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The great green wall project
The great green wall project
The great green wall project

GLOBE Legislators Advancing REDD+ and Natural Capital Governance Towards the Delivery of the 2030 Agenda

Africa ecological zones. Global Forest Resources Assessment 200, FAO
Africa Ecological Zones. Global Forest Resources Assessment, 2000, FAO

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria and Senegal share tropical forest ecosystems: rain forests (of which the DRC has the second largest surface on Earth), moist deciduous forests, and tropical dry forests (the latter two are dominant in Nigeria and Senegal). All these forest ecosystems are affected by deforestation and forest degradation.

Also, Nigeria and Senegal share tropical shrubland ecosystems in the ecological zone of the Sahel, also threatened by deforestation, land degradation and desertification.

This common natural capital provides ecosystem services which are critical to the socioeconomic development and security of the project countries.

  • Strengthening the governance and legislation of natural capital of the partner countries by supporting national legislators to:
    • Achieve readiness and implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Framework
    • Streamline the legislative framework affecting the implementation of the Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI) in Senegal and Nigeria
    • Drive the integration of the natural capital approach in public policy, and of environmental economic accounting as a decision-making tool for development decisions consistent with the multi-dimensional approach of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Institutional capacity building, including South-South exchanges between the partner countries and beyond.

The global conversation on policy responses to address deforestation, forest degradation and desertification, the net depletion of natural resources and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services is well articulated.

However, the proposed responses to these issues often require a fundamental redirection of existing economic and social development models to a more sustainable path, which in turn require a robust political ownership and steering at the national level that is frequently missing at both the executive and legislative levels – particularly since legislators are not party to multilateral processes.

This lack of political ownership informed the call of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted at the 10th Conference of the CBD (COP10) in Nagoya in 2010, for the broadening of political support by working to ensure that heads of state and government and parliamentarians of all parties understand the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services (Decision X/2, paragraph 16 “Broadening Political Support”) and in particular for the engagement of parliamentarians in reviewing the implementation of the Convention (paragraph 18 “Reporting by Parties” and paragraph 24 “Partnerships and initiatives to enhance cooperation”).

Nevertheless, at present international decision-making on the environment continues to be fundamentally disconnected from the domestic politics of nations – and therefore of domestic policy-making. Existing international platforms do not provide the mechanisms for the integration of the international environmental governance agenda on the one hand, including the debates on policy responses to deforestation, forest degradation, desertification, depletion of natural resources and biodiversity loss, and national-level politics on the other.

This disconnect, coupled with the weak capacity of the legislative branch of government, hinders the ability of national legislators to adequately exercise their statutory powers of government scrutiny, budgeting and lawmaking towards the advancement of environmental governance to the extent needed for a shift in national development towards a sustainable path, including the delivery on commitments under i.e. the Rio Conventions or the Paris Agreement, as well as under the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These two factors hinder, for instance, the consolidation of political will to carry out national ecosystem assessments serving as a baseline for integrating the Natural Capital Approach in public policy, including the strategic prioritization of conservation and restoration efforts, and opening the way to implement natural capital accounting in order to generate data revealing how national prosperity depends on the environment, and in turn how urgent it is to manage it sustainably.

The delivery of the SDGs requires the integration of environmental governance into development and economic decision-making at the national level. This will require sustained political efforts to build coherence and convergence in public policies, which parliamentarians are best placed to exert.

Embedding biodiversity in public policy responses to meet the SDGs requires “more than just putting knowledge in the hands of biodiversity practitioners, but working with multiple decision makers so that the values of biodiversity and natural capital are demonstrated and recognized”. The Natural Capital Approach (NCA) can help multiple sectors to 'speak the same language' so that biodiversity can be integrated into sustainable development action’.


Introducing the GLOBE Natural Capital Initiative from GLOBE International a.i.s.b.l. on Vimeo.


Identifying and quantifying natural capital and its ecosystem services provides additional rationale for effective environmental management and, by integrating economic and environmental imperatives, it facilitates policy-making for sustainable development. ‘An appropriately designed NCA is a bridging concept between effective environmental management and sustainable development’ (Fenech et al., 2003). The NCA has been defined as “a means for identifying and quantifying natural resources and associated ecosystem goods and services that can help integrate ecosystem-oriented management with economic decision-making and development’ (Vivek Anand Voora & Henry David Venema, 2008).

