Abstract

Transparency in climate finance mechanisms, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), relies on the transfer of information within a complex global web of state and nonstate actors. Such information is required under internationally agreed REDD+ safeguards, including measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) processes and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), and works to establish substantive and normative transparency. However, the sources of, access to, and outcomes from these information flows are still contentious. To address these problems, REDD+ project proponents are increasingly looking to information and communication technologies, such as mobile devices, to improve information gathering, processing, and access. In this article we develop a model and provide tentative examples of how normative and substantive transparency are connected through input and output legitimacy within broader governance contexts. We highlight that even though mobile devices are being used to bring forest communities into the REDD+ process, substantive transparency for emissions reductions through MRV tends to be prioritized over normative dimensions associated with FPIC. We conclude by highlighting the need to further understand the role of decentralized information flows in multilevel carbon governance and opportunities for how mobile technologies may be used to address transparency challenges in the governance of REDD+.

Aided and abetted by the rapid diffusion of information-communication technologies, transparency is implicated in many of the most high-profile controversies of our times. (Gupta and Mason 2014, 3)

Transparency is portrayed as both necessary and increasingly possible within a globalizing, information-centric international system. In this context, transparency seems to offer a realistic means of generating a more accountable, peaceful or legitimate form of international politics. (McCarthy and Fluck 2017, 417)

Responses to climate change are complicated: they embody multilevel governance processes, which aim to account for multiple, often conflicting, voices and are at once both technical and normative (Gustavsson et al. 2009). Within the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), transparency is often noted as a central component in enabling effective global climate governance (Gupta and Mason 2014). Despite the general acceptance of transparency as an international norm, specifying how transparency is promoted and enacted remains an important focus in global environmental politics (Bauhr and Nasiritousi 2012).

Technology plays an increasingly important role in transparency as the “Information Age” rewires environmental governance, political participation, and future sustainability trajectories through information and communication technologies (ICTs) (Castells 1996; Mol 2010). The mobile device, for example, has been lauded as having the potential to disrupt traditional modes of governance, including within environmental and developmental contexts (Rolffs et al. 2015); however, the extent to which this opportunity can be realized is still unclear.

The connections, for example, between mobile devices and transparency within climate mitigation mechanisms under the UNFCCC, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), are not well specified in the literature. Despite high interest from multilateral institutions on the possibilities for using mobile devices to ensure the transparency of REDD+, the specifics of what is recorded, how this is done, and whom it benefits are still unclear (Gupta and van Asselt 2017; Vijge 2018; Widerberg and Pattberg 2017). While transparency is normatively seen as the influence that actors have on project design and implementation, currently transparency is largely farmed in substantive terms of effectiveness, output legitimacy, and information and disclosure; we begin here to describe how this plays out in relation to REDD+ and ICTs.

This article provides a model and case studies to examine the use of mobile devices for REDD+ transparency. We ask, how are substantive and normative transparency evolving in REDD+ with respect to the governance of information, and how are mobile devices becoming part of these structures? We also highlight how such technology may benefit REDD+ and future climate governance arrangements.

Approaching Mobile Communication Technologies in Climate Governance

Informational Governance and Transparency

ICTs have emerged as part of globalized information flows. ICTs include mature technologies, such as landline telephones, radio, and television, but have accelerated mostly through mobile communication and computing, the internet, social networks, remote sensing, and geographic information systems (Eakin et al. 2015), and now Web 3.0 blockchain solutions that are reworking value chains and economic exchange (Ahram et al. 2017; Combes et al. 2017).

To conceptualize the information era in global environmental governance, Mol (2006, 2008) suggested that “informational governance” should be considered in understanding the new patterns of information flows for environmental governance. Informational governance is associated with policy processes, public–private relationships, transparency implications, new global arrangements, and public engagement. It is therefore central to global environmental politics where multiple actors jostle for position, the right to control information, and the right to be heard, at multiple locations and scales (Boykoff et al. 2009).

