Equity refers to the distributional aspects of costs and benefits and the procedural aspects of decision making within the specific contexts of access, power and capabilities (Angelsen et al. 2009).

Equity can come in different types:

  • Contextual/access
  • Procedural/decision-making
  • Distribution


Contextual equity refers to social context and abilities

Obtaining access to benefits from REDD+ requires a process often beyond the capacity of local people to access. Contextual equity involves the pre-existing conditions that enable or restrain participation in decision-making processes, the access to resources and the resulting benefits. Policymakers should consider the social and political context at the root cause of inequality when designing REDD+ interventions at the local level.

A study assessing two projects with community payments (PES/REDD+) impacting Indigenous Peoples (Baka) relative to the locally dominant ethnic group (Bantu) in south-eastern Cameroon tried to understand the extent to which the projects addressed equity concerns, and had some surprising findings. The study, which examined the Nomedjoh–Nkolenyeng PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services) and the Ngoyla–Mintom REDD+ project, found little support for the general tenet that Indigenous Peoples are disadvantaged by the projects compared to the locally dominant ethnic group along procedural and distributive equity dimensions. The indigenous Baka people were more likely than members of the local dominant ethnic group (Bantu) to have participated in and benefited from the Nomedjoh–Nkolenyeng project, while the reverse was true for the Ngoyla–Mintom project. This is partially explained by contextual factors such as low education and a lack of previous experience by the indigenous Baka in the Nomedjoh–Nkolenyeng contributing to more sensitization meetings, with additional time and effort invested in ensuring villagers understood the project, and explaining the benefits of the project and conserving forests.

Additionally, in Nomedjoh–Nkolenyeng, the project was strongly supported by an indigenous NGO and a “local champion,” who was convinced about the value of the project and hence mobilized time and knowhow to advance the project in the Baka village. The Baka village in Ngoyla-Mintom did not have such a “local champion.” The study underscores the role that contextual factors with respect to technical capabilities, power, gender, level of education, and wealth determine individuals’ likelihood of participating in and benefiting from projects (Tegegne et al. 2021[1]).

A study examining the village of Buya I in the DRC identified important risks for sectors of the population that do not have the contextual features necessary for benefitting from REDD+ implementation. The researchers examined the potential distributional outcomes of five different rationales for benefit sharing: 1) actors with legal rights; 2) actors achieving emission reductions or removals; 3) low-emitting forest stewards; 4) actors incurring costs; and 5) the poor and vulnerable people (a pro-poor approach).

Examining the potential distributional outcomes of five different rationales for benefit sharing:

  • Actors with legal rights: Assuming that customary laws are recognized, as specified in the 2006 Constitution, only right holders would benefit under this rationale, representing about a third of the households in the case study.
  • Actors achieving emission reductions or removals: Right holders are those who clear the most area and who could participate in carbon stock enhancement as they hold right to the land. In this context, this incentive scheme would promote behavioural changes for those who have impacts on land-use decisions.
  • Low-emitting forest stewards: Benefits for conserving swamp forests around the communities could be equally distributed among village residents. However, since the swamp forests are already conserved under BAU, there would be no additional environmental benefits. The potential of rice cultivation in swamp forests is still a deforestation threat that should be evaluated.
  • Actors incurring costs: A careful analysis of the types of costs would be required, with the direct costs more likely to be compensated. Indirect costs such as a decrease in land available for rent by non-rights holders is unlikely to be compensated.
  • The poor and vulnerable people (a pro-poor approach): This is the only scheme that could potentially address equity issues by creating compensation for non-rights holders as well as indigenous people, women and migrants.

Ultimately, the researchers found that, at least in the DRC, the sector of the population that may benefit the most from REDD+ are customary rights holders – who represent a minority of the total population – due to the social differentiation between gender and ethnic groups. The researchers suggest a flexible adaptive management and equity conscious approach to incentivize rights holders’ behaviour towards carbon stock enhancement and provide development benefits for the majority, including marginalized groups, to lead to an broader distribution of benefits

Taken from: Pelletier et al. (2018[2]).


Procedural equity refers to participation in decision making and negotiation of competing interests. It involves addressing the perceptions of fairness and legitimacy of the political processes that lead to decision making. In the REDD+ context, procedural equity involves the establishment of standards that respect the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and the participation of indigenous and local communities in the design and implementation of REDD+ interventions.

A study focusing on the role of equity comparing two projects – the Nomedjoh–Nkolenyeng PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services) and Ngoyla–Mintom REDD+ projects, in six villages in the Cameroonian Congo Basin – found counterintuitive support for the idea that more complex and time-consuming FPIC processes, which are intended to address and reduce inequities, could actually come to reinforce power imbalances. The Ngoyla–Mintom project had more exposure to the FPIC process than the Nomedjoh–Nkolenyeng project in the form of more information, discussions and training on FPIC processes. Still, the Ngoyla–Mintom project, which had adopted a much more elaborate and time-consuming, multi-staged FPIC process did not demonstrate a marked improvement in the number of women, youths and migrant farmers who indicated that they had been sufficiently engaged in the consent-giving decision process. The researchers suggest a longer and more complex FPIC process might have given locally powerful groups time to exert internal pressure on the process, in turn enabling them to gain the upper hand in struggles over project-related interests.

