Considerable progress for Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI)

NOK 10 billion in development aid combined with six years’ work have contributed to conserving natural forest and to establishing systems for the reduction of deforestation and for the inclusion of the conservation of forests in international climate change negotiations. A new report from Norad evaluates the initiative and shows that results have been achieved in spite of weak pre-initiative planning and poor reporting during its implementation. 

Indonesia, regnskog, motorsag
“The evaluation points out that the initiative has made considerable progress. In general positive results have been achieved in the three climate change goals,” says Ida Hellmark, Adviser in Norad’s Evaluation Department. (Photo: Ken Opprann)

Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) has been monitored by an evaluation team since 2010, and a summarizing evaluation report has now been published. This shows that the four main objectives of the initiative have largely been attained:

“The evaluation points out that the initiative has made considerable progress. In general positive results have been achieved in the three climate change goals,” says Ida Hellmark, Adviser in Norad’s Evaluation Department. “The initiative has been crucial for the international work on setting up systems to reduce deforestation. With regard to the development goal, the initiative has assisted in mapping forest areas, thus clarifying who has the right to use the forest.”  

A solid contribution to reaching the climate change goals

REDD, REDD+ and NICFI:

REDD+ is a global initiative that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

At the climate change negotiations in Cancun in 2010 the various countries agreed to reduce the emissions resulting from deforestation. Several points were added to the agreement, which was given the name REDD+. The plus sign stands for sustainable forest governance, an increase in the forests’ carbon storage capacity, and the protection of forests and biological diversity.

Since 2007 the Norwegian government has pledged to allocate up to NOK 3 billion per year from the aid budget through NICFI.

The first main goal of NICFI is to help ensure that forests are included in a new international climate regime. Through NICFI, Norway is the largest donor to REDD+ – the global initiative that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation and forest degradation. NICFI has acted as a driving force and has played a major role in the successful establishment of a framework for REDD+ in international climate change negotiations.

The second main goal is to take early action to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries pending a new climate change agreement. NICFI has made important contributions to the work of establishing systems that make it possible for countries to measure their emissions and to receive disbursements.

NICFI’s third main goal is to promote the conservation of natural forest areas in order to maintain their carbon storage capacity. In this context NICFI has made what the evaluation calls a solid contribution by including protection in national plans, conducting pilot projects and safeguarding the protection of new natural forest.

Good contributions to the development goal, but gender equality not prioritized

The initiative is also intended to support the achievement of Norwegian development policy goals. According to the evaluation, NICFI has here contributed to better governance of the forest areas.

“Better governance has been achieved by mapping the land and the activities that take place in the forests and by identifying who owns them. Civil society has played a significant role in the work on anti-corruption measures, illegal tree felling and the rights of indigenous people,” says Ms Hellmark.

Gender equality was included in the planning documents, but the evaluation is critical of the fact that women’s rights are still not assigned priority in the implementation of the projects.

Poor planning and reporting

The report reveals that the positive results have been achieved in spite of the fact that there is no overall result framework or coordinated strategy for how the goals are to be met. This was also pointed out in previous evaluations, and was one of the main criticisms of the report from the Office of the Auditor General in 2013.

“When NICFI was set up, it all happened quickly and as a political initiative. The evaluation shows that both the pre-initiative planning and the reporting during the implementation were inadequate,” Ms Hellmark tells us. “The outcome of the initiative has clearly been positive, but much has been due to wide political support, large disbursements, great flexibility and competent employees.”

She continues, “Several of the individual projects that are included in the initiative are well planned and reported, but the lack of a coordinated strategy prevents joint prioritizations within an initiative that has many different actors.”

Ineffectiveness, poor information and coordination problems

Norway has given financial support to both the UN and the World Bank to enable these organizations to support the countries’ work of reducing deforestation. Information and the reporting of results are as inadequate in these organizations as they are in the Norwegian initiative. Moreover the evaluation team concludes that the multilateral organizations are ineffective and badly coordinated.

“Coordination problems arise because there are so many actors involved and because the activities that are to be performed are so diverse,” Ms. Hellmark explains.

The multilateral organizations are also increasing the number of countries they support even though many of the countries that have already received support show little progress. The cause of the lack of progress should therefore be analysed before more new countries are included.

Lack of certainty over funding is a challenge

One of the main motivating factors to encourage a country to commit itself to forest conservation and emission reductions is the pledge of disbursements for results achieved. According to the evaluation report, uncertainty about the future financing of such result-based payments is the greatest risk for further progress. 

“In addition, the evaluation points out that the costs of forest conservation should be viewed in relation to the countries’ potential for operating the necessary systems,” says Ms Hellmark. 

The evaluation also states that result-based funding, which is the form of disbursement that has been selected, is probably not viable in several of the countries. 

Changes recommended 

According to the evaluation, the next step should be to draw up an overall strategy that also encompasses result reporting. The initiative should also improve its communication of activities and achievements, and an assessment should be made to determine how the collaboration with the multilateral organizations within REDD+ can be coordinated and rendered more effective.

Results at country level:

Brazil:
Brazil’s deforestation and emissions have substantially declined, a reduction that took place before the start of the cooperation with Norway. Activities established after Norwegian disbursements for these results now pave the way for future emission reduction.

Guyana:
Although the establishment of the necessary systems for measuring forest protection has been successful in Guyana, insufficient action has been taken to reduce the mining operations that are the main cause of deforestation in the country.

Indonesia:
Indonesia has made very good progress in readiness planning for the implementation of REDD+. However, changes in government and weaknesses in the legal basis for REDD+ constitute a serious threat to the results attained.

Tanzania:
In Tanzania NICFI has contributed to achieving a number of results at project level. The lack of government ownership means that there are limited opportunities for producing large-scale results at national level.