Informational governance is useful in highlighting the power dynamics that sit behind the generation, flow, and use of information where information is a “crucial resource with transformative powers for a variety of actors and networks” (Soma et al. 2016, 133), including transparency. Who contributes to transparency processes, how voices are mediated, and how emerging technologies potentially rework these processes are important in the context of emerging climate governance regimes.

Transparency is particularly prominent in the field of environment and sustainability (Gupta and Mason 2016; Mol 2015) and is “associated with more accountable, legitimate, effective and democratic governance” (Gupta 2010, 4). Notionally evoked goals of environmental transparency include normative and procedural matters to empower the weak and hold the powerful to account, while also pursuing substantive environmental improvements, such as reduced emissions, sustainable resource use, or risk mitigation. Normative criteria are related to democracy, participation, accountability, and “right-to-know.” On the other hand, substantive transparency involves criteria related to improved sustainability and environmental protection.

As such, transparency goals are often unevenly prioritized and ultimately relate to debates over legitimacy versus effectiveness in global environmental responses (Biermann and Gupta 2011). Important dynamics in transparency, therefore, exist as information flows across scales, levels, and organizations and is used to justify input and output legitimacy of climate and development governance (Bäckstrand 2006; Biermann and Pattberg 2008; Bulkeley and Newell 2015; Pattberg 2004). Increased information concerns the democratization of multiple voices within global governance structure, and so important connections exist between institutional change due to information flows and the ability to govern places and people through information.

Information access, however, does not necessarily mean effective transparency. As McCarthy and Fluck (2017) note, considering “transparency-as-disclosure” or “transparency-as-information” belies the contextual frameworks, ability for actors to understand information disclosed, and outcomes of dialogue that exist as a result. They note that “transparency-as-dialogue” provides the best theoretical starting point for further investigating transparency in international politics; however, current transparency approaches do largely exist as information provision and disclosure.

Transparency processes relate directly to questions of input and output legitimacy. This “process legitimacy” (Vatn and Vedeld 2013) consists of input legitimacy as a procedural and normative ideal that guarantees that social actors have influence over the project design and implementation. Output legitimacy is approached as a substantive ideal that refers to the effectiveness of institutions/mechanisms to deliver their goals (Bäckstrand 2006).

ICTs and Transparency in Climate Mechanisms

The ICT literature also notes the importance of transparency in improving governance outcomes through technology (Curtin and Meijer 2006; Smythe and Smith 2006). In their summary, Gigler et al. (2014) note that ICTs can help governance by improving institutional openness, enabling transparency, and promoting collaborative governance opportunities. Relatively little attention, however, has been given to their potential to contribute to gaps around transparency in climate mechanisms. This is surprising given that, globally, mobile device subscriptions have increased significantly (see Figure 1), from just under 20 subscriptions per 100 population in 2001 to an estimate of 103.5 subscriptions per 100 population in 2017 (due to some people using multiple subscriptions; International Telecommunication Union 2017). Mobile subscriptions in low- and middle-income countries increased by more than 1,500 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 4 to 72 per 100 inhabitants (World Bank 2012). Although a digital divide still exists between those with access to the internet and those without, more than half the world’s population, 4.3 billion people, were online by the end of 2017.

Figure 1 

Global ICT developments, 2001–2017.

Figure 1 

Global ICT developments, 2001–2017.

