Japan and Papua New Guinea kick own goal on REDD

By David Ritter - 15 July 2010

The Governments of Japan and Papua Guinea chose the week of the football World Cup finals to kick an easily avoidable own goal in the international process designed to tackle deforestation.

Readers of this blog will recall that back in late May, a partnership document was signed by around sixty countries in Oslo, formalizing an arrangement among participating countries to support the development of effective action on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) over the next few years. The result was the clumsily named Interim REDD+ Partnership process for rushing fast start finance from developed donor countries to developing rainforest countries to jumpstart REDD.

In the lead up to Oslo there were mixed feelings within civil society. On the one hand there was hope - it was clear that vital momentum was being provided to a process at grave risk of stalling after the disappointment of Copenhagen. On the other hand was an uneasy sense that things were happening too hastily, with the effect of sidelining civil society in general and Indigenous peoples in particular.

In the wake of Oslo, the rotating joint chairing of the Interim REDD+ process was handed over from France and Norway to Japan and Papua New Guinea. Sadly the new chairs have emphatically bungled the partnership’s relationship with civil society, in the lead up to the next meeting of the REDD+ Partnership taking place in Brasilia yesterday and today.  As WWF put it 'civil society has been all but shut out'.

The brief and sorry story runs this way. Global civil society – yes, all of it in its entirety - was asked through a written invitation received by various international conservation networks on 7 July to participate in the meeting in Brasilia – starting a mere one week later. It was suggested that global civil society should select twelve representative organisations ‘based on geographical distribution’, failing which submissions by email could be made.

This approach was little short of contemptuous, producing the predictable consequence of widespread anger and non-participation on the part of civil society. It is difficult to over-estimate the extent to which the approach taken by Japan and Papua New Guinea has squandered precious political capital. The REDD+ Partnership Agreement specifically commits the partners to ‘promote inclusiveness and transparency through the participation of a representative group of stakeholders’, an ambition and sentiment that has been left looking manifestly hollow.  A number of other country partners in the process are privately fuming at the high handed clumsiness. At least one European civil servant let it be known that he was stunned at the poor joint effort of Tokyo and Port Moresby.

The utility of ‘leadership’ as an analytical category is contested within the environmental politics literature. Doubtless, adherents to the explanatory value of the concept would have clearly discerned that precious quality in the efforts of the Norwegian Government in the lead up to the Oslo Agreement being signed. In contrast, the treatment of civil society by Japan and Papua New Guinea represents abysmal and needless failure.

The only way out of this mess is for the REDD+ Partnership partners to collectively and quickly agree some effective modalities for respectful and meaningful engagement with civil society to rebuild some trust and get back on track.

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