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Debating REDD+and its implications:
reply to Angelsen et al.
Robert Fletcher,1Wolfram Dressler,2Bram B¨
uscher,1and Zachary R. Anderson3
1Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, De Leeuwenborch, Hollandseweg 1, 6707 KN, Wageningen,
2School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia
3Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street, Room 5047, Toronto, ON M55 3G3, Canada
We appreciate Angelsen et al.’s (2017) response to our
Diversity piece (Fletcher et al. 2016) in which we aimed
to inspire just this sort of serious public discussion about
how to address the implications of the widespread failure
of REDD+to realize its original ambition to develop a
global market for conservation funding. That most of the
response’s authors represent the Center for International
Forestry Research (CIFOR), one of the main centers for
investigation of REDD+and related issues, makes their
confirmation that a “global carbon market has not mate-
rialized and is unlikely to emerge” especially important.
Equally significant is Angelsen et al.’s affirmation that, in
practice, REDD+has largely evolved “into a light form
of result-based aid,” with the “tiny segment” comprising
“payments for verified emission reductions from the vol-
untary carbon market” being “about the only genuine MBI
[market-based instrument] left” of the envisioned global
Yet, there are important elements of our original anal-
ysis that we believe they either overlooked or misinter-
preted. We hope to publish a more thorough analysis
soon. In the meantime, here, we seek to clarify briefly
several key issues in the interest of moving the discussion
The Nature of Payments for Ecosystem Services
One of Angelsen et al.’s main points is that we misun-
derstand the nature of payments for ecosystem services
(PES). Although REDD+is of course not synonymous
with PES, its development was strongly informed by
PES logic. Angelsen et al. claim we assert that PES requires
Paper submitted January 2, 2017; revised manuscript accepted March 7, 2017.
that “extractive companies (or local forest users) have to
be compensated for the external costs they cause,” in
which case “the company gets an additional benefit from
imposing such costs on others and therefore needs more
This is certainly not what we argue. Our central point
is that there seems to be an inherent contradiction in
the PES logic that has informed REDD+development
in terms of the basic disjuncture between the source
and aim of payments. Although buyers pay only to off-
set their emissions, sellers need their entire opportunity
costs covered. Hence, basic dynamics of supply and de-
mand seem grossly mismatched in this ostensive market.
As far as we can tell, this fundamental issue of PES design
has never been identified or addressed directly and is
likely the reason that, like REDD+, in practice most PES
programs have largely failed to function as the MBIs they
were envisioned to be (Wunder 2015; Fletcher & B¨
2017). Thus, it is not just that “[t]he PES approach has
been less universally viable than mainstream REDD+ac-
tors had initially hoped”; rather, it is that PES, like the
REDD+mechanism modeled on it, has become a very
different entity than originally envisioned. Although it
is certainly true that a company “would only need to
be compensated for the loss of profit related to switch-
ing to more environmentally benign practices” such as
sustainable forestry, in our experience this is a minor
aspect of the overall REDD+landscape, which focuses
mostly on forest conservation (Turnhout et al. 2017).
In this case, to compete on market terms, payments
would indeed need to match, or exceed, the full po-
tential profits lost when other land-use opportunities are
foregone. This is the opportunity cost side of the PES
Conservation Biology, Volume 00, No. 0, 1–3
2017 Society for Conservation Biology
DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12934
2Debating REDD+
The other side is that even if PES and REDD+can out-
compete conventional production, this would still not
be enough to make it the environmentally and socially
beneficial (i.e., sustainable) practice that many propo-
nents desire. Making REDD+function in this way would
require generating even more resources to fill the gap
between competitive market payments and truly sustain-
able livelihoods.
Consider Costa Rica’s national PES program, widely
considered a model for global best practice, and the
country’s nascent REDD+initiative (Fletcher & Breitling
2012). Payments for forest conservation—the program’s
main aim—are far below what most participants can earn
through alternate land use such as production of palm
oil (Fletcher 2012). Hence, the program relies on a legal
prohibition on land-use change for which payments serve
as something of a “quid pro quo” rather than an actual
incentive for conservation (Pagiola 2008:9). And even
though activities such as palm-oil production are more
lucrative than PES, they still do not generally provide
more than a base subsistence living (Beggs & Moore
2013). Hence, many forest owners must rely on cheap
food and other products that have their own social and
environmental costs.
For PES to not only outcompete palm-oil profits, but
also support an adequate standard of healthy living would
thus require generating even more funding to cover these
extra costs. To stay directly competitive with alternate
land use, by contrast, would require PES itself to ex-
ternalize social and environmental costs that must be
borne elsewhere for the program to survive (Lohmann
2014). For instance, the program does not account for
emissions caused by representatives driving to PES field
sites or the relatively low salaries these representatives
receive. And even so, funding barely keeps pace with
growing demand and relies on grants and loans from the
World Bank and other organizations whose own funding
entails externalization of various costs. Where program
funding comes directly from the profits of conventional
production, even relatively benign activities such as bev-
erage manufacturing, this revenue is itself at least partially
generated through externalization of social and environ-
mental impacts only some of which are addressed in the
offset payments themselves.
