A Simple Yet Thorough Guide To Building REDD+ Capacity From The Ground Up

Steve Zwick

As REDD+ becomes more codified and complex, the need increases for a simple tool that can ease us all into it. A consortium of leading NGOs has just published a capacity-building guide that may be the single most comprehensible intro to REDD+ devised to date. Here’s what the new meta-manual delivers.


30 March 2014 | As the acronym RED grew into REDD  and now into REDD+, everything about it seems to have become convoluted. The acronym now stands for “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation plus forest management”, and it refers to a list of growing and expanding activities operating under different regimes and standards.

All this is happening as the need for a simple, bottom-up understanding becomes more urgent than ever, yet most of the literature to emerge in the past year is either so simplistic as to be useless or so obtuse as to be incomprehensible. In part, I suspect, that’s because each new paper tries to differentiate itself from the material that came before it, but it may also be because most of us who write about REDD+ have forgotten what a weird concept it can be for the uninitiated.

Fortunately, a consortium of NGOs avoided both pitfalls when they compiled a new meta-manual for implementing REDD+ from the ground up. Rather than try and reinvent the wheel, they created a series of thematic summaries that set the reader up for literature that already exists and provided a wrap-around of sorts that will help a general-interest ease herself into the material.

Compiled by by Conservation International (CI), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Centro Agroní³mico Tropical de Investigacií³n y Enseí±anza (Solutions for Environment and Development, CATIE), and the Regional Community Forestry Training Center (RECOFTC), the document has a mouthful of a title: The Knowledge and Skills Needed to Engage in REDD+: A Competencies Framework (by Luis Barquí­n, Mario Chací³n, Steven Panfil, Adewale Adeleke, Elena Florian, and Ronnakorn Triraganon).

Once you crack it open, however, the document is an incredibly easy-to-follow guide to REDD+ as it is emerging around the world. Although targeted to practitioners, it’s the kind of work that anyone looking to understand REDD+ will find valuable.

Each theme closes with a resources page that links to more detailed treatment.

It has two characteristics that, together, separate it from other resources on the web:

First, it breaks REDD+ down into 10 themes, each of which builds on the one before it. Second, each section provides just enough language to frame the issues central to each theme, and then closes with links to resources available on the internet (see illustration, right).

It does have one shortcoming, but i’m not sure how to fix it. Specifically, its coverage of sub-national accounting mechanisms and finance in general is a bit sparse and outdated – forgivable shortcomings given the rapid change of pace in these areas and the fact that most of the new literature has emerged in the last three months. One solution might be to scrap the PDF format altogether and instead create a living document with live links that can be updated as the landscape changes.

Super-Simple to Highly Complex

The authors begin with the very basics of REDD+, and they assume very little prior understanding on the part of readers. The opening section, “Designing a Capacity Building Program to Meet the Needs of REDD+ Stakeholders”, is just seven pages long and identifies all of the potential stakeholders – from government agencies to indigenous leaders to private-sector investors – and examine them based on demographics, education levels, and reasons for engaging in REDD+.

The language is simple, and the breakdown should prove helpful not only for people designing programs, but for stakeholders themselves.

The section closes with links to readable, comprehensive reports from organizations like CI and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) on subjects as diverse as basic strategies for developing adult education programs to specific methods of identifying capacity gaps related to REDD.

Ten Themes


The meat of the document is the second section, “Essential Knowledge and Skills”, which takes up the next 100 pages and provides what may be the single most comprehensive and accessible database of REDD+ knowledge on the Internet. This section is broken into 10 themes, each of which builds on the one before it. While each theme can, in theory, be read individually, it’s really worth reading this document from beginning to end and then revisiting each section when you want to do a deep dive.

“The Science of Climate Change and the Role of Forests” offers links to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) source material – which is appropriate, because the IPCC best practice guidelines define the entire process for terrestrial carbon accounting, whether under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or in the voluntary carbon markets.

This lays a solid foundation for moving into REDD+ as it is taking shape in the UNFCCC and then a dive into the quagmire that is national and sub-national accounting (covered in “The Scale of REDD+”). The authors didn’t shy away from tackling the stickier aspects of this issue, but the findings are a bit dated – which, again, may be unavoidable given the rapid pace of change in this theme.

The themes unavoidably bleed into each other as you move through the document, with the readiness process leading to engagement and then offering a very deep dive into Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). These three really need to be read sequentially to be properly understood, and themes 8 and 9 – covering Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) and Reference Levels – really need a solid grounding in 1 and 2.

Theme 10 was something of a disappointment, with source material that is outdated and little reference to existing bilateral financing mechanisms and emerging. As with the sub-national accounting section, this is understandable. Still, it would be great to see an online version that’s more of a living document – one that can be updated as themes change.

The final section, which offers case studies of projects by the four lead NGOs, is also less than it could be. The narratives are hard to follow, especially compared to the incredibly readable material that comprised the bulk of the document. Still, when you consider the simple manner in which they have broken down a large amount of technical information, this new document is a valuable contribution to the REDD+ community.


Steve Zwick is Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace. The views expressed here are his and his alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of Forest Trends or its affiliates. He can be reached at [email protected].

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