of the tropical forest countries engaged in REDD. She hopes to find out, for example, what led to Brazil’s large, rapid decrease in rates of deforestation.  How much was due to civil society pressure, to what extent was it technology driven, or due to political will or international attention, and what role, if any, has international financing played?

“The Norwegian money in Brazil has probably acted more as an added weight than a catalyst,” says Seymour. 

The tropical country Seymour knows best is Indonesia. Though virtually no Norwegian money has yet been disbursed, she insists that the promise of the Norwegian billion has “bought” an enormous amount of change in Indonesia.

“The Letter of Intent between Norway and Indonesia and putting USD 1 billion on the table led to a change in the policy discussion about forestry in Indonesia that is unprecedented,” Seymour says.

She says results-based aid initiatives like REDD should be judged not by the disbursement of funds, but by progress made. “So many results come prior to payment of funds. This is my observation from Indonesia. The progress is incredibly promising and it is moving forward.”

Seymour underlines that the results-based payment approach reframes the political relationship from a donor-recipient model to something closer to a partnership between equals.

“Forest countries feel strongly that [REDD] is a business transaction. But traditional development institutions are not suited to this task. They carry baggage from the past,” says Seymour.

“OECD definitions of aid inadvertently discourage the modalities of cash-on-delivery aid. We need new financing vehicles to finance global public goods. If we could finance REDD from a non-ODA source it would be better.”

“Now we are in danger of this narrative of disappointment gaining traction. I hope to reaffirm support for the REDD agenda ... The next two years will be the critical time.”

Seymour is currently working as a consultant for Norad.