During the design of REDD+, Parties recognized that REDD+ actions will likely not be sustainable unless they account for the role of local people and ecosystems. As a result, Parties defined seven “safeguards” to guide implementation of REDD+, among them transparency, participation, protection of biodiversity, and protection of the rights of local people.

Governments in REDD+ countries are tasked with providing information on how these safeguards will be “addressed and respected.” One option is to develop a national system focused on implementing the safeguards and to provide information on how the system functions. The purpose of this report is to support this process by providing a framework for what a robust national system to implement the REDD+ safeguards would include.

Executive Summary


Around the world, members of governments, civil society, and the private sector are grappling with how to design and implement initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by slowing, halting, and reversing forest loss. These efforts have been spurred at least in part by the agreements onlong-term cooperative action (LCA) that Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have made since 2007 in Bali, Cancun, and Durban. In these agreements, Parties stated that reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks, and sustainable management of forests in developing countries should be recognized as mitigation actions. Parties also agreed that these actions should be at least partially supported by Annex 1 countries. This series of actions, and the related global mechanism for recognizing and supporting them, comprise the global initiative known as REDD+.

REDD+ has attracted significant attention from governments, the private sector, and civil society, with particular interest in its potential for increasing the resources available for protecting forest ecosystems and promoting sustainable development.

However, to contribute to the sustainable management of forests, REDD+ actions will need to be implemented effectively, equitably, and sustainably. In a 2010 UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) in Cancun, Parties recognized the importance of good governance to successful implementation of REDD+ actions. The Parties agreed on seven UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards, among them transparency, participation, protection of biodiversity, and protection of the rights of local people. If implemented correctly, the UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards can help ensure that REDD+ does not inadvertently harm communities and ecosystems by exacerbating existing inequalities.

The UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards provide broad guiding principles. It is now up to those designing, funding, and implementing REDD+ initiatives to determine how those principles should be put into practice. One option is to put in place a system at the national level. A national system to implement the UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards brings opportunities to strengthen the rules and institutions that currently govern forested lands. These opportunities, however, come with challenges and will require balancing of different costs and benefits. This report lays out a framework to help REDD+ countries develop a national system to implement the UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards. The framework presented here does not provide a ready-made solution, but it does provide a roadmap for navigating some of the choices that can arise during the design and implementation of national systems. The report also provides examples of how Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico are progressing along this path.

A Framework for Designing a National System

The framework laid out in this report comprises four components: goals, functions, rules, and institutions. Safeguard goals define what the safeguards are meant to achieve. Safeguard functions are the processes by which those goals are achieved. A complete safeguard system supports each goal by:

  • anticipating potential risks and opportunities associated with national and/or subnational REDD+ actions, such as REDD+ strategies, activities, and projects;

  • planning to avoid harm and produce benefits to ecosystems and people by addressing social and environmental considerations in the design of REDD+ actions;

  • managing REDD+ actions by implementing safeguard plans and procedures that will help ensure desired social and environmental goals;

  • monitoring REDD+ processes and outcomes to demonstrate the achievement of goals, make course corrections, and deal with unanticipated impacts; and

  • responding to problems and grievances related to the social and/or environmental effects of REDD+ actions.

Safeguard rules and institutions ensure that safeguards are put into practice. A safeguard system’s rules outline the parameters of the system by defining what should or should not occur. In addition to ensuring that the parameters are designed in a transparent and participatory manner, the system’s institutions also ensure that they are thoroughly followed.

Creating a National REDD+ Safeguard System

If a REDD+ country chooses to develop a national system, the UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards provide an initial set of goals for that system. Governments, in collaboration with stakeholders, can add to these goals to meet national needs. They will then need to define how their established goals should be implemented. This task will necessitate defining the rules and institutions responsible for ensuring that all functions of the system are met, including everything from anticipating risks to responding if something needs to be changed.

Before putting in place new rules and institutions for a national system, a government should, together with stakeholders, (a) assess the degree to which existing rules and institutions already provide for the goals and functions of a REDD+ safeguard system and (b) assess risks to achieving safeguard goals given current gaps. After gaining an understanding of existing rules and institutions, a government and stakeholders can determine how to best fill those gaps. As part of any initial assessment, it may also be beneficial to consider the safeguard policies of potential funders in order to enhance coordination and coherence.

Many options are available to fill any gaps identified—in some cases, assessments may show that reforming existing rules, or empowering and strengthening existing institutions, may be the best solution. Alternately, new rules and institutions may need to be developed. Under that scenario, new national laws or policies could be created, new regulations put in place, or new procedures instituted by government agencies. Rules can be specific to REDD+ or apply more broadly. In terms of institutions, new government agencies or new positions within existing agencies could be created, or new responsibilities could be given to nongovernmental or private actors. Responsibility for implementing several of the functions of the safeguard system can be consolidated with one body, or spread out across multiple institutions.

Choices related to rules and institutions come with different sets of costs and benefits. For example, putting in place a new law may provide more long-term stability and greater buy-in from multiple sectors. However, new laws can take time to be approved or require a level of political support in the legislature that does not exist. Consolidating responsibility with one agency can help ensure effectiveness by reducing the need for coordination between agencies, but it may place too heavy a burden on one player and reduce the political buy-in often obtained by having multiple government agencies involved.

The right choice of rules and institutions for implementing the UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards will depend on a nation’s circumstances and may change over time. Evaluating options strategically in a transparent and participatory manner can help actors better utilize resources and plan for the future.


A national system for implementing the REDD+ safeguards can help ensure that all REDD+ activities within a country are covered by adequate safeguard policies. It can be more sensitive to unique national circumstances. It can help national governments coordinate REDD+ activities and their associated safeguard policies. While there will be many, sometimes difficult, decisions to be made by governments and stakeholders about how to design and implement a system that builds trust between all the actors involved in REDD+, the value of undertaking such a process will have benefits well beyond REDD+. This is perhaps the most important reason to invest the time and energy in designing a national system to implement the REDD+ safeguards. Many governments and stakeholders have already expressed the intent to go down this path, supporting them is the intent of this document and hopefully will lead to further enthusiasm and interest in exploring the options for developing national systems.