Since 2009, more than 30 countries have submitted proposals for REDD+ readiness grants to start addressing the social, economic, and institutional factors that contribute to forest loss. Many countries have made encouraging strides in defining their plans to become “ready” for REDD+.

Yet, in a new WRI analysis of 32 country proposals, we identify the need for stronger commitments and strategies to address land and forest tenure challenges. While most countries identify secure land tenure as critical to successful REDD+ programs, relatively few outline specific objectives or next steps to address weaknesses in land laws or their implementation. Lack of clear strategies to address land tenure challenges could significantly hinder efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

The new working paper from WRI’s Governance of Forests Initiative reviews 32 readiness proposals submitted to two grant programs supporting REDD+ readiness: the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the UN-REDD Programme. We reviewed these documents to assess how REDD+ countries plan to address eight core issues (see Box 1 below). The analysis sheds light on how REDD+ issues are understood and prioritized, as well as where more technical and financial support is needed.

Box 1: What it Takes to Be “Ready for REDD+”

  1. Full and effective stakeholder participation and consultation processes
  2. Clear and secure land and forest tenure rights
  3. Equitable REDD+ benefit distribution mechanisms
  4. Effective conflict resolution mechanisms
  5. Transparent and accountable systems to manage REDD+ revenues
  6. Transparent and comprehensive systems for non-carbon monitoring
  7. Institutional coordination and policy coherence across sectors that affect forests
  8. Institutional coordination across levels of government that manage forests

Why Land Tenure Matters for REDD+

Clear and secure rights to forest land are a critical enabling condition for successful REDD+ programs, yet many REDD+ countries face significant challenges in this regard. For example, land laws often fail to recognize property rights of indigenous peoples or forest communities that depend on forest resources for food, fuel, and income. Furthermore, current land policies may actually encourage forest clearing as a means of securing land title. Finally, complex land registration and titling procedures and overlapping claims to forest resources often contribute to tenure insecurity and land conflict.

Land laws may also play a role in determining who can benefit from REDD+ programs down the road. For example, REDD+ programs may establish new carbon rights regimes that determine who is eligible to receive REDD+ benefits. These carbon rights could be based on existing rights to forests or could be allocated independently of current tenure systems. Regardless of the approach adopted, establishing carbon rights regimes has the potential to exacerbate land conflicts in many REDD+ countries.

Therefore, REDD+ countries will need to carefully consider how establishing carbon rights and determining eligibility to receive REDD+ benefits may affect existing land tenure and property rights regimes. In addition, they will need to consider how weaknesses in tenure systems may limit the effectiveness of REDD+ programs if not addressed, including by limiting access to REDD+ benefits for forest communities.

How Are REDD+ Countries Proposing to Address Land Tenure Issues?

The figure below presents how REDD+ countries are discussing land tenure challenges and proposing next steps to address them. The working paper analysis is the first to present detailed data and trends on how tenure issues—as well as the seven other readiness priorities identified in Box 1—are being considered by REDD+ countries.

Looking Ahead at Land Tenure and REDD+

Given that readiness grants from the FCPF and UN-REDD Programme will not cover all of a country’s readiness needs, many REDD+ countries face the challenge of developing new REDD+ systems and addressing long-standing governance challenges in the absence of predictable, long-term financing. This may be particularly true of addressing land tenure challenges, which can be costly, time-consuming, and politically sensitive.

Nonetheless, land conflicts and deforestation linked to insecure tenure pose significant risks to the success of REDD+ activities. These issues require additional emphasis as countries develop national REDD+ strategies. It is therefore imperative that countries strengthen their efforts to identify and prioritize concrete actions to resolve land tenure challenges as part of their REDD+ strategies.