Jurisdictional REDD: Long Deferred, Soon Delivered

Steve Zwick, Kelley Hamrick and Christopher Pollon

Forest-carbon projects are now conserving as much forested land as you’ll find in all of Malaysia. It’s a stunning achievement, but one that needs to get big fast if we’re to make a dent in global greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, jurisdictions like the Brazilian state of Acre are developing "jurisdictional REDD" programs to do just that.

1 June 2015 | Roughly 2,500 years ago, people of the Amazon Basin started blending charcoal with pottery to create a thick, rich soil called terra preta (dark earth) – evidence of a now-lost system of sustainable agriculture that enhanced rather than depleted the soil. The practice eventually spread across the continent, and it appears to have sustained indigenous civilizations for centuries.

Terra preta began disappearing shortly after Europeans arrived in the Amazon 500 years ago – an arrival that sparked migration and conflict well beyond their early coastal and river settlements.

Chief José Maria’s knows little of this ancient history, but he knows that by the time his people, the Shawí£dawa, were officially contacted by Brazilian authorities in the 1900s, they’d abandoned their ancient practices in favor of migratory slash-and-burn agriculture. After contact, decimated by war and disease, they became dependent on modern farming methods that kill the forest, deplete the soil, and poison the rivers.

In 2008, Chief José Maria heard that the government of Brazil’s state of Acre wanted to learn his people’s ways and the ways of neighboring people like the Ashaninka and Yawanawa. The government’s goal was to re-create the long-lost practices that worked so well for so long, and to support them through a legal framework called the System of Incentives for Environmental Services (Sistema de Incentivos a Serviços Ambientais / “SISA”).

SISA, he learned, would even pay his people to improve the way the forest functioned – the way it filtered water, captured carbon, and fortified the soil. It would pay them, in other words, to keep Acre’s agricultural system functioning for centuries to come.

In 2011, he began participating in workshops designed to implement SISA and its “Payments for Ecosystem Services” (PES), but by late 2013, he was tired of talking and anxious to get to work.

“When will PES arrive?” he asked wearily. “We’ve held about five different meetings …”

The answer came in early 2014, when the state paid R$3.6 million ($1.6 million) to the Acre Association of Indigenous Agroforestry Agents (Associaçí£o do Movimento dos Agentes Agroflorestais Indí­genas do Acre/AMAAIAC) to reverse decades of degradation caused by the shift from forestry to cattle farming and other practices that destroy the forest.

“PES is difficult to understand, but it is not rocket science,” says Charamaxa Huni Kuin of the Huni Kuin people. “These are the things that indigenous agroforestry agents have been doing, and the work is getting stronger.”

In April of last year, the government put up an additional R$3 million ($1.34 million) to support and implement indigenous Life Plans across the state. Deployment was delayed until later in the year because of anti-corruption laws that prevent big payouts too close to an election, but money is now being doled out in payments ranging from as low as R$50,000 ($22,390) to as high as R$210,000 ($94,000), and it’s being used for a broad range of activities – from strengthening land management to promoting associations and communities to generating income for women.

It’s all part of the world’s first large-scale “jurisdictional REDD” program.

What is “Jurisdictional REDD”?

In some ways, a jurisdictional REDD program is a lot like an individual REDD project, but scaled up to cover an entire jurisdiction – which could be an entire country, or a state within a country, or a region, like Ghana’s cocoa-producing area.

The basic concept is the same as a project: buyer and seller haggle over how much forest would be lost if business continued as usual, and they agree on a “reference level” that represents a business-as-usual scenario. Then the buyer agrees to pay for activities that reduce deforestation below that reference level.

From a carbon-accounting perspective, the biggest challenge is getting enough random samples over a long enough period of time to offer carbon-stock estimates that are 95 percent certain, which is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends. That can be costly, because, despite all the advances in satellite and even drone technology, it still requires sending teams out into the forest with tape-measures. Then someone in the jurisdiction – usually in the forestry department – has to blend those findings with satellite images going back decades to document the jurisdiction’s land-use change over time – how much forest has been converted to field and then to farm, and sometimes back again.

Once a jurisdiction has this, it’s actually more straightforward to establish a reference level for an entire jurisdiction than it is for a small patch of land – even if that jurisdiction is a hodgepodge of palm trees, maple trees, farmers’ fields, and gulfs and valleys. That’s because things average out over a large scale, so a jurisdiction can use its prevailing rates of deforestation as is reference level – a practice that climate negotiators enshrined in the REDD Rulebook in Warsaw at the end of 2013, after eight years of haggling.

The Indigenous Component

Although the basic concept of payments for reduced emissions is the same the world over, every jurisdiction has its own challenges and its own philosophy about how to combat deforestation – which means that each state has a different philosophy about how to spend the money.

