What types of costs, to whom, and who bears liability for failure? What are the costs and burdens?

For beneficiaries

The types of burdens experienced by REDD+ project beneficiaries (normally local communities) are often high costs (including opportunity costs and increased inequity through elite capture) and rights.

An opportunity cost is the loss of other alternative sources of income when one is selected. As there tend to be more valuable economic opportunities in areas where forests have higher carbon content, communities that implement REDD+ may find it more difficult to generate alternative sources of income than communities implementing REDD+ in low-carbon forests where those lucrative opportunities were never available. For women, expectations of participation in REDD+ programmes – while well-intended and aimed at increasing inclusivity – can also place additional burdens on their time. Close consultation with project beneficiaries can help inform the planning process to mitigate against imposing unnecessary burdens on participants.

Corruption and elite capture can also burden the intended project beneficiaries. Various forms of illegality are prevalent in the global forestry sector, and forest governance is weak in many REDD+ countries as corruption by government officials in commercial forestry is commonplace. Corruption is most likely when administering revenues, or from the misallocation of funds for the targeted recipients. REDD+ can also be compromised, particularly if substantial amounts of money are to flow through new, untested financial markets and mechanisms. Combatting corruption and elite capture might involve bolstering law enforcement, improving monitoring and verification efforts, and enhancing communication and coordination between stakeholders.

In Vietnam, local people see REDD+ forest land allocation programme monitoring as a burden due to REDD+ payments being too low to compete with the high opportunity costs of deforestation drivers such as the expansion of hydropower plants and large-scale agriculture. Consequently, they see REDD+ incentives as unable to keep forests standing. In contrast, those comparing REDD+ incentives with those of the national Payment for Forest Environmental Services (PFES) scheme perceive PFES to be much important and effective in forest protection and development in Vietnam (Pham et al. 2021f). This suggests that REDD+ programme payments should be high enough to compete with the opportunity costs of drivers of deforestation and forest degradation (Wong et al. 2017[1]).

Policies and approaches designed to address climate change can inadvertently increase gender inequalities and undermine women’s rights if they end up increasing women’s care burden. In Vietnam, social discourse revolves around the important traditional roles of females in the family, but the government also encourages women to take a more active role in REDD+ processes in office work and social development. This mixed messaging has led to a double burden for Vietnamese women. Strides in women’s rights and welfare cannot be made without examining the dynamics of gender relations in family and work life, which requires attitudinal and behavioural changes by men, and policies that reduce the burden on women (Pham et al. 2016[2]).

A study looking into a REDD+ project found that members of the Asháninka indigenous community in Peru viewed assuming an authority position as a burden. In the Asháninka community, decisions regarding land and resource management and engagement with outsiders are primarily mediated through the President, who is elected every two years. However, there is a perception among members of the community that taking up an administrative authority position can be burdensome. In addition to their everyday tasks, authorities must manage administrative procedures that often demand traveling over several days. These trips often involve out-of-pocket expenses or, as is a common approach among members of the community, loans from timber companies. The combination of these challenges translates into poorly engaged leaders of the REDD+ project, who easily relieve themselves of responsibility over affairs once their mandates are over. Leaders and figures of authority with power over land use issues who are unmotivated or poorly selected can undermine the success of REDD+ projects. REDD+ projects should be carefully designed so that motivated and skilled project proponents are selected as leaders (Barletti et al. 2021[3]).

One way to increase transparency and accountability and avoid corruption is to use information and communications technology (ICT) to register beneficiaries, reconcile financial transfers and document impacts for monitoring and evaluation.

The use of smartphones for data collection has opened up new opportunities for communities wishing to engage in community-based monitoring in Prey Lang, Cambodia. A workshop was held with the Prey Lang Community Network to identify the resources and illegal activities to be monitored, and a smartphone app was subsequently developed with 36 community members trained in its use. The community members were able to collect large amounts of data, regardless of their gender or age, and made 10,842 entries of data on illegal logging and forest resources. The cost of monitoring resembled other community-based monitoring programmes but was notably less than for monitoring by professional foresters. The documentation collected was highly valuable, but software and hardware maintenance, along with the digital data validation process, will continue to require external support. The study suggests that local communities with little formal education are able to monitor forest crimes and forest resources cost-effectively using ICT, and that ICT can help systematize data collection (Brofeldt et al. 2018[4]).

For project proponents

Proponents of sub-national initiatives bear implementation costs both for activities to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, and for the transaction cost of obtaining carbon funding. Lack of clarity around cost drivers, along with the recognition that REDD+ is more complex and more expensive than initially thought, has been a barrier to scaling up REDD+.

For Amazon Fund donor countries such as Norway and Germany, donating to an environmental fund does not come without administrative costs. Environmental funds add another management layer between financing organizations and beneficiaries, while the independence of separate environmental funds can mean less control for the donor over the allocation of resources.

For example, there was tension over spending of the financial resources from donations, with donor organizations complaining that by December 2012, the fund had only approved 36 projects and disbursed USD 55 million; less than half of the amount donated. Part of the reason involved the demanding guidelines and criteria for the approval of project proposals, for which the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) requires the availability of financial resources for the entire project lifespan. As a result, donor countries transferred USD 16 million in only five donations and pressured BNDES to accelerate the project approval procedures. The issue was eventually resolved by both sides, and donor countries were able to make up for the delay and transferred USD 654 million in 2013. Still, the case highlights how administrative tensions can mount and be a cause of frustration for donor countries if they feel that their conditions are not being met.


[1] Wong, G.Y., Loft, L., Brockhaus, M., Yang, A.L., Pham, T.T., Assembe-Mvondo, S., Luttrell, C., 2017. An Assessment Framework for Benefit Sharing Mechanisms to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation within a Forest Policy Mix: Assessment Framework for REDD+ BSM. Env. Pol. Gov. 27, 436–452.

[2] Pham, T.T., Mai, Y.H., Moeliono, M., Brockhaus, M., 2016. Women’s participation in REDD+ national decision-making in Vietnam. Int. Forest. Rev. 18, 334–344.

[3] Barletti,S. J.P., Begert, B., Guerra Loza, M.A., 2021. Is the Formalization of Collective Tenure Rights Supporting Sustainable Indigenous Livelihoods? Insights from Comunidades Nativas in the Peruvian Amazon. International Journal of the Commons 15, 381–394.

[4] Brofeldt, S., Argyriou, D., Turreira-García, N., Meilby, H., Danielsen, F., Theilade, I., 2018. Community-Based Monitoring of Tropical Forest Crimes and Forest Resources Using Information and Communication Technology – Experiences from Prey Lang, Cambodia. CSTP 3, 4.