This explosion of connectivity has generated enthusiasm for harnessing the mobile device to reduce communication barriers and bolster direct participation of citizens and improved responses to development (Smith et al. 2011). Proponents of mobiles note that this technology may increase the ability for widespread participation of communities and government, be an important tool in the fight against poverty, foster economic development, and improve health care for the world’s poor (Bertot et al. 2010; Chib 2013; Mechael 2009; Unwin 2009). The potential of mobile device–enabled efforts to create progressive social and environmental transparency over time, however, is not well understood, and results show wide variability (Bertot et al. 2010; Heeks 2008). While studies highlight the potential for mobile devices to close the loop of accountability, few have approached specifically how this can be achieved for complex climate challenges (Gigler et al. 2014). To date, mobile devices have been mostly used by development agencies to extract information from local users rather than move from participation to empowerment in local communities (Donner 2008). Participation has, however, been linked to the opportunities that ICTs bring for effective local engagement (Eakin et al. 2015), including REDD+, where, for example, in the Surui Forest Carbon Project in Brazil (which is a case study analyzed below), Indigenous communities are participating in providing continuous monitoring of illegal logging using mobile devices (Birch 2011; Brunette 2012). Thompson (2017) also, for example, highlighted the opportunity for mobile money to be used for REDD+ payments in communities. Others have examined text message early warning systems and radio engagement for adaptation processes and in forestry (Mukama et al. 2011).

Yet there are still gaps in the literature on the role of mobile devices in contributing to understandings of climate change projects from a transparency point of view, in particular, around how multilevel institutional reform may enable participation and institutional responsiveness (Lyster 2010). As Baudoin et al. (2016, 172) note, community-centric environmental and development monitoring can “contribute to empowering communities to make decisions to ensure their safety and protection in the context of a changing climate.” In areas of the world where there is a surge in mobile device growth and open source data collection, like in eastern Africa, communities can be involved in monitoring prior to institutional warning dissemination and actively take part in environmental governance. For example, the Climate Change Adaptation and ICT (CHAI) project uses mobile and wireless technology to strengthen the capacity of individuals, communities, and institutions in Uganda to adapt to the impacts of climate change (Gebru 2016).

Governing Transparency in REDD+: Information Systems and Mobile Devices

REDD+ has become one of the most prominent forms of multilevel carbon mitigation efforts. Deforestation and degradation of forest land are estimated to account for between 10 and 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and forests act as import carbon sinks (Goetz et al. 2015). There are currently more than three hundred REDD+ initiatives taking place in sixty-four countries (Simonet et al. 2015), and by 2015, REDD+ programs had already attracted an estimated US$ 10 billion in international investment (Norman and Nakhooda 2015).

Stakeholder inclusion, perceptions of equity, transparency, and institutional responsiveness are key, and still unresolved, issues for REDD+ implementation. The effectiveness and efficiency of REDD+ have been highlighted in extensive debates, with the centralized management and control of data and technology-based solutions such as powerful satellite systems (Lynch et al. 2013) indicated as key to achieving such aims. In these debates, measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) and free and prior informed consent (FPIC) have emerged as two critical informational governance structures for substantive and normative transparency, respectively (Pasgaard et al. 2016).

As the FAO outlines, “to ensure safeguards are implemented, countries participating in the REDD+ process should develop a Safeguards Information System (SIS) to explain how these are being addressed and respected in REDD+ activities.” As a prerequisite for obtaining results-based payments, countries should periodically submit to the UNFCCC a summary of information outlining their work with respect to the safeguards (UNFCCC Decision 12/CP.17 and UNFCCC Decision 12/CP.19) (Food and Agriculture Organization 2019). The Cancun Agreement lays out the requirements for MRV of emissions avoided FPIC in relation to REDD+. Article 71 necessitates MRV through “a robust and transparent national forest monitoring system for the monitoring and reporting of the activities.” While this MRV is about the effectiveness of emissions reductions, it is also implicitly about the efficiency of these reductions; efficiency encompasses the whole process of developing national forest reference emissions levels and indeed underpins the use of ICT in these processes. Article 72 emphasizes the importance of safeguards (like FPIC) to ensure “the full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, inter alia Indigenous peoples and local communities” (UNFCCC 2011, 13XX). UN-REDD (2015) notes that consensus exists around a few fundamental SIS design characteristics: transparency, comprehensiveness, flexibility to allow improvements over time, and building on existing systems as appropriate. This is reflected in UNFCCC guidance provided in the Durban decision (Decision 2/CP.17, paras. 63 and 64; UNFCCC 2012).