To date, neither the DRC nor Nigeria nor Senegal are participating in the main regional or global multilateral processes (e.g. the Gaborone Declaration or the World Bank WAVES Program) which are driving the implementation of wealth accounting and valuation of ecosystem services as a tool for decision-making for sustainable development. Furthermore, neither of these processes have a parliamentary interface.

As a result, national legislators in all three countries have limited ability to inform national decision-making with natural capital approach-based considerations, let alone with natural capital accounting data; to push for the incremental implementation of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA 2012); or to pass national legislation creating the enabling political conditions for sustainable use of their natural capital.

At present, information sharing among countries in Africa on best practices and successful examples of the natural capital approach, natural capital accounting, REDD+ development strategies and the implementation of the GGWI are extremely limited, leaving national legislators and resource managers within government institutions on their own in trying to understand and apply these emerging approaches.

For example, in most cases, legislators still need to create the legal frameworks needed to implement REDD+ and ultimately become eligible for results-based payments, but they have little experience and few if any examples of how to create such frameworks from countries with similar levels of technical capacity. The same goes for the GGWI.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for about 12% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and are therefore a major contributor to climate change. The aim of the REDD+ international framework is to encourage developing countries to contribute to climate change mitigation efforts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by slowing, halting and reversing forest loss and degradation; and increasing removal of GHGs from the Earth’s atmosphere through the conservation, management and expansion of forests.

The UN-REDD Programme is an innovative flagship partnership between FAO, UNDP and UNEP with 65 partner countries, which supports Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) through forest planning and actions at regional, national and jurisdictional levels. The programme was launched at the United Nations Climate Summit in 2008 by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. This is the first joint United Nations global programme on climate change and has been a catalyst and accelerator of transformation in the forestry sector.

The UN-REDD Programme provides countries with technical assistance, capacity building and training in the area of forest management and reliable and effective capacity and policy advice to implement the specific REDD+ components, including the national forest monitoring system, the level of forest emissions, the National REDD+ Strategy and the Action and the System of information on Social and Environmental Safeguards.

Like the GGWI, since it was first discussed in 2005, REDD expanded its original scope from supporting the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation to also encompass actions for the conservation of forest carbon stocks, the sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks, which also contribute to climate change mitigation. This wider scope added the ‘+’ sign to the acronym in 2007. This integration and realignment enhanced the capacity of REDD+ as a tool for the delivery of multiple SDGs: REDD+ activities may also provide important climate change adaptation co-benefits, because adaptation refers to the resilience of ecosystems as well as resilience of societies. Where forests have not been degraded, people have enjoyed greater protection from natural disasters such as flooding and landslides. In coastal areas, mangroves can protect against storms and waves. Healthy forests also reduce vulnerability, offering food, shelter, medicine, and livelihood support to some of the world's poorest people.

REDD+ includes government-to-government payments as well as the use of private carbon offset purchases and to retribute these forest-based climate mitigation benefits delivered by people and policies. It has emerged as a powerful tool for financing forest conservation, and by 2017 forestry-based carbon offset purchases alone had financed the protection of over 26 million forest hectares in developing countries, an area larger than the entire forested area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The five REDD+ activities (reduction of emissions from deforestation, reduction of emissions from forest degradation, conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks) can best be implemented through a package of coordinated REDD+ actions defined by each country and included in national strategies and action plans. This is why the development of legal frameworks for REDD+ at national level is of critical importance.

Because REDD is inseparable from the highly complex social, economic and biological realities of forests, the implementation of REDD+ faces complex challenges, which are also best faced under a clear normative framework. In order to be effective as mitigation, REDD+ projects have to meet a number of stringent criteria. They must avoid 'leakage', and be ‘additional’. A project baseline needs to be established to measure progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Land tenure and forest governance are also key factors that determine the success or failure of any REDD+ initiative, and the mechanisms by which payments and benefits are shared are critical. Often forest and indigenous peoples do not have rights to their land. Lack of clear tenure has hurt them when facing extractive industries taking away their resources, and it also could mean that they may not reap the benefits of REDD+. However, REDD+ has driven the recognition that indigenous people own the rights to income generated by carbon sequestration by the trees on their territory.

