Challenges of ensuring equity

The study of a forest protection policy (REDD+) in Cambodia

PhD defence

Maya Pasgaard


Forest protection projects with the aim to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation while ensuring social co-benefits (REDD+) are introduced at a fast pace and extensive scale across the global South as an instrument to mitigate climate change. Besides the intended positive outcomes and benefits such as of pro-poor development, biodiversity conservation and improved governance, there is also a risk of negative outcomes to the local participating communities. For instance, equity concerns in REDD+ are evident, in particular in terms of the distribution of costs and benefits in the participating local communities. However, assessment of the potential social impacts from REDD+ are lacking and lagging behind, including frameworks to examine equity in REDD+. Also, there is a lack of empirical studies that investigate impacts from REDD+ at community level.

This PhD thesis takes its point of departure in a qualitative case study of REDD+ in Northern Cambodia and in a quantitative publication analysis of climate change research. With the aim to explore challenges of equity, this thesis addresses the following research questions: To what extent is REDD+ equitable at community level compared with global REDD+ objectives? How are impacts on equity and other social impacts from REDD+ assessed? How are the costs and benefits from REDD+ distributed within participating communities? Are the objectives of REDD+ being effective, efficient and equitable realistic at local and national level? And finally, is the need for knowledge on climate change balanced by the supply of knowledge?

My PhD research shows that 1) social assessments in REDD+ are inadequate; 2) the distribution of costs and benefits from REDD+ within communities is uneven with the risk of increasing the exiting social imbalance; 3) policy objectives of REDD+ being effective, efficient and equitable are unrealistic in the current form of REDD+, and; 4) diverging research concerns in relation to climate change and REDD+ indicate an imbalance in the need for and supply of knowledge. In sum, the research points toward several challenges to be overcome towards ensuring equity in REDD+. These challenges relate to equity assessments, to equity at community level, to the realization of policy objectives, and to the alignment of research concerns with research needs. In order to meet these challenges, specific recommendations are proposed, such as a better integration of qualitative methods in social assessments, greater emphasis on local inclusion and representativeness in relation to resource access and decision-making, more field research and cross-collaborations, and increased integration and exchange of knowledge across regions and institutions.

Principal Supervisor

Associate Professor Jens Emborg, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen

Assessment Committee

Associate Professor Jens Friis Lund, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen (chairman);

Senior Researcher Mikkel Funder, DIIS – Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen;

Professor Anja Nygreen, University of Helsinki, Department of Political and Economic Studies, Finland.