Together the Cancun Agreement and the Warsaw Framework for REDD Plus set out the safeguards for REDD+, but Ahrin (2014) emphasizes that these safeguards are multilayered and may be classified along a spectrum of preventative, mitigative, promotive, and transformative. Operationalizing safeguards at national and subnational levels has posed significant challenges in addressing social and environmental criteria that go beyond carbon calculations (Duchelle and Jagger 2014; McDermott et al. 2012).

Given the principles of effectiveness, efficiency, and equity (the 3 Es) that govern REDD+ and underpin the complex accountability, legitimacy, and transparency dimensions required under the UNFCCC, information flow in REDD+ is especially important. Participants in carbon markets use information to measure emissions and account for transactions of carbon credits and emissions reductions (Mackenzie 2009). Both substantive calculations of avoided emissions based on reference baselines and forest carbon stock monitoring (MRV) and normative information that ensures fair participation in the process (FPIC) are guided by information flows and transparency.

MRV sits within the requirements for substantive transparency that determine the emissions reduction effectiveness and efficiency of REDD+ programs. Community-based monitoring (CBM) for REDD+ has also gained traction as a way of engaging local forest users and reducing costs of forest monitoring (Angelsen et al. 2009; Bellfield et al. 2015; Fry 2011). As such, mobile devices have been considered as a lower-cost opportunity for monitoring forest cover while encouraging community engagement (Mbile et al. 2015; Pratihast et al. 2012). Similarly, the process of FPIC follows approaches in other extractive industries working in Indigenous-owned lands to improve input legitimacy (Cadman et al. 2016). While FPIC is often well designed on paper, its implementation is frequently problematic and tends to focus on community participation and information sharing rather than explicitly on enabling empowerment within communities (Mustalahti and Rakotonarivo 2014). In Vietnam, research found that FPIC processes provided better information to local communities, but to move REDD+ forward, the creation of political spaces to hand over decision-making power to communities was needed (Pham et al. 2015).

Taken together, MRV and FPIC constitute mechanisms that sit underneath global environmental governance norms of SIS, specified for REDD+ in the Cancun Agreement: MRV so that the activity data must be transparent and freely available, and FPIC so that communities have sound grievance mechanisms and opportunities for effective participation (UNFCCC 2011). As such, input and output legitimacy relate directly as drivers of substantive and normative transparency (see Figure 2). The three core elements underpinning safeguards are policy and regulations, institutional arrangements, and information systems and sources. Therefore keeping safeguards as an umbrella should ensure substantive, but also normative, transparency.

Figure 2 

Heuristic diagram highlighting the connection of institutional change and governing through information as it relates to output legitimacy and substantive transparency, and input legitimacy and normative transparency in carbon finance mechanisms such as REDD+.

Figure 2 

Heuristic diagram highlighting the connection of institutional change and governing through information as it relates to output legitimacy and substantive transparency, and input legitimacy and normative transparency in carbon finance mechanisms such as REDD+.

Figure 2 shows how input and output legitimacy drive normative and substantive transparency, respectively. Although both input and output legitimacy are central components of carbon-financed activities, it is still unclear whether the tensions between input and output legitimacy lead to intractable trade-offs between environmental outcomes and social participation (Lövbrand et al. 2009). For example, Lederer (2011) notes that the CDM has seemingly high levels of output legitimacy, but limited input legitimacy, exemplified by the CDM’s outcomes of structurally and geographically uneven development (Newell and Bumpus 2012). Importantly, input legitimacy requirements for REDD+ are also likely to be greater than the CDM.

Corbera and Schroeder (2011) claim that principles of “good governance” are not sufficient to ensure legitimacy and effectiveness of REDD+, but adaptive governance is needed to ensure ongoing social learning and generation of knowledge to tackle deforestation and degradation of global forests. As such, we use “adaptive governance” in Figure 3 to highlight this key linking principle between input and output legitimacy and the importance of efficiency, effectiveness, and equity to both forms of legitimacy.

