Learning from ten years of implementing the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative

The Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative – NICFI for short – was launched at the COP 13 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali in 2007. Norway's pledge was to contribute up to half a billion dollars annually to reducing deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries – now referred to as REDD+.

By Per Fredrik Pharo, Special Envoy and director of NICFI, Ministry of Climate and Environment, Norway.

To date, NICFI has disbursed more than 20 billion Norwegian kroner to forest countries, multilateral and civil society organizations. NICFI provides results-based payments to countries for carbon emission reductions and supports new regulations in their forest and land use sector, and engages in broad partnerships with civil society and the private sector.

Willingness to take risk

Real-time evaluations of the initiative were undertaken by Norad's evaluation department from the very start. Given the magnitude and complexity of the issue and the country-ownership driven approach of NICFI, it cannot have been an easy job. It is challenging to evaluate an initiative where the results are highly dependent on the political will to protect forests in developing countries, and where the task is thus mainly to help nurture that will and support it.

The former director of the Rainforest Foundation Norway, Lars Løvold, appropriately challenged the evaluation community at a seminar on evaluations in Norad last October when he asked: How can evaluations help us halt the loss of tropical forests within the next few years? In which ways do they help us address serious global threats?

He has a point. It is relevant to ask if evaluations play a role in helping us prevent forest loss and other global threats.

A part of NICFI's theory of change is that when addressing serious threats, you must be willing to take risks and allow flexibility in order to take advantage of emerging opportunities or threats. NICFI has defined a number of objectives, knowing that we will not be able to meet all of them. The Norwegian Parliament has been informed about this approach from the start, and supported it because of the importance that tropical forests play in reaching the global climate change goals.

Measuring results

The most comprehensive real-time evaluation report of NICFI came in 2014. It found that NICFI’s contribution to the establishment of a global REDD+ regime had been a success. NICFI's flagship bilateral partnerships – such as with Brazil and Indonesia – had leveraged political support for REDD+ globally. The following year, as you know, forests were included in the Paris agreement in 2015.

Secondly, the report found that NICFI has made significant contributions to early action on REDD+. The initiative was applauded for making good progress on developing systems for monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions. However, the evaluation pointed out that the engagement with the private sector had been too low.

NICFI had also made a solid contribution to promoting the conservation of natural forests and played a significant part in achieving Norwegian development policy goals.

This sounded like good news. We were on the right track. Still, despite frontrunners like Brazil and Guyana, where deforestation had slowed down or hardly happened at all, deforestation was still high in many countries. We knew we had to do much more to reach our goals. The question was how.

An alliance of the willing

Agriculture is the direct driver of more than 70 percent of tropical deforestation. Soy, beef, palm oil, paper and pulp are the main culprits. NICFI made significant contributions to forming an alliance of willing partners from forest countries, international organizations, the private sector and civil society to sign on to the New York Declaration on Forests in 2014. Today, more than 400 companies worldwide have signed on to pledges to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. This was groundbreaking.

The challenge now is to make sure these pledges are implemented, that there is full transparency and that those who produce without destroying forests will benefit in the market. To show that deforestation free agriculture is feasible and profitable we also invest directly in innovative public-private partnerships.

Building strong new alliances is at the core of NICFI's theory of change. Without political, business and civil society leaders who see the imminent value of protecting and managing tropical forests sustainably, and who commit to doing so, we will not get results. We need leaders who point out that the rapid – and often illegal – loss of tropical forests is a sign of weak governance, corruption and elite capture of common resources, and who dare to start the reform process. UN Environment and Interpol have estimated that the value of illegally traded timber - $50 – 152 billion per year- may exceed the total value of all official development aid. We need a very strong global alliance to counter the vested interests that benefit from this situation.

It is my guess that movements for change may be hard to evaluate against a pre-defined set of key objectives. It is in their nature to cross national and conceptual boundaries and swiftly identify new areas of advocacy. Still, I hope future evaluations will provide new insights and make valuable contributions in further improving our strategy. 

It is hard to evaluate the overall impact of complex initiatives. We cannot know for sure what would have happened to deforestation rates, forest governance or indigenous peoples' rights if NICFI had not existed. But evaluations can assess outcomes of initiatives and programs supported by NICFI, and assess whether the overall direction makes sense. Our movement needs to be challenged and helped by the smartest brains if we are to improve global forest governance, slow tropical deforestation and meet the Paris goals.

Published 09.05.2018
Last updated 09.05.2018