In Acre, the money goes into a fund administered by the state, which has promised to funnel at least 70 percent of it to people it defines as providers of environmental services, including rubber-tappers and indigenous groups.

Like Igarapé Lourdes, most of Acre’s indigenous territories currently have little or no deforestation. But while Igarapé Lourdes sits on the Arc of Deforestation, many of Acre’s territories are so isolated that they’d find it hard to prove they’re endangered under classic REDD carbon mechanisms – despite illegal incursions by loggers that have left several indigenous leaders dead. Here, indigenous impacts can more accurately be measured in terms of habitat conservation and water management, with carbon stocks being a byproduct. SISA, in this case, acts as a conduit between international REDD+ payments and local payments for watershed improvement, riverbank restoration, and scores of other activities.

“International REDD+ payments come into the state denominated in carbon, but the state distributes the money internally via payments for watershed services, payments for habitat restoration, and payments for any number of other actions that are consistent with SISA,” says Rebecca Anzueto, a former Program Manager with the Communities and Markets Initiative at Forest Trends. “As long as the state meets its REDD+ emissions-reduction targets, the REDD+ payments should continue to flow.”

The projects are being selected by the government according to a criteria established by SISA’s Indigenous Working Group (GT-Indí­gena).

“GT-Indí­gena was created to guide the implementation of the indigenous component of SISA, to figure out, for instance, how to distribute funds and other benefits to local indigenous communities – to answer questions like, ‘How will money strengthen land tenure rights? How will this money strengthen the management and governance of territories that have been demarcated?’” says Beto Borges, who heads the Forest Trends Communities and Markets Initiative and sits on the board of GT-Indí­gena.

“We’re talking about 2.4 million hectares of forest being managed by indigenous peoples,” he says. “That’s 15 distinct ethnicities dispersed among 35 indigenous territories. Their traditional territories have been demarcated. They’re official. Now, the new funding from SISA will strengthen the management and conservation of their forests.”

Who Pays?

For Acre, the German government stepped up with R$50 million ($24.2 million) through 2018 in exchange for the state taking actions designed to save xx hectares of forest and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by xx tonnes, but the state has several other options for the future.

The state has Memorandums of Understanding with the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sí£o Paulo, and it’s a founding member of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), which then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger created in late 2008. The GCF launched with linkages among states in the United States, Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia in a worldwide, sub-national, emission-reduction network. It’s since expanded to include states in Nigeria, Spain, and Peru.

Last year, GCF members signed the Rio Branco Declaration, formalizing their commitment to reducing deforestation by 80% by 2020 – but reiterated that the commitment is contingent on adequate funding. Such a reduction would prevent four billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (tCO2e) from entering the atmosphere.

“It’s basically saying, ‘Listen, we did what we said we’re going to do … we’ve brought emissions down more than 3 billion tons’ – that’s bigger than any nation has been able to accomplish,” says Dan Nepstad, Executive Director and Senior Scientist at the Earth Innovation Institute. “Hidden in those words is the idea, though, that we can’t sustain this agenda forever unless there’s some recognition and finance flowing into our states and provinces. [The Declaration] has got to be seen as the beginning of a process of negotiation and alignment … we can’t do it alone.”

Members of the Yawanawa People at a SISA
workshop in their territory.
Photo: Laura and Tashka Yawanawa

Through the GCF, individual REDD projects within Acre may one day be able to sell offsets to emitters under California’s cap-and-trade program – and, because they’re embedded in a jurisdictional program, they won’t have the sticky problem of leakage that isolated project face when a tree-chopper just moves down the road.

Members of the Yawanawa People at a SISA workshop in their territory. Photo: Laura and Tashka Yawanawa Members of the Ashaninka People take stock of their natural capital at a workshop in their territory. Photo Credit: Flavia Cunha


By embedding individual projects in a jurisdictional program, project developers can avoid the sticky issue of leakage – or what happens when deforestation just moves down the road. To do so, however, they need to carefully document the emission-reductions that their projects create and differentiate them from emission-reductions that would have happened anyway.

Members of the Ashaninka People take stock of their natural capital at a workshop in their territory.
Photo Credit: Flavia Cunha

This is a process called “nesting,” and Acre is piloting VCS’s Jurisdictional Nesting REDD+ (JNR) framework. Released in 2012, the JNR offers the only comprehensive framework for jurisdictional accounting and verification at this point.

As a state, Acre must also nest its reductions in those of Brazil – which has vowed to slash deforestation 80 percent by 2020, and has been tapping the Amazon Fund to do so.

“When we talk about setting an integrated approach for REDD+ for the Amazon states that is nested at the national level, it might seem difficult, but it’s actually much simpler than trying to set the baseline for a project or smaller area,” says Pedro Soares, Climate Change Program Coordinator for Manaus-based NGO Instituto de Conservaçí£o e Desenvolvimento Sustentí¡vel do Amazonas (IDESAM), which was recently hired by the Brazilian state of Rondí´nia to help it advance a jurisdictional REDD program there.

