Interview with Mario Boccucci, new Head of the UN-REDD Programme | April 2014

April 2014


What is UN-REDD ?

The UN-REDD Programme (the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) is a collaboration of three United Nations agencies, namely the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It aims to help participating countries to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation while at the same time, staying on track for sustainable development. The UN-REDD Programme was created in 2008 and so we are celebrating its fifth year of existence this year. Our main donors are Norway the European Commission, Japan, Spain, Denmark, and Luxemburg.

Why was the UN-REDD Programme created?

It is now clear that deforestation is a major contributor to climate change. The carbon emissions that results from deforestation amount for almost 20% of total carbon emissions. Every year, around 13 million hectares of forest are cleared and all the carbon that is contained in these forests is released. As the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change highlighted in 2006, the solution to the carbon emissions issue is multifaceted, but a good place to start to have quick results (and we need to have quick results) is to reduce deforestation.

For this to happen, you need to understand the reasons behind deforestation. Traditionally, when a country develops, it will cut its forests and as it has developed, the forests will grow back (we call it the Kuznets curve of deforestation). Yet, we cannot afford to go through this process globally for two main reasons. First, because the tropical forest ecosystem is much more vulnerable that the northern hemisphere forests. So once you have cut the forest, it is much longer to get it back and there is higher risk of soil erosion. Second, the process of cutting these forests will lead to a large amount of carbon emissions that will hamper efforts towards climate change mitigation.

In order to reduce deforestation, you need to put in place incentives whereby the economic and social development that would have been generated by deforestation is still generated. So with the right incentives in place, you can really achieve the two goals of climate change mitigation and of sustainable development. The United Nations launched the UN-REDD Programme to learn, to start testing and to see how to put in place these incentives. How do you measure? How can you develop a strategy that allows to reduce deforestation and to keep the economic growth solid in the country? How do you do this in a way that is equitable, where you have prior and informed consent of indigenous people, where you have civil society and private sector participating and working with the government? The UN-REDD Programme is here to create what we call readiness of countries, which means to get country ready to participate to this new regime that is being established, where there will be performance based payments and rewards for reducing deforestation.

What does the UN-REDD Programme practically do?

We have 46 partner countries of which more than 20 receive funding through National Programmes and targeted support. National Programmes are being implemented in 16 countries that receive significant funding. We operate at two levels: at a national level and at the global level. With the 16 individual countries, we develop jointly with the country a National Programme (usually around 4 million USD for 2 to 5 years) that will get the country ready to reduce deforestation and forest degradation and to generate emission reductions and to be rewarded for them. National Programmes are developed jointly by the UN agencies participating from the UN-REDD Programme and government counterparts, and the work plans are set up accordingly to the country's features and problematic in relation to deforestation and forest degradation. Following our guidelines, National Programmes should be developed and implemented in consultation and with the participation of all stakeholders. The UN is the facilitator in this process.

The UN-REDD Programme's governing body has representatives from donor and recipient countries, civil society (including indigenous people representatives) and the participating United Nations' organizations. It makes decisions on the allocation of funds. It is a country demand driven support mechanisms.

At the global level, we promote the policy dialogue, distill the learning and informed the global debate from what we do in the countries (on governance, on monitoring, on private sector engagement, etc.). The UN-REDD Programme is demonstrating that stopping deforestation while at the same time going towards sustainable development is possible at the local scale (we have example of that in Indonesia, Viet Nam or the Democratic Republic of Congo). The question is how to scale it up within a country and across the countries. That is where the establishment of the Green Climate Fund is fundamental. It should have the billions of dollars that will be require to trigger the transformation so the private sector engages in sustainable land use management. The UN-REDD Programme should play the role of facilitator to ensure that the large amount of funding is used efficiently and effectively.

You have to keep in mind that you have a business as usual economic paradigm that is generating revenues and profit from deforestation. You not only have to change behavior but also the economic system. That is where it gets even more complicated keeping in mind the short time frame in which we must act.

You mentioned that UN-REDD was founded and is governed by three agencies (FAO, UNDP and UNEP). How does it work?

The UN-REDD Programme is quite unique and a real example of the United Nations Delivering as One. This secretariat is an inter-agency scretariat and we are integrated in the delivering of this Programme. We are a good example of what it takes to make it work and what it delivers once you get it. It was not easy but I think we are demonstrating that three large agencies can work together and truly deliver as one. And once you do this, you are able to come to a country with an integrated service. That is what countries have always been asking the UN system.

How many staff does UN-REDD have?

There are around 15 people at the secretariat here in Geneva and a larger team of more than hundred experts and staff in the countries and agencies headquarters.

What is your usual working day at the UN-REDD Programme?

It is an intense and rewarding work. In my work, I support the Policy Board and facilitate its normative work. A lot of my work is also facilitating the coordination with the agencies. On a typical day, I speak early in the morning with colleagues in the Asia pacific region, then with colleagues in Africa and in UNEP in Nairobi and FAO in Rome and finally with colleagues in Latin America and in UNDP in New York. Normally, once a week, around 2-3pm here, we all talk together with the programme Management Group in Nairobi, Rome and New York. We also do lots of quality control and monitoring of what happens on the ground and trying to fix the issues that might come up. The staff regularly goes on missions. So we do a mix of global and national support work. For this, Geneva is good location because I do not have to wake up too early to talk to people in Jakarta and I do not have to go to sleep too late to talk to people in Panama. Telecommunications are also of the highest standards here in Geneva. And our donors being mostly from Europe, being based in Geneva give me a quick access to them.

What is your number one priority for the next five years?

In this first five years, we have demonstrated that REDD+ is a real and operationally viable option for climate change mitigation and sustainable development. There is now a critical mass of support and understanding on this fact and more and more countries are getting ready to implement REDD+ strategies. So for the next five years, we want to get to the next phase: from readiness to implementation at scale. We have example where deforestation was drastically reduced such as in Brazil and Indonesia and we think that the learning and the understanding that we have can be replicated at scale in a number of other countries. That is our next challenge.

Since 2009, climate change seems to have been overshadowed by the international economic and social crisis. Does it impact your work and perspectives?

Sure, the crisis affects the liquidity available for development cooperation but so far, it has not impacted our access to funding and resources. Climate change mitigation and sustainable development remain a priority for a number of key donors. REDD is still seen as an instrument that can have real potential. The UN-REDD Programme has managed to make the case for REDD+ and its relevance. REDD is only a small component of the larger sustainable development and international multilateral dynamics but it I think that the UN-REDD Programme can really trigger larger transformation in terms of sustainable development and UN delivering at one.

Can you tell us more about yourself, your background and how you came to head UN-REDD?

I always worked in multilateral organizations, starting twenty years ago with the FAO in Rome, then with the European Commission, the World Bank, and finally the United Nations since 2008. I can say that I am a truly international public servant. Internationalism is what I believe in. There are many other instruments to make this planet a better one but I think the international institutions have a fundamental role to play. I have always worked in environmental and land issues, and the change towards sustainable land management is what has driven all my work and studies. I am truly excited by the opportunity that this Programme offers to make the case, deliver it, and generate a tipping point in a timeframe that I will be able to influence, to support and to see the results. 


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