Countries interested in REDD+ are required to progress through three phases, which are closely linked with one another:

  • readiness phase, involving the development of national strategies or action plans, REDD+ mitigation actions, and capacity building;
  • implementation of national strategies and results-based demonstration activities, enacting REDD+ actions and national strategies or plans that could involve further capacity building, technology development and transfer, and results-based demonstration activities;
  • results-based actions that must be fully measured, reported and verified.

At present, the three project countries are at different stages of REDD+ readiness and implementation, and can benefit from each other’s experience.

The GGWI originated in 2005, conceptualized by Olusegun Obasanjo, then President of Nigeria. In consultation, the idea was strongly supported by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal. It came about through a series of science/research–policy interfaces on the need for sustainable solutions to increasing extreme climatic occurrences in Africa, especially in the Circum-Sahara region. The Initiative was originally conceived as a literal wall of trees spanning 8,000 km across the entirety of the Sahel region, from Senegal to Djibouti. Its establishment was a response to the interlocking problems of desertification and land degradation, vulnerability to climate change and loss of biodiversity. These are crucial problems for arid regions in Africa, where they combine to exacerbate people’s food insecurity and affect both countries’ development efforts and the livelihoods of the poorest populations on the planet.

From its inception, it was understood that action taken to address these problems must go hand in hand with an increase in economic and social well-being – by improving food security and livelihoods among the rural population. Safeguarding the livelihoods of peasants, shepherds and oasis peoples requires the protection of the ecosystems they depend on for their food and habitat. This integrated approach explains why the implementation of the GGWI contributes to the delivery of 15 out of the 17 SDGs, such as “no poverty’, ‘zero hunger’, ‘peace, justice, and strong institutions’, and ‘decent work and economic growth’, among others.

By 2030, the GGWI aims to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land, sequester 250 million tons of carbon, and create 10 million jobs in rural areas. These are very ambitious targets which will require an immense amount of effort on the part of the member countries. The role of international organizations will also be crucial in the near future in funding both research and concrete action over the years.

Since 2005 the GGWI has not only progressed with regard to size and scope. It has also evolved in terms of form and purpose: the project has shifted its emphasis from the creation of a wall of trees towards the implementation of farmer-managed natural land regeneration of These sustainable farming practices and techniques are often inspired by local knowledge. As started by Mohamed Bakarr, lead environmental specialist for Global Environment Facility (GEF), ‘We moved the vision of the Great Green Wall from one that was impractical to one that was practical’. The GGW ‘(…) is not necessarily a physical wall, but rather a mosaic of land use practices that ultimately will meet the expectations of a wall. It has been transformed into a metaphorical thing.

With funding from international development Partners and countries, the GGWI has made a significant contribution in the fight against desertification through Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and ecosystem restoration. These initiatives have made great progress, especially securing political commitment, resource mobilization and also in the implementation of transformational projects.

Despite these achievements, the GGWI faces many challenges that hinder the attainment of its vision:

  • The maintenance of a harmonized and synergistic approach is a serious challenge. Despite efforts made by the African Union Commission (AUC) at ensuring coordination, many Partners implementing projects under the initiative do not fully align to the initiative.
  • The challenges of Member states to allocate adequate funds for the implementation of the GGWI due to competing priorities.
  • The creation of similar initiatives. Many parallel initiatives are being developed along the lines of the GGWI thereby leading to duplication of efforts, dispersal of ideas and efforts, and to a fragmented impact, financing and planning of SLM and Restoration initiatives.
  • The difficulty in getting the private sector on board is a serious handicap in the implementation of the Initiative.
  • The lack of sufficient national and subnational data in the Sahel region makes measuring the progress of the GGWI difficult, as well as capturing, storing and sharing data with others. In addition, many projects are developed independent of the Regional strategy and the result framework documents. This makes difficult to know where future efforts should be placed, and in what form.

Nigeria and Senegal, the initial leaders of the GGWI, are also at the forefront on implementation. By 2016 Senegal had restored four million hectares through the planting of trees, while Nigeria has conducted a vast amount of research related to the Initiative over the years, and laid out a National Strategic Action Plan. As time progresses and necessary resources are further developed, the hope is that each Member country will take it upon itself to develop such detailed and extensive plans of action in order to achieve the overarching goals of the regional project.