Figure 3 

Schematic highlighting improvement in input and output legitimacy through FPIC and MRV within safeguard information systems specified in the UNFCCC Cancun Agreement as drivers of transparency.

Figure 3 

Schematic highlighting improvement in input and output legitimacy through FPIC and MRV within safeguard information systems specified in the UNFCCC Cancun Agreement as drivers of transparency.

Results and Discussion: Case Examples of Mobile Device Use in REDD+

The Role of Information and ICT Use in REDD+

Given the limited information on the use of mobile devices in REDD+, we are not seeking to provide a comprehensive review, but to showcase seven initiatives available at the time of writing as illustrative examples to develop a model and spark further research. The data are drawn from academic and gray literature and should be considered exploratory in nature and as aiming to contribute to answering the research questions rather than systematically answering them. Rather than producing generalizable findings, we have purposefully selected case studies to produce some initial and tentative analysis of how mobile devices are being used in different contexts and how this may link to transparency outcomes. The data are, however, useful in elucidating the tendencies for input and output legitimacy associated with technology used for REDD+ governance. The cases were selected if they contained (1) information on types of technology uses, community involvement, and governance and (2) details on how they approach at least one of the transparency forms (substantive or normative). Data were then categorized under normative/substantive transparency, and their corresponding safeguard principles were highlighted.

Legitimacy, Transparency, and Technology

The cases described in Table 1 show that there is potential for mobile device technology to contribute to input and output legitimacy, within the FPIC and MRV processes; however, although data are limited, there is a bias toward substantive rather than normative transparency within the mechanism. The data highlight that the technology may contribute to mechanisms to measure and report, and to set standards for local engagement, and help monitor and verify these structures using simple text message systems (e.g., Frontline SMS) or open source data platforms (e.g., Google ODK1). Substantive criteria for environmental protection and governance in the REDD+ MRV case studies reveal that emissions calculations are still a primary focus of the use of mobile devices. This outcome is similar to other carbon finance mechanisms, given the priority in the market for carbon credits for compliance rather than sustainable development (Bumpus and Cole 2010).

Table 1 
Examples of Substantive and Normative Transparency Processes Within REDD+ Projects
No.Case study exampleUse of mobile devices in carbon REDD+ projectsIllustrative Opportunities for Technology Facilitating Substantive and Normative Transparency within the Case StudiesElements of the Cancun Safeguards informed by these processes
SubstantiveNormative
North Rupununi, Guyana (Global Canopy Programme 2014CBM Community Measurement, Reporting and Verification (CMRV) Android smartphones Open Data Kit 

  • • 

    Approach offers a more cost-effective bottom-up approach to provide the data needed

  • • 

    CMRV approach used to understand local deforestation drivers and measuring carbon stocks

  • • 

    Data collection forms and protocols codesigned in partnership with community monitors

 

  • • 

    ICTs as viable pathway for scaling the use and adoption of Indigenous knowledge and local skills for REDD+ programs

  • • 

    Technological skills and knowledge in the community improved for CBM

  • • 

    Assumed in this project that communities should benefit from REDD+ in return for managing their forests sustainably

  • • 

    CMRV for providing information on safeguards through social and environmental assessments

 

  • • 

    Effective and accessible data collection; local knowledge and participation

 
  
Oddar Meanchey Community Forestry REDD+ Site, Cambodia (Brewster et al. 2012CBM Frontline SMS monitoring system 

  • • 

    Hand-held devices or phones to conduct data collection in real time; cost-effectively send regular and timely reports

  • • 

    Improve efficiency by overcoming some of the difficulties and inefficiencies that exist with the current MRV system

  • • 

    Improved data verification. Platform also provides options to include bar codes attached to trees, which enable automatic tree recognition on repeat measurements

 

  • • 

    Importance of sharing the information generated through the Frontline SMS system back with the communities participating through monthly reports that summarize the data

