REDD+ has the potential to deliver social and environmental benefits that go beyond the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions but which may also entail potential risks to people and the environment. These benefits and risks will depend on a number of factors related to national circumstances – such as how REDD+ actions are designed, how successful these actions are in addressing the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and the barriers to sustainable management, conservation and enhancement of carbon stocks  as well as where, how and by whom these actions are implemented.

In order to protect against these potential risks while promoting benefits, seven safeguards are in place that must be supported throughout the implementation of REDD+ actions. These are known as the "Cancun safeguards", and were agreed to at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate held in Cancun in 2010 (COP16). 

Subsequently, decisions on safeguards were adopted in Durban at COP17 and in Warsaw at COP19 with respect to the development of a safeguards information system and the provision of a summaries of information on how all of the Cancun safeguards are being addressed and respected throughout REDD+ implementation, thus completing the main UNFCCC safeguard requirements.

The UN-REDD Programme’s guidance and tools are designed to enable countries to take a flexible country approach to safeguards that reflects different national circumstances, contexts and capacities in order to respond to the requirements of the UNFCCC REDD+ on safeguards.

Components of a country approach to safeguards

A country approach to safeguards is a country-led process to respond to international REDD+ safeguards requirements (UNFCCC Cancun safeguards and other safeguards as appropriate), in a way that is harmonious with national policy goals, by building on existing governance arrangements, including:

  1. Policies, laws and regulations (PLRs): These define, on paper, what needs to be done in order to support implementation of REDD+ actions in a manner consistent with Cancun (and other) safeguards, i.e. how safeguards are being addressed.

  2. Institutional arrangements:The mandates, procedures and capacities to ensure that the relevant PLRs are actually implemented in practice, i.e. how safeguards are being respected. 

  3. Information systems:These collect and make available information on how REDD+ safeguards are being addressed and respected throughout REDD+ implementation. 



Outcomes and Outputs

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FAQs about Safeguards

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What are the Cancun Safeguards?

REDD+ has the potential to deliver substantial benefits beyond carbon savings. However, depending on how REDD+ is implemented, risks may also be incurred. These may include the conversion of natural forest to plantations or the displacement or loss of livelihoods for local people. The Cancun Safeguards were agreed by Parties to the UNFCCC at COP16 in Cancun in 2010 in order to address such risks. Parties agreed to promote and support these safeguards. Further decisions were agreed at the UNFCCC COP 17 in Durban in 2011.

What are biodiversity and ecosystem services?

Biodiversity refers to the variability among living organisms. It includes the diversity within and among species and the diversity within and among ecosystems. Biodiversity is the source of many ecosystem goods, such as food and genetic resources. Changes in biodiversity can influence the supply of ecosystem services.

Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food, fibre and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services, such as nutrient cycling, which ensure the conditions that enable life on Earth. For more information, please refer to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

What is a safeguard information system?

UNFCCC Parties agreed that countries should set up a national safeguards information system (SIS) that provides information on how the Cancun safeguards are being addressed and respected. Summary information would be provided periodically in what are known as “National Communications” to the UNFCCC. Decisions on such SISs were further elaborated at COP17 in Durban, while the timing and frequency of their reporting was decided on at COP 19 in Warsaw.

How do safeguards and multiple benefits relate to REDD+?

One reason why countries may wish to plan for REDD+ multiple benefits is that it helps to promote and support the Cancun Safeguards, which state that [REDD+] “actions are consistent with the conservation of natural forests and biological diversity, ensuring that the actions referred to in paragraph 70 of this decision are not used for the conversion of natural forests, but are instead used to incentivize the protection and conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and to enhance other social and environmental benefits”.

How do the UN-REDD Programme Social and Environmental Principles and Criteria (SEPC) relate to the Cancun Safeguards?

One of the purposes of the SEPC is to support countries to develop national approaches to REDD+ safeguards. The SEPC are consistent with UNFCCC agreements on safeguards for REDD+ and can, in combination with other tools and approaches, help countries develop national approaches for promoting, supporting and building on the Cancun Safeguards. They can also provide information on how the Cancun Safeguards are being addressed and respected and demonstrate achievements beyond carbon savings (e.g. regarding poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation).

Can several guidance frameworks for interpreting and implementing the Cancun Safeguards be used simultaneously (e.g. FCPF SESA, UN-REDD SEPC, REDD+ SES)?

The Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) used by the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) of the World Bank, the Social and Environmental Principles and Criteria (SEPC) developed by the UN-REDD Programme and the REDD+ Social & Environmental Standards (REDD+ SES) can all guide countries in developing a national approach to REDD+ safeguards. FCPF countries are required to carry out a SESA, while the UN-REDD SEPC acts as a guiding framework. REDD+ SES is a civil society initiative and hence is also voluntary. Applying more than one framework at a time is possible, though countries will need to determine whether these are beneficial in their particular case. Swan et al. 2012 propose three possible starting points for an in-country multi-stakeholder safeguards process and further elaborate on this question. More recently, the UN-REDD Programme’s Country Approach to Safeguards Tool (CAST) has been developed. One of its key objectives is to clarify how the processes and tools of various safeguard approaches – including those of the FCPF and the CCBA-CARE REDD+ SES initiative – relate to each other. It also covers how these relate to the generic steps and activities for planning and implementing a country approach to safeguards.

Is capacity building available for developing a national approach to safeguards, or for including multiple benefits in REDD+ strategies?

The UN-REDD Programme is currently providing direct support to a number of countries on these topics, through both Targeted Support funding as well as under National Programmes. Targeted support can be requested by partner countries of the UN-REDD Programme, which are undertaking REDD+ efforts with a view to designing and implementing a national REDD+ strategy or action plan (see Procedures for requesting UN-REDD Programme Targeted Support).

Key Contacts

Mr. Steven Swan ()
Safeguards Coordinator, UN-REDD Programme

Learn more

Find the latest country Safeguards outputs at the Safeguards Country Resources Hub.

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