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Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Toolbox


This module is intended for forest and land managers interested in contributing to REDD+ national strategies or benefiting from REDD+ and the possible synergies between it and SFM. Readers may wish to read this module together with the Reducing Deforestation and Reducing Forest Degradaton modules.  

REDD+ phases

Countries interested in REDD+ are required to progress through three phases (UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.16, paragraph 73):

  1. the readiness phase, involving the development of national strategies or action plans, PAMs, and capacity building;
  2. the implementation of national strategies and results-based demonstration activities, involving the implementation of PAMs and national strategies or action plans that could involve further capacity building, technology development and transfer, and results-based demonstration activities; and
  3. results-based actions that should be fully measured, reported and verified.

Most countries are in the readiness phase (phase 1), although some are moving into phase 2. Forest and land managers may benefit from capacity development, services and incentives through all the phases; contribute to demonstration activities in phase 2; and benefit from incentives through their contributions to the implementation of national REDD+ strategies in phase 3.

Under UNFCCC decisions, developing countries aiming to access REDD+ results-based payments must have in place the following four main elements (called the “Warsaw pillars”):

  • a national strategy or action plan;
  • a national forest monitoring system;
  • a forest reference emission level or forest reference level; and
  • a safeguards information system.

These elements are to be developed by national governments, but forest and land managers can play a role in the formulation and especially the implementation of national REDD+ strategies.

REDD+ activities, and policies and measures

REDD+ activities, and policies and measures

Initially, debate on the role of forests in climate-change mitigation focused on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries, but this later broadened to ensure a more comprehensive approach to mitigating climate change and the wider participation of countries with diverse national circumstances. The following five REDD+ activities to contribute to mitigation actions in the forest sector have been globally agreed (UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.16, paragraph 70):

  1. reducing emissions from deforestation;
  2. reducing emissions from forest degradation;
  3. the conservation of forest carbon stocks;
  4. the sustainable management of forests; and
  5. the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

These five activities can best be implemented – collectively or separately – through a package of coordinated PAMs defined by each country and included in national strategies and action plans. The five activities overlap in practice; thus, when countries define their PAMs to address these activities, it may be most effective to include all five activities.

The table presents the five REDD+ activities, examples of PAMs, and relevant SFM Toolbox modules (where readers can find further information on those PAMs). Note that most PAMs will have the potential to contribute to several REDD+ activities. 

REDD+ activities, examples of national policies and measures, and related SFM Toolbox modules

REDD+ activities, examples of national policies and measures, and related SFM Toolbox modules

REDD+ activity


Examples of policies and measures

Related SFM Toolbox modules

Reducing emissions from deforestation

Deforestation is conversion from a forest land use to another land use (e.g. from forest land to crop land)

National policies and measures (PAMs) will depend on the specific deforestation drivers identified in each country (e.g. agricultural expansion, infrastructure or mining). The module on reducing deforestation provides more information on possible PAMs for addressing each deforestation driver. The following are examples of possible PAMs:

·  Strengthen forest governance and law enforcement

·   Sustainably intensify agriculture to avoid the further expansion of agricultural land

·   Integrate landscape planning and management, including by harmonizing policies and laws among sectors

·   Diversify farmer livelihoods

Reducing Deforestation


Reducing emissions from forest degradation

Degradation is a change process caused by disturbance that negatively affects the characteristics of forests, resulting in a decline in the supply of forest goods and services

PAMs will depend on the specific degradation drivers identified in each country (e.g. unsustainable logging or charcoal and woodfuel collection). The module on “reducing forest degradation” provides more information to support the identification of PAMs in each case. The following are examples of possible PAMs:

·   Promote sustainable management and practices in multipurpose/production forests (e.g. capacity development on good silvicultural practices, and reduced impact logging)

·   Strengthen forest tenure and rights

·   Promote sustainable woodfuel harvesting and woodfuel use efficiency (e.g. efficient cook stoves)

·   Implement integrated fire management

·   Incorporate useful trees in agricultural landscapes to reduce pressure on forests by producing purposes wood and non-wood products for subsistence and local market

Reducing Forest Degradation

Conservation of forest carbon stocks

An effort to decrease the threat to forests and ensure permanence by establishing long-term commitments to conserve forest

·   Expand and manage protected areas, including through joint management approaches with local communities

·   Implement integrated fire management

·   Implement integrated pest management


Forest Protected Areas

Participatory Approaches and Tools in Forestry

Vegetation Fire Management

Forest Pests

Sustainable management of forests

The sustainable use of forests with the aim of maintaining and enhancing multiple forest values through human interventions