  • • 

    Improve adaptive planning

  • • 

    Increased responsiveness

  • • 

    Providing that community actions have decreased deforestation and generated carbon credits; a range of other Frontline SMS forms will soon be distributed for community use to capture different information

 

  • • 

    Ensuring high-quality on-the-ground data efficiency, transparency and access to information; effective feedback systems

 
  
Tra Bui commune, Quang Nam province, Central Vietnam (Pratihast et al. 2012CBM National REDD+ MRV Mobile phones Mobile-based data collection system (nonspecific) 

  • • 

    Local communities can play an essential role in acquiring forest inventory data

  • • 

    Mobiles increase the local participation in data collection processes and hence, contribute to the effective implementation of CBM

  • • 

    The proposed system was able to facilitate data acquiring, storing, transmitting, and displaying by local people

 

  • • 

    Local communities are more efficient and accurate than remote sensing in monitor small-scale degradation.

 

  • • 

    Local community’s participation and contribution of knowledge on local forest conditions

 
  
Surui Forest Carbon Project, Brazil Surui Forest Carbon Project (Birch 2011; Brunette 2012Community monitoring Open Data Kit, Cybertracker, low cost smartphones/android devices 

  • • 

    Using ODK, Collecting forest data for the carbon market. For example, the community takes pictures of what’s happening on the ground for proof of the illegal logging that is taking place on their territory

  • • 

    Certified by Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)

  • • 

    Implementation of the surveillance system that will allow continuous monitoring of the territory to halt entry of potential squatters

  • • 

    Application of “information checkpoints”

  • • 

    Local community takes pictures of what is happening on the ground for proof of the illegal logging taking place

 

  • • 

    Process of free, prior, and informed consent in the communities, informing the community (Paiter-Suruí) of planned activities and potential impacts and consulting with them about their concerns, suggestions, and needs

  • • 

    Surveys plus workshops with direct participation of the Surui

  • • 

    Define the expected impacts of the Project on the Surui communities, as well as the selection of indicators and building a plan to monitor these indicators is based on the “Manual for Social Impact Assessment of Land-based Carbon Projects”

  • • 

    Certified by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Gold Standard

  • • 

    Using ODK and Google Earth to visualize the carbon reserves of the forest they live in and used this as part of 50-year sustainability plan. Aims to use the REDD+ market to assert control over their ancestral land

  • • 

    First Indigenous-led project in the world to be validated

 

  • • 

    Recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples, including the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)

  • • 

    Local community’s participation, contribution of knowledge on local forest conditions

  • • 

    Ensuring transparency and access to information, and effectiveness and efficiency of systems oversight and accountability

 
  
Bolsa Floresta, Amzaonas, Brazil; Dja Biosphere REDD+ Project, Cameroon; Project Potico, West Kalimantan, Indonesia (Sabogal 2015Android phones Open source technology (nonspecific) 

  • • 

    ICTs seen to provide information for local management as well as for national MRV Systems in a cost-effective way

  • • 

    Evidence that community forest monitoring provides a reliable, cost-effective, culturally relevant and sustainable approach to data gathering for local monitoring as well as for REDD+

  • • 

    Technically shows how ubiquity of smartphones, complete “ground-to-cloud” data collection system can enable easier sharing and eliminate challenges and limitations of collecting data using paper forms

  • • 

    Remote sensing analysis is conducted across all the PAs, and ground-level activities to validate deforestation and detect land use change are currently conducted

  • • 

    Technicians are trained in the fundamental tools and techniques of forest mapping and monitoring and carbon stock estimation

 

  • • 

    Cadre of Indigenous technical trainers, however mostly trained in MRV

  • • 

    Communities will need to play a key role in the development, testing and application of CFM

  • • 

    Technicians will act as multipliers: training within their communities with the ultimate goal of developing and supporting Indigenous-owned and -operated REDD projects

  • • 

    Participatory monitoring demonstrates the potential to link local monitoring of a range of indicators (such as carbon, biodiversity, social welfare and governance) with national and subnational REDD+ measurement, reporting and verification