Overall, FPIC is not a silver bullet, as shown by one project investing in a much more complex and time-consuming FPIC process than the other, yet having no more clearly equitable outcomes. Even a simple, nascent FPIC process can have some positive impacts on the ground, and might be less vulnerable to influence by locally powerful groups than a more sophisticated and longer one. Going forward, FPIC guidelines should be seen as a set of well-intentioned, externally-designed policy tools that seeks to conserve forest while improving livelihoods using a participatory and inclusive approach. Based on a research-informed local knowledge base, these guidelines should be carefully customized to local contexts and the FPIC processes should be designed to be less susceptible to the demands of dominant groups, with additional efforts made to target those less dominant. Targeted research prior to policy interventions might help implementers to better understand the local political economy and, hence, identify those inequalities that have the potential to be addressed via interventions customized to the local context (Tegegne et al. 2021[3]).


Distributive equity refers to the allocation of benefits and costs between different stakeholders through the creation of benefit-sharing mechanisms. It focuses on the fairness of the REDD+ outcome.

REDD+ intervention should be designed to incentivize behavioural change that will address the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. Different goals and rationales have been proposed about who should benefit from REDD+ and why they should receive incentives, highlighting the perception that equity takes place differently across actors.

A REDD+ pilot project called CliPAD implemented in Huaphan province in the north of Laos in two case study villages, referred to by the researchers as Ban Lao-Khmu and Ban Hmong, highlights how a lack of attention to social inequities can negatively influence justice outcomes and contribute to a lack of support for REDD+ programmes from ethnic minority groups. Despite REDD+ planning meetings being open to all, regardless of race and ethnicity, various social barriers contributed to variations in acceptance of REDD+ projects among different ethnic groups. Many Hmong people seemingly protested against the project interventions by choosing not to participate in the meetings, and overall Hmong support for REDD+ projects was low.

Ethnicity, gender and historical relations with the state emerged as critical factors shaping the conditions for procedural, distributional and recognitional justice, as evidenced by the different level of participation, involvement and trust in external actors and their initiatives in the two study villages inhabited by ethnicities with different sociocultural identities and relations to the state. The fact that Hmong people have a distinct history, culture and political engagement was largely ignored in the REDD+ pilot project design and implementation, acting as a barrier for Hmong involvement and contradicting FPIC principles for cultural self-determination

For example, Hmong villagers in Ban Hmong chose not to join the REDD+ planning meetings because they expected that they would not have much say in the final decision, and they feared their presence would be interpreted as consenting to pre-made decisions. The villagers’ tactic of refraining or withholding is a strategy of revolt and protesting non-recognition of their political agency and self-determination. Another obstacle to attendance and effective participation of the Hmong in meetings was the use of the Lao language, which suggests violence against cultural self-determination. Hmong villagers argued that they were invited to listen to a meeting conducted in a language that most of them did not speak or understand. Finally, the lack of trust in outsiders and their institutional procedures, both the Lao Government and foreigners, also played a major role in villagers choosing to limit their participation in meetings and project activities. This distrust led to people fearing that they would lose the forest to the project and to the government.

The village forest and land use planning processes led to imposition of previously less known formal state policies and rules on top of the existing informal traditional rules and practice. All in all, ethnic Lao reported the highest acceptance of the project followed by the Khmu in Ban Lao-Khmu, while such acceptance was negligible among the ethnic Hmong in Ban Hmong. The case highlights how a lack of political and cultural self-determination, power asymmetries between state and non-state actors, a lack of local people’s empowerment, and a failure to recognize customary and traditional structures and rules hamper the achievement of distributive equity (Ramcilovic-Suominen et al. 2021)[4].


[1] Tegegne, Y.T., Palmer, C., Wunder, S., Moustapha, N.M., Fobissie, K., Moro, E., 2021. REDD+ and equity outcomes: Two cases from Cameroon. Environmental Science & Policy 124, 324–335.

[2] Pelletier, J., Horning, N., Laporte, N., Samndong, R.A., Goetz, S., 2018. Anticipating social equity impacts in REDD+ policy design: An example from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Land Use Policy 75, 102–115.

[3] Tegegne, Y.T., Palmer, C., Wunder, S., Moustapha, N.M., Fobissie, K., Moro, E., 2021. REDD+ and equity outcomes: Two cases from Cameroon. Environmental Science & Policy 124, 324–335.

[4] Ramcilovic-Suominen, S., Carodenuto, S., McDermott, C., Hiedanpää, J., 2021. Environmental justice and REDD+ safeguards in Laos: Lessons from an authoritarian political regime. Ambio 50, 2256–2271.