The Brazil Advantage

Most developing countries are still struggling to develop carbon inventories, but Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, “INPE”) has been tracking the Amazon from the sky since the 1970s, and its state forestry departments have measured millions of trees. As a result, Acre can document that it lost an average of 0.30 percent of its forest annually from 2000 to 2013, and it can also convert that to carbon stocks with 95 percent certainty.

For Acre to earn REDD income, it had to come up with a plan to get its deforestation rate below 0.30 percent, then it had to find a buyer who believed in their plan and committed to it, and finally, it had to execute the plan – and prove that it did so.

This is essentially the same sequence that jurisdictions around the world are following, although most jurisdictions aren’t anywhere near as advanced as Brazil. They’ve done no carbon inventory, which means they don’t know how much carbon is in their forests, and they don’t really know the rate at which their forests are being converted to farms and fields.

“REDD Readiness”

Now that the REDD Rule Book exists, countries interested in using REDD finance know exactly what’s required of them to get ready for REDD. The Norwegian government has spent billions of dollars on REDD readiness round the world, but the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) has created a formal process for doing so. A country that wants to go through this process begins by submitting an Emission Reductions Program Idea Note (ER-PIN) to the FCPF’s Carbon Fund, which gives them the money they need to take stock of their carbon flows and create an Emission Reductions Program Document (ER-PD), which is the equivalent of a PDD in the voluntary carbon world, but much less rigorous. At that point, “readiness” ends, and “performance-based payments” like Germany’s payments to Acre begin. Under the World Bank program, buyer and seller execute an Emissions Reduction Purchase Agreement (ERPA) with the Carbon Fund.

At this point, no countries have gone all the way through the World Bank’s process, but Norway, the United States, and the United Kingdom have launched a financing mechanism for jurisdictional REDD initiatives that support commodity-certification programs at the Warsaw climate talks. This program works by leveraging REDD to link initiatives on the ground with emerging efforts to attack the ultimate drivers of deforestation: us, the global consumers of beef, soy, and palm oil.

This story has been adapted from:

Jurisdictional REDD: Getting to Scale, which appeared in Ecosystem Marketplace on March 24, 2015,
Millions Of Dollars Now Flowing To Indigenous Ecosystem Service Programs In Brazil
, which appeared in Ecosystem Marketplace on May 6, 2014
Acre and Goliath: One Brazilian State Struggles To End Deforestation, which appeared in Ecosystem Marketplace on May 5, 2014.


Steve Zwick is Ecosystem Marketplace’s Managing Editor. He can be reached at [email protected]. Kelley Hamrick is an Associate in Ecosystem Marketplace’s Carbon Program. She can be reached at [email protected]. Christopher Pollon is a freelance writer based in Canada.

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About this Series

Forest people have managed their land sustainably for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. They have, as a result, contributed the least to climate change, but they may suffer the most from its consequences. If that happens, their suffering will become our suffering as forests degrade and disappear, releasing billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

That’s why environmental NGOs advocate for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. Thanks to their efforts, companies, governments, and individuals have voluntarily invested billions in climate action over the last quarter century, and now governments around the world have pledged more than $7 billion to REDD through the end of this year.

These seven articles from Ecosystem Marketplace offer an accessible introduction to avoided deforestation actions and how they’re financed and especially how it relates to indigenous people.

REDD Dawn: The Birth of Forest Carbon looks back at the world’s first REDD project, which was conceived in 1988 by the World Resources Institute. It offers a brief introduction to the science of carbon accounting and an overview of REDD within the climate talks.

Indigenous People Explore Many Shades of REDD looks at how REDD has evolved on indigenous territories to-date, and how indigenous leaders believe it must change to truly deliver on its potential.

Choc-Darin: What Projects Can and Cannot Achieve offers a deep dive into a project developed by the Afro-Colombian Tolo River People and a primer on how REDD plays out on the ground.

Indigenous Life Plans and Carbon Finance: Two Sides of the Same Coin? examines the symbiotic relationship between indigenous “Life Plans and REDD.

The Surui Forest Carbon Project: Lifeline For A Life Plan offers a detailed glimpse inside a pioneering indigenous project built on an indigenous Life Plan. Initially posted in 2013, it’s a bit dated, but still a good read.

Jurisdictional REDD: Long Deferred, Soon Delivered examines the state of “jurisdictional REDD programs government-to-government programs that are designed to reduce deforestation across an entire state or country.

Avoiding Deforestation And Green Supply Chains: The Yin And Yang Of Saving Forests examines role that REDD finance can play in helping to purge deforestation from corporate supply-chains.