  • • 

    Data provides local perspective on the state of Indigenous-titled community forests, as well informing community-based forest management

 

  • • 

    Local knowledge and participation

  • • 

    Incentivizing protection and conservation of forest services and other environmental benefits

  • • 

    Ensuring transparency and access to information, and effectiveness and efficiency of systems

 
  
Gombe-Masito-Ugalla Ecosystem Project & Masito-Ugalla REDD Preparedness Project, Tanzania; Bukoma-Budongo Corridor REDD Preparedness Project, Uganda (Kweka 2014; Pintea 2012Android smartphones, tablets Open Data Kit 

  • • 

    Satellite imagery could be ground-truthed by the village Forest Monitors equipped with ODK and Android smartphones/tablets as part of an early detection system of deforestation

  • • 

    Open Data Kit (ODK)—community-based monitoring using VCS and CCBA-approved ODK tools runing on Google Android smartphones and tablets

 

  • • 

    Unknown

 
Ensuring high-quality on-the-ground data efficiency Local knowledge and participation 
  
Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve Acre, Brazil (Forest Compass 2017Offline local data management software (Smap) used to collect georeferenced data (e.g., text, audio, and photographs) 

  • • 

    Generating information on local perceptions of priority determinants of forest cover change and identifying and categorizing forest disturbance types to validate remote sensing images, as well as measuring above ground carbon stocks in community forest lands

  • • 

    Participatory design and bottom-up implementation, both local and government stakeholders collaborated to identify different monitoring themes and indicators

  • • 

    Policy uncertainties at the national level, in particular on the REDD+ “opt-in” mechanism for Amerindian communities, undermined efforts to embed a community-based forest monitoring model within a wider policy framework

  • • 

    Without a defined REDD+ structure, communities are unlikely to persevere with monitoring and its related costs, except perhaps for some indicators directly tied to local priorities (such as resource use and community well-being

 

  • • 

    Co-production of design and indicators, including carbon biomass and drivers of deforestation, and community natural resource use and well-being

  • • 

    Participating communities benefited from their findings in terms of their increased understanding of pressures on local forest resources and livelihoods, their ability to make informed decisions on land use practices, and their capacity to influence and engage in the development of REDD+ programs in their territories

 
Local community’s participation, contribution of knowledge on local forest conditions Contributing to build effective national forest governance structures Community Empowerment 
No.Case study exampleUse of mobile devices in carbon REDD+ projectsIllustrative Opportunities for Technology Facilitating Substantive and Normative Transparency within the Case StudiesElements of the Cancun Safeguards informed by these processes
SubstantiveNormative
North Rupununi, Guyana (Global Canopy Programme 2014CBM Community Measurement, Reporting and Verification (CMRV) Android smartphones Open Data Kit 

  • • 

    Approach offers a more cost-effective bottom-up approach to provide the data needed

  • • 

    CMRV approach used to understand local deforestation drivers and measuring carbon stocks

  • • 

    Data collection forms and protocols codesigned in partnership with community monitors

 

  • • 

    ICTs as viable pathway for scaling the use and adoption of Indigenous knowledge and local skills for REDD+ programs

  • • 

    Technological skills and knowledge in the community improved for CBM

  • • 

    Assumed in this project that communities should benefit from REDD+ in return for managing their forests sustainably

  • • 

    CMRV for providing information on safeguards through social and environmental assessments

 

  • • 

    Effective and accessible data collection; local knowledge and participation

 
  
Oddar Meanchey Community Forestry REDD+ Site, Cambodia (Brewster et al. 2012CBM Frontline SMS monitoring system 

  • • 

    Hand-held devices or phones to conduct data collection in real time; cost-effectively send regular and timely reports

  • • 

    Improve efficiency by overcoming some of the difficulties and inefficiencies that exist with the current MRV system

  • • 

    Improved data verification. Platform also provides options to include bar codes attached to trees, which enable automatic tree recognition on repeat measurements