·   Bring more forests under scientific management

·   Implement payment schemes for the environmental services rendered by forests

·   Strengthen community forest management

·   Obtain forest certification

Silviculture in Natural Forests

Community-based Forestry

Forest Certification

Enhancement of forest carbon stocks

Refers to 1) non-forest land becoming forest land; (2) the restoration of degraded forest landscapes; and 3) the enhancement of carbon stocks on forest land

·   Restore forests and landscapes (including through community initiatives)

·   Adopt agroforestry practices and manage trees outside forests

·   Improve the silviculture and management of natural and planted forests

Forest and Landscape Restoration

Forest Restoration and Rehabilitation


Silviculture and Management of Planted Forests

Silviculture in Natural Forests

The actions identified and selected by a country as strategic means for implementing REDD+ are unlikely to be restricted to forestry: they may include other land-use sectors, and some may be cross-sectoral. Nevertheless, a large number of REDD+ actions are likely to be primarily the responsibility of forest managers, who will play important roles in implementing REDD+ on the ground.

Identification and prioritization of REDD+ activities

Identification and prioritization of REDD+ activities

The process of identifying and prioritizing REDD+ PAMs is a country-specific process led by government institutions, in which forest and land managers can be key actors. Indicative steps for this process are as follows:

  1. Assess the priority REDD+ activities and their scale (e.g. national or subnational, or a combination of these).
  2. Map and stratify ecosystems.
  3. Classify ecosystems by land use, tenure and institutional regime.
  4. For each ecosystem class, map land-conversion trends (e.g. deforestation, degradation, restoration and reforestation).
  5. Identify, assess and prioritize the direct and underlying drivers of deforestation and degradation, as well as opportunities for – and barriers to – the conservation, management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
  6. Define the main REDD+ intervention areas and prioritize them based on their potential to contribute to climate-change mitigation (e.g. community-managed miombo woodlands, where deforestation is due mainly to charcoal production).
  7. Identify the most suitable forest and non-forest PAMs for each intervention area at the appropriate scale (e.g. local, subnational, national or regional), considering that a wide range of legal, policy and institutional actions at the national level will be common to most actions.
  8. Prioritize locations and PAMs according to their mitigation potential; estimated costs and potential for funding; existing implementation capacities; non-carbon benefits; and alignment with national development priorities and plans. The identified PAMs will constitute the core elements of the national REDD+ strategy.
  9. Assess the social and environmental benefits and risks of the PAMs so as to ensure that appropriate REDD+ safeguards are in place.
  10. Implement the priority REDD+ PAMs in priority locations, for which the engagement of forest and land managers will be crucial.

This process should be seen as iterative, requiring the active engagement of all relevant stakeholders and sectors. The process will be led mainly by government institutions, but the knowledge and experience of small-scale and large-scale forest managers can contribute significantly to the identification and prioritization of drivers, PAMs and locations, as well as to the assessment of social and environmental risks. 

REDD+ safeguards

REDD+ safeguards

To minimize the potential social and environmental risks of REDD+ and promote benefits beyond climate-change mitigation, the UNFCCC has adopted the following seven safeguards to be addressed and respected when undertaking REDD+ actions (UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.16, Appendix I):

  1. that actions complement or are consistent with the objectives of national forest programmes and relevant international conventions and agreements;
  2. transparent and effective national forest governance structures;
  3. respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and communities;
  4. the full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities, in REDD+ actions;
  5. that actions are consistent with the conservation of natural forests and biodiversity, ensuring that they are not used for the conversion of natural forests but are instead used to incentivize the protection and conservation of natural forests and their environmental services and to enhance other social and environmental benefits;
  6. actions to address the risk of reversals; and
  7. actions to reduce the displacement of emissions.

Each country should develop a safeguards information system to provide information on how the REDD+ safeguards are being addressed and respected in the implementation of REDD+ activities. Countries should periodically submit information on safeguards to the UNFCCC as a requisite for obtaining results-based payments (UNFCCC Decision 12/CP.17 and UNFCCC Decision 12/CP.19).

The consideration of REDD+ safeguards and the development of safeguards information systems are the responsibility of the governments of countries involved in REDD+. Forest and land managers should be aware, however, that the implementation of PAMs as part of national REDD+ strategies must assess social and environmental risks and address and respect the safeguards.