These are the issues we sought to call attention to.
Although REDD+cannot be expected to address all
these alone, they are important considerations in terms
of the mechanism’s contribution to a truly sustainable
Thinking Globally and Acting Locally
Beyond such misunderstandings, however, Angelsen
et al. neglect to directly address the main aims of our
intervention. Rather than debating the precise nature
of REDD+, we primarily sought to call attention to the
implications of the challenges it has faced, both for
communities targeted for REDD+implementation and
for conservation strategies more generally. Starting with
the latter point, we suggested taking this moment to
rethink the current trajectory of the global conservation
movement generally. Notwithstanding the vicissitudes of
REDD+, after all, further market engagement continues
to be promoted widely. Since Fletcher et al. (2016) was
published, for instance, the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature held its 2016 World Conservation
Congress (WCC), where a main topic of discussion was
the intensification of market-based approaches under
the banner of “natural capital valuation” (B¨
uscher &
Fletcher 2016). In support of this approach, many of the
world’s most influential conservation organizations came
together at the WCC to form a Coalition for the Private
Investment in Conservation (
capital-protocol-presented-at-iucn-wcc/) to build on
the newfound campaign, highlighted in our original
commentary, to promote conservation as a distinct
“asset class” within conventional financial markets. It
is this trajectory, of which REDD+is only a small and
increasingly insignificant piece, which we sought to
highlight and question. We hope that Angelsen et al. and
others will take this issue up in the future as well.
Finally, Angelsen et al. devote scant attention to what
most inspired our original commentary: Our concern that
rural communities around the world promised REDD+
benefits would be left hanging if the mechanism fails
and hence that both their own development aspirations
and the prospects of their support for future conserva-
tion interventions would be shattered in the process. If
“[i]mplementers of REDD+clearly attempt to involve
local people in REDD+and to promote equitable out-
comes” (Angelsen et al.) then, we hope that they will
also consider our plea to address the consequences of
REDD+funding shortfalls for affected local people.
Sharing the Wealth
Our original engagement with these issues was not, as
Angelsen et al. contend, to advance mere “devolution
of rights to local people” as yet another “single, one-
dimensional solution.” Rather, we sought to shift the
focus to the overarching political economy of conserva-
tion funding and implementation. Had space permitted,
we would have expanded on our brief observation that
transferring rights locally with redistributive elements (in
the form of commons) is not necessarily synonymous
with community-based natural resource management ini-
tiatives, which rarely grant communities the autonomy,
politically or economically, to effectively manage and
control their own resources (Dressler et al. 2010). Hence,
Conservation Biology
Volume 00, No. 0, 2017
Fletcher et al. 3
their efforts to do so must be supported by political action
to promote community interests in the face of compet-
ing claims on their resources often exerted by power-
ful multinational extractive enterprises and other actors.
Likewise, communities must be provided with sustain-
able funding streams that do not require them to submit
to competitive global markets in which they have little
power. New initiatives must be promoted that explicitly
shift the dominant focus away from market engagement
toward a dramatic redistribution in access and control
of existing resources. Indeed, it was the emergence of
critical voices within civil society calling for social safe-
guards that helped shape the current extra-market forms
of both REDD+and PES programs. If in practice REDD+
thus contributes to the “incipient mobilization of forces
to effectively contain business-as-usual interests, includ-
ing the use of command-and-control tools rather than
incentives” (Angelsen et al.), then this effort should be
continued. As we asserted, the task now is to build on this
base to develop policy measures that embody an equally
explicit acknowledgment that the future of conservation
in general lies not in expanding markets but in better
sharing the wealth we already have.
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... The debate on the extent to which REDD+ is failing continues to rage in the critical literatures on conservation and development (Fletcher et al. 2016, Lund et al. 2017, Massarella et al. 2018, environmental policy , Fletcher et al. 2017, Hook 2019a) and REDD+, more broadly (Enrici and Hubacek 2018). For , REDD+ is best understood not as a market-based policy but as results-based aid, a distinction that preserves space for the market to be seen a viable option for supporting environmental conservation. ...
... In contrast to this view of REDD+ as results-based aid masquerading as a market-based mechanism , Hook 2019a), Fletcher et al. (2017 link REDD+'s failure to the inability of conservation markets to replace those tied to extractive activities, such as mining. They note that REDD+ has fueled an 'economy of expectations ' (Borup, 2006in Fletcher et al. 2016 that promises elusive future benefits, leading stakeholders and communities to accept small steps in its general direction (Fletcher et al. 2018). ...
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... The failure of the market to provide significant funds for forest conservation (Angelsen et al. 2017;Fletcher et al. 2017Fletcher et al. , 2016Sunderlin et al. 2015) is particularly true in the DRC, where the vast majority of the REDD+ financing comes from multilateral funds and programmes. This echoes similar analyses of REDD+ and payments for environmental services all over the world (Fletcher and Breitling 2012;Milne and Adams 2012), and is more generally in line with neoliberal conservation literature arguing for theillusoryefficacy of market-based conservation mechanisms to address environmental problems (for example, McAfee 2015McAfee , 2014Fletcher et al. 2014;Fletcher and Breitling 2012;Carrier and West 2009;Büscher and Dressler 2007). ...