 

  • • 

    Importance of sharing the information generated through the Frontline SMS system back with the communities participating through monthly reports that summarize the data

  • • 

    Improve adaptive planning

  • • 

    Increased responsiveness

  • • 

    Providing that community actions have decreased deforestation and generated carbon credits; a range of other Frontline SMS forms will soon be distributed for community use to capture different information

 

  • • 

    Ensuring high-quality on-the-ground data efficiency, transparency and access to information; effective feedback systems

 
  
Tra Bui commune, Quang Nam province, Central Vietnam (Pratihast et al. 2012CBM National REDD+ MRV Mobile phones Mobile-based data collection system (nonspecific) 

  • • 

    Local communities can play an essential role in acquiring forest inventory data

  • • 

    Mobiles increase the local participation in data collection processes and hence, contribute to the effective implementation of CBM

  • • 

    The proposed system was able to facilitate data acquiring, storing, transmitting, and displaying by local people

 

  • • 

    Local communities are more efficient and accurate than remote sensing in monitor small-scale degradation.

 

  • • 

    Local community’s participation and contribution of knowledge on local forest conditions

 
  
Surui Forest Carbon Project, Brazil Surui Forest Carbon Project (Birch 2011; Brunette 2012Community monitoring Open Data Kit, Cybertracker, low cost smartphones/android devices 

  • • 

    Using ODK, Collecting forest data for the carbon market. For example, the community takes pictures of what’s happening on the ground for proof of the illegal logging that is taking place on their territory

  • • 

    Certified by Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)

  • • 

    Implementation of the surveillance system that will allow continuous monitoring of the territory to halt entry of potential squatters

  • • 

    Application of “information checkpoints”

  • • 

    Local community takes pictures of what is happening on the ground for proof of the illegal logging taking place

 

  • • 

    Process of free, prior, and informed consent in the communities, informing the community (Paiter-Suruí) of planned activities and potential impacts and consulting with them about their concerns, suggestions, and needs

  • • 

    Surveys plus workshops with direct participation of the Surui

  • • 

    Define the expected impacts of the Project on the Surui communities, as well as the selection of indicators and building a plan to monitor these indicators is based on the “Manual for Social Impact Assessment of Land-based Carbon Projects”

  • • 

    Certified by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Gold Standard

  • • 

    Using ODK and Google Earth to visualize the carbon reserves of the forest they live in and used this as part of 50-year sustainability plan. Aims to use the REDD+ market to assert control over their ancestral land

  • • 

    First Indigenous-led project in the world to be validated

 

  • • 

    Recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples, including the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)

  • • 

    Local community’s participation, contribution of knowledge on local forest conditions

  • • 

    Ensuring transparency and access to information, and effectiveness and efficiency of systems oversight and accountability

 
  
Bolsa Floresta, Amzaonas, Brazil; Dja Biosphere REDD+ Project, Cameroon; Project Potico, West Kalimantan, Indonesia (Sabogal 2015Android phones Open source technology (nonspecific) 

  • • 

    ICTs seen to provide information for local management as well as for national MRV Systems in a cost-effective way

  • • 

    Evidence that community forest monitoring provides a reliable, cost-effective, culturally relevant and sustainable approach to data gathering for local monitoring as well as for REDD+

  • • 

    Technically shows how ubiquity of smartphones, complete “ground-to-cloud” data collection system can enable easier sharing and eliminate challenges and limitations of collecting data using paper forms

  • • 

    Remote sensing analysis is conducted across all the PAs, and ground-level activities to validate deforestation and detect land use change are currently conducted

  • • 

    Technicians are trained in the fundamental tools and techniques of forest mapping and monitoring and carbon stock estimation

 

  • • 

    Cadre of Indigenous technical trainers, however mostly trained in MRV

  • • 

    Communities will need to play a key role in the development, testing and application of CFM

  • • 

    Technicians will act as multipliers: training within their communities with the ultimate goal of developing and supporting