Interview with Dr Mairon Bastos Lima, Postdoctoral Researcher

Posted on 01 July 2014  | 
Mairon Bastos Lima
© Courtesy Mairon Bastos Lima Enlarge
Q: What is your role with the Forest and Climate Programme and with Wageningen University and Research Centre?
My role is to be the focal point of this collaboration between the WWF Forest and Climate Programme and REDD+ work at WUR, meaning the network of 70+ researchers at Wageningen University who focus on REDD+ topics. This is a postdoctoral research position for one-and-a-half years, and through it we are trying to create knowledge leadership on emerging issues related to REDD+.

Q: What is your academic/work background that led you here?
I am originally a biologist, but one of those who gradually moved into the social sciences. I have a master’s and a PhD, both in environmental studies. I did my master’s in Canada and my PhD in the Netherlands. My previous research had mostly been on land use sectors, so I have more experience with drivers of deforestation than with forest conservation policy per se. My master’s research was on sustainable agri-food systems. I worked on analysing chains from the seed to the plate and trying to find ways to make these systems more sustainable. In my PhD work, I came closer to the climate discussion as I was researching biofuel policies. I have also done some smaller, EU-funded work related to REDD+ in Indonesia and on biodiversity conservation by indigenous peoples in Brazil. In short, I have worked on a mixed bag of subjects but all of them have been related to sustainable land use, especially on the social and policy dimensions. This position is an extension of my interests and past experiences, and I’m very excited about it.

Q: What do you find most challenging about your work with REDD+ policy?
The biggest challenge is also the biggest virtue of REDD+ – integrating diverse sectors and thinking about forests as more than just trees. Forests are part of the larger picture, which is really what an ecosystems or systems perspective is all about. Those of us working in REDD+ have to be very aware of this context and the fact that in the REDD+ process, different sectors and players are involved – policy design, finance, stakeholder inclusion, biophysical dimensions and forest ecology, not to mention, of course, carbon accounting. So it is a challenge to bring that all together into something that makes sense. Of course none of us can be experts on all of these dimensions, but we do need to be able to place those elements in the broader REDD+ picture, which is both incredibly daunting and tremendously exciting.

Q: How can REDD+ be a tool for sustainable land use?
We should think of REDD+ as a catalyst to bring transformations to agricultural policy, forest policy and sustainable land use policy, both at the government level and also in the private sector. Hopefully REDD+ and all of the related discussions and changes that we’re seeing both on the ground and at the policy level can ignite deeper and more fundamental change in the way we deal with forest ecosystems and the way we do activities that are our current drivers of deforestation. REDD+ can be a part of this change, and it needs to be if we want enduring results. If we only think about REDD+ in terms of money, we end up with a race against things such as mining and agriculture that REDD+ will never win. For example, in the context of some African countries, REDD+ activities may be competing with commodities like oil, and there is no way REDD+ can match that, so we must look at it as a catalyst first and foremost!

Q: What are non-carbon benefits (NCBs)? Who defines them? How do you measure them?
NCB is UNFCCC lingo for everything forests (and REDD+ activities) do beyond storing carbon. This includes three basic types of benefits:
• Environmental benefits – biodiversity conservation, freshwater, etc.
• Social benefits – sustainable livelihoods, income creation for local communities, social economic development
• Governance – improvements in governance, participatory forest monitoring, clearer land tenure systems, greater land tenure security

This definition is more or less how NCBs are understood in the community of organizations and individuals who work on REDD+. While some of this wording is in official documents from the UNFCCC, there is no one, absolutely unambiguous definition of these.
There is no one way to measure these, and how to monitor the benefit also depends on which benefit you’re looking at. Most countries use proxies to monitor progress.

Q: Why do non-carbon benefits matter?
NCBs matter first to the people who live in relevant areas impacted by REDD+, but ultimately they matter to everybody. Biodiversity benefits and global goods make a difference on a global scale, governance benefits matter on a national scale and sustainable incomes to local people matter on a very personal scale. REDD+ could in theory exist without NCBs, but because they impact so many aspects of work, it’s important to incentivize them and for countries implementing REDD+ to ensure that these NCBs are delivered. While REDD+ did and does need a standardized unit for measurement (tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year reduced) we all know that forests are more than that. So any REDD+ activity that only focused on carbon at the expense of these other benefits would fall very short of its potential.

