Need to consistently address safeguards in Guyana’s REDD+ LCDS activities

-Rainforest Alliance report

There is a need to “very consistently” address the issue of safeguards in Guyana’s REDD+ and LCDS activities with lack of clarity on the part of government leading to many questions, according to a report commissioned under the Guyana-Norway forests’ saving pact.

The Rainforest Alliance report on ‘Verification of Enabling Activities in Guyana’ covered last year – the first year of the agreement in which Guyana and the Scandinavian country are partnering in a pact worth potentially up to US$250M by 2015 for results achieved by Guyana in limiting emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

The US-based NGO report was made public last week and a revised Joint Concept Note (JCN) of the Guyana-Norway agreement also released last week, committed Guyana to the establishment of a dedicated website “containing an overview of all committed international funding for activities relevant to REDD+ and LCDS efforts in Guyana.” The JCN stressed that transparency around funding is critical for REDD+ to function well and the government will establish the website by the end of April.  “This will ensure easy access to transparent information on contributors to Guyana’s REDD+ and LCDS efforts. The website will track pledges of funding, commitments of funding, and actual disbursements”, it says.

Norway released US$30M into the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) last year and last Thursday the country’s environment minister, Erik Solheim announced another disbursement of US$40M into the fund overseen by the World Bank. Strong anti-corruption safeguards have been consistently called for here and Norwegian officials have stressed that the safeguards of international organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank would be applied in the use of the funds. Thus far, no money has been disbursed from the fund for projects.

Rainforest Alliance checked progress on six “enabling activities” under the forests’ pact and outlined its conclusions as well as made several observations.

As regards the first indicator, the Strategic Framework, it says that a framework is in place and is being implemented.

However, on a public level and in the Progress Reports there is a lack of clarity on the relationship between the REDD+ efforts and the LCDS (Low Carbon Development Strategy) and on how the Guyana government will handle safeguards, apparently due to continuing negotiations related to the establishment of the GRIF, the report said. The GRIF has since been established.

“The lack of a clear discussion on the status of safeguards in the Progress Reports, and subsequently the fact that numerous questions were raised to auditors because of this absence of information, point to how important the topic of safeguards is to stakeholders and the need to very consistently address the issue in future Progress Reports,” it said.

On the second indicator, a Continuous Multi-Stake-holder Consultation Process, the report said that the government got off to a positive start in consultation activities and has been generally successful in its stakeholder outreach.

However, it said, stakeholder consultation progress last year was less evident (apparently due in part to the lack of, or delays in, funding) and there are continuing challenges reaching interior Guyana Amerindian communities. “The reduced level of consultation in 2010 has also created uncertainty as to the state of REDD+ activities overall,” it said while urging the reinvigoration of consultation efforts this year and pointedly focusing on addressing shortcomings/recommendations identified.

Meanwhile, the report said that there has been significant progress on the REDD+ Governance Development Plan (RGDP) though it called for, in some cases, clearer reporting.

In terms of the financial mechanism, Rainforest Alliance noted that the GRIF was established while it was working on its report and government reporting on the fund has been limited. It pointed out, however, that no reporting on REDD+ investments overall (including those outside the GRIF) is provided in the Progress Reports, even though the government and other supporters have made specific and significant investments. While the report said that some reporting on those investments occurs in other government venues “an overview or more detail on all such investments in the Progress Reports or other communications vehicles would enhance accountability, transparency and credibility.”

Meantime, the report said that numerous efforts to move forward on a Monitor-ing, Reporting and Verifica-tion (MRV) system are evident under Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) leadership.

On the Rights of Indi-genous Peoples and Other Local Forest Communities as Regards REDD+, it said that the government has placed strong emphasis on the rights of Amerindian communities in the process, involving multiple agencies and Amerindian interests. It said that the GFC has also been proactive in interacting with other local forest communities.

“However, despite these positive achievements, the GOG should recognize that the absence of discussion on the constraints or challenges faced on rights-related efforts (eg financing delays or land tenure resolution for all communities regardless of whether they “opt-in” to involvement or not) in the Progress Reports or other communications forums has created uncertainty,” the report added.

Rainforest Alliance also made several observations saying that there is there is a gap between the available information through government agencies to auditors and the information provided to the public in the Progress Report. “The GOG should take a step back and think through carefully about what it includes and doesn’t include in the Progress Reports.

For example, the reporting on Enabling Indicators in the Progress Reports did not provide overall metrics that could more effectively qualify or quantify achievements, participation in stakeholder outreach initiatives, etc, and only providing such information to auditors, versus publicly, can create an atmosphere of skepticism or doubt,” it said.

The NGO stated too that as is evident through various findings and other observations, it is unclear the audience for whom the government Progress Reports have been developed. It noted that both governments clearly believe the reports are important but it remains unclear if the Progress Reports are intended to provide the Norwegian government with an exclusive report of progress related only to JCN commitments or if the Progress Reports are intended to be informing the wider Guyanese public or international individuals/organizations about the activities and progress of Guyana on REDD+ (and perhaps the related LCDS). It also pointed to documents on the LCDS, the REDD+ initiative and related framework activities and said that the Progress Reports do not act as stand-alone documents that can easily be understood and read by stakeholders or external parties with limited knowledge of these processes.

Further, it said that the Progress Reports do not discuss key challenges, constraints or limitations faced during implementation of the LCDS and REDD+ initiative, such as the “opt in” process with communities, delays in funding, delays in activities in the field or related benefits to communities.

“As a result, stakeholders inside and outside Guyana do not have a clear picture on the challenges being faced, even though GOG staff and advisors (eg MSSC) often have very clear perspectives on this. As a result, stakeholders often observe that the GOG is painting a picture of progress that is too positive. Given the void in information on challenges faced by the GOG, other parties (supporters or critics) are quite willing to fill with information. As a result, based on interviews and written submissions from stakeholders, skepticism has been created as to whether the GOG wishes to be fully transparent as to the challenges of implementing REDD+ efforts,” the report said.

Rainforest Alliance also cited the “uneven” quality of the government’s system for document management. “Virtually no documents are consistently marked as drafts (or not), version numbers are not present, author(s) unclear, or the process and expectations for updates, revisions, etc, is not made clear. Also, the presentation of documents (draft or otherwise) in the public domain is not always of a consistent and sufficient quality to ensure complete legibility and ease of interpretation (acronyms not explained, etc) – which may be particularly important for laypersons or the general public,” it said.

Rainforest Alliance pointed out that its verification was constrained due to several factors and field work in the interior of Guyana necessary for more definitive review of performance related to Enabling Indicators, was hampered.

It recommended that prior to the next verification, the verification framework should be made publicly available and circulated for comment by stakeholders thirty days prior to field work. It noted that some stakeholders indicated a desire to remain anonymous in their interactions with Rainforest Alliance. “Going forward Rainforest Alliance believes it is critical for the GON and GOG (to) reinforce their support for transparent and respectful stakeholder interaction, both for verification purposes and in general related to the REDD+ initiatives,” it said.

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