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... This includes contribution to debates on conservation fads (c.f. Fletcher et al. 2016;Angelsen et al. 2017;Fletcher et al. 2017). Through analysis of pilot projects I have identified some key factors that contribute to the rise and fall of conservation and development fads, including the gaps identified between assumptions and realities. ...
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This article examines the (re)production of discourses and storylines in the process of policy translation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) in Laos. Applying the concepts of policy discourses and policy translation, we first identify the prominent storylines at the various governance levels in Laos. Second, we compare and contrast these storylines with the global REDD+ discourses. Further, we discuss how different actors' capacities and political agendas shape REDD+ storylines at different levels of governance. We find that national and sub-national storylines portray REDD+ mainly as a tool for supporting Laos' forestry strategy and sustainable forest management; for capacity-building and donor funding; and for village forest management and education of villagers. At the village level, many see REDD+ as a project for various political elites and external actors to control forests and cheat villagers. We conclude that, while globally there is increasing attention to civic-environmentalism in REDD+, neoliberalist and techno-managerial discourses still dominate. At the village level, however, civic-environmentalist ideas, such as social safeguards, benefit sharing, and equity largely disappear and two opposing discourses emerge representing anti-civic ideas and REDD+ resentment. Furthermore, while techno-managerial ideas permeate all levels in Laos, neoliberalist ideas in terms of carbon trading are almost absent. During policy translation, REDD+ thus transforms into "just another" top-down development project. This serves the interest of Laos's techno-managerial elite well, but has little positive prospect for local people and forests. In this perspective, the lack of alternative discourse-coalitions promoting non-carbon benefits, social safeguards, and equity is striking. Key Words: REDD+, Laos, policy translation, environmental discourses, neoliberalism, civic environmentalism
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Increasingly, one hears furtive whispers in the halls of conservation: "REDD+ is dead; it's time to cut our losses and move on." In a recent Conservation Biology editorial, Redford, Padoch and Sunderland (2013) identify REDD+ (Reduced Emissions through avoided Deforestation and forest Degradation) as one of the latest in a long line of conservation "fads," defined as "approaches that are embraced enthusiastically and then abandoned" (2013: 437). They caution: "we must take such fads more seriously, to work collectively to develop learning organizations. . .and study where new ideas come from. why they are adopted, why they are dropped, and what residual learning remains" (2013: 438). This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) has been on the ascendancy for several decades and plays a leading role in conservation strategies worldwide. Arriving out of a desire to rectify the human costs associated with coercive conservation, CBNRM sought to return the stewardship of biodiversity and natural resources to local communities through participation, empowerment and decentralization. Today, however, scholars and practitioners suggest that CBNRM is experiencing a crisis of identity and purpose, with even the most positive examples experiencing only fleeting success due to major deficiencies. Six case studies from around the world offer a history of how and why the global CBNRM narrative has unfolded over time and space. While CBNRM emerged with promise and hope, it often ended in less than ideal outcomes when institutionalized and reconfigured in design and practice. Nevertheless, despite the current crisis, there is scope for refocusing on the original ideals of CBNRM: ensuring social justice, material well-being and environmental integrity.
Costa Rica’s national payment for environmental services (PES) program has inspired a large body of research, most of which seeks to assess its impacts on deforestation and/or poverty. The specific forms of governance shaping the program, by contrast, have received much less attention. While the program, like PES in general, is commonly considered a paradigmatically neoliberal “market-based” conservation mechanism, its actual operation to date has deviated substantially from this description. Despite program planners’ express intent to establish self-regulating markets for the direct transfer of payments from consumers of ecosystem services to their producers, such markets have yet to become widespread, and the program remains supported primarily by strong state intervention in various forms. Thus, while the program’s ostensive success in combating deforestation has been widely praised, we suggest that its relative inability to establish a free-standing market to accomplish this aim may be equally instructive. For instance, the ambitious Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism envisioned to mitigate climate change on a global scale takes PES as one of its main sources of inspiration, a perspective that may be complicated by acknowledgment of such gaps between “vision” and “execution” in neoliberal conservation governance.
The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's HouseAudre Lorde (1983)ABSTRACT Recently, a number of prominent conservationists have declared the last quarter century of global efforts to unite conservation and development through so-called integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs) an overwhelming failure, asserting that there are likely to be irreconcilable trade-offs between environmental preservation and enhancing human well-being that future policy will have to take into account. I suggest, however, that such trade-offs may be less an inherent feature of the world than an artefact of the neoliberal governance model upon which the global conservation movement increasingly relies, as embodied in the ICDP approach. In eschewing questions of resource redistribution and instead depending on economic growth to address social inequality, neoliberal conservation strategies often paradoxically force into opposition the very conservation and development interests they ostensibly seek to reconcile. This thesis is illustrated through discussion of Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, a celebrated biodiversity hotspot where conservation interventions increasingly emphasize neoliberal market mechanisms designed to incentivize preservation by demonstrating the economic value of in situ natural resources.