Q: Who do non-carbon benefits impact the most? Do those people/stakeholders have a seat at the table?
NCBs matter most to the people who feel the effects of drivers of deforestation on a daily basis and those who feel the impacts of interventions like REDD+ first-hand. Countries are asked to have a national REDD+ focal point, which could be a dedicated agency at the national level, and part of the work of that group would be to oversee stakeholder involvement in the REDD+ process. Of course, each country has its own way of doing this, so the quality and quantity of that stakeholder involvement will ultimately depend on the countries implementing REDD+. Many nations do have room for improvement in this regard.

Q: What are non-market-based approaches?
NMBA, like NCB, is an all-encompassing term. We know that REDD+ can be financed through different means, but we are not yet clear exactly what those means will be. However, there is an understanding that REDD+ can be financed through market mechanisms (through the trade of standardized units, carbon credits) and that it can also be financed through funds and other forms of investment. There are many important elements in the effective implementation of REDD+ that aren’t about markets – subsidy reform, land use activities and different policy instruments – and these would all fall under the term NMBAs.

Q: Why should they be a part of the REDD+ discussion going forward?
If we think of REDD+ only in terms of markets, we would be giving it short shrift and probably wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we want to accomplish – which is forest conservation and sustainable development. So remember, REDD+ is a catalyst to accelerate broader and deeper changes in policy and in practice, and many of those depend on NMBAs, or at least would benefit greatly from them. The next step is to determine which NMBAs work best under which circumstances.

Q: What is the gigatonne emissions gap? How can forests and land use contribute to closing this gap by 2020?
This is the nickname for the gap that we have right now between our current level of GHG per year and where those emissions should be if we are to take the lowest-cost pathways to climate change mitigation. These scenarios are developed by the IPCC and UNEP, which releases an emissions gap report every year and basically shows that our emissions are far above where we should be. In other words, mitigating climate change is becoming more and more costly. Our goal now is to try to catch up with the homework that we haven’t been doing and close that gap by 2020. It should actually be called the gigatonnes gap (plural) because we are already emitting annually 6 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent more than we should be emitting in 2020 if we were to thread on those lowest cost scenarios of climate change mitigation.

Forest and land use can make a big difference in this, as agriculture, forestry and other land uses are responsible for 24 per cent of GHG emissions. In some regions, including Southeast Asia, central Africa and Latin America, these are actually by far the main sources of emissions, which means targeted action in these regions can actually make a big difference with immediate results in reducing annual emissions. This is advantageous compared to reducing emissions from energy sectors (which is, of course, very important), as that can take longer to do. So when working on reducing emissions from the forest sector, we can help buy the time necessary for changes in the energy sector to kick in. Given that we need fast action before 2020, this is a very effective way to do it.

Q: Please describe your most recent Bonn experience. Have you been to international negotiations before?
This was my first time at a UNFCCC meeting, though I had been to negotiations at Rio+20 and much of the structure was similar. The time was filled with keeping track of the negotiation sessions, talking to negotiators in hallways, attending side events and general networking. It was very useful for me and for my work.

Q: What was the most rewarding and most challenging about the conference?
The whole experience was very rewarding – I loved the energy and buzz. In fact, when it’s over, you miss that action and working on a daily basis with our team and your colleagues. It is certainly a bonding experience. However, it’s strenuous to work for two weeks straight thinking about nothing but forests, carbon and climate!

Q: Coming out of Bonn, how are you feeling about the future of REDD+?
I think that in the coming years we’re going to see countries really dig in on implementation. Now that the framework is ready to go, it’s time to get hands-on. REDD+ is voluntary, so those who are participating have some expectations for REDD+, and they have been negotiating the rules along with everybody else, so we all know there is a lot of work still to be done, but I think countries are excited to get moving and are seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel.

Q: Finally, how many languages do you speak, what are they, and how did you learn so many?
I speak four languages – English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. I studied English because I wanted to do my master’s in Canada. I learned French because I had planned to do my PhD in Geneva, which didn’t end up happening, and also because many of my closest friends in Canada during my master’s spoke French. Portuguese is my native language, having grown up in Brazil. Spanish is quite similar to Portuguese, but I started working on it because I was involved in a project last year where most of our meetings were held in Spanish and we had partners from Spain, Bolivia and Mexico. My Spanish has actually been very useful in this position and I actually use it far more than I anticipated – a great co-benefit!
Mairon Bastos Lima
© Courtesy Mairon Bastos Lima Enlarge

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