Reference levels

Reference levels

To participate in REDD+, countries should develop forest reference emission levels (FRELs) or forest reference levels (FRLs). The UNFCCC has defined FRELs and FRLs as “benchmarks for assessing each country’s performance in implementing REDD+ activities”. The construction of a FREL or FRL and its submission to the UNFCCC is entirely the responsibility of the government of each country.

FRELs and FRLs may be relevant for assessing the performance of countries in contributing to climate-change mitigation through forest-related actions. Reasons for developing FRELs or FRLs include the following:

  • Countries may wish to access results-based payments. According to UNFCCC decisions, results-based payments require a technically assessed forest reference level.
  • Countries may wish to assess progress in achieving the outcomes of the PAMs taken in the forest sector to mitigate climate change for domestic reasons.
  • Countries may wish to contribute to international mitigation through REDD+ actions under the UNFCCC.

It is possible that a single FREL/FRL can be prepared for more than one of the above reasons. A country may also consider using different FRELs/FRLs for different or combined reasons.

Reference levels are expressed in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Reference levels should be established transparently and take into account historical data, and they may be adjusted to national circumstances if a rationale for this is provided. More information on reference levels is available in the tools section.

The complexity of establishing reference levels should not deter countries from initiating REDD+. The UNFCCC and, specifically, the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ recognize that technological and human capabilities and circumstances vary between countries, and they encourage countries to make their best efforts to establish reference levels and to continue improving these as circumstances and capabilities develop. 

National forest monitoring systems in the context of REDD+

National forest monitoring systems in the context of REDD+

To demonstrate performance in implementing REDD+, countries are requested to establish national forest monitoring systems (NFMSs) suitable for measuring, reporting and verifying emission reductions and the enhancement of forest carbon sinks (and an NFMS can also incorporate other information, if considered useful). Specifically, an NFMS should have:

  • a measurement function – measuring REDD+ mitigation performance in carbon dioxide equivalents (i.e. anthropogenic forest-related GHG emissions by source, and removals by sink);
  • a reporting function that provides information on GHG mitigation performance (emissions and removals in carbon dioxide equivalents) of REDD+ activities, which is submitted to the UNFCCC through national communications and biennial update reports; and
  • a verification function that allows the independent review of results, which, under the UNFCCC process, involves a roster of experts in accordance with adopted guidelines to check the accuracy and reliability of information reported in GHG inventories and the procedures used to generate information.

Countries are also encouraged to develop additional monitoring functions, which can serve country-specific information needs and include monitoring the performance of REDD+ activities and safeguards. NFMSs should provide data that are transparent and consistent over time, adopt a combination of remote sensing and ground-based forest carbon inventory approaches, and build on existing systems while being flexible and allowing for improvement.

The Forest Inventory and Remote Sensing for Forest Monitoring and Management modules provide more information on forest monitoring.

Although NFMSs are designed to provide information at the national level, they may also generate biophysical and socioeconomic data of use to forest and land managers. Forest and land managers, or their representatives, may participate in the design and implementation of some elements of an NFMS through stakeholder platforms.

Gender and REDD+

Gender and REDD+

The UNFCCC decisions on REDD+ request that countries address and respect gender considerations (ex. Decision 1/CP16).

Women’s and men’s specific roles, rights, responsibilities and priorities, as well as their particular use patterns and knowledge of forests, shape their experiences differently. As such, gender-differentiated needs, uses and knowledge of the forest are critical inputs to policy and programmatic interventions that will enable the long-term success of REDD+ on the ground.

However, social, economic, and cultural inequalities and legal impediments often mean that women are excluded (along with other marginalized groups such as indigenous peoples, the poor, youth and disabled people) from full participation in REDD+. It is, therefore, crucial that deliberate and meaningful efforts are taken to ensure REDD+ actions are inclusive, fair and gender-responsive both in policy and in practice (UN-REDD, 2011).

Mainstreaming gender into REDD+ policy, planning, implementation and evaluation can result in more precisely designed interventions, which would in turn increase the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of REDD+ implementations. It would require:

  • recognizing women as primary users of forests with valuable knowledge and experience;
  • facilitating gender-responsive REDD+ stakeholder engagement;
  • clearly communicating the potential benefits to women;
  • developing enforceable measures that ensure those benefits are both protected and delivered (ex. ensuring tenurial security for women and promoting women’s property rights);
  • fully integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment principles in the design and implementation of REDD+ actions; and
  • realizing gender-equality provisions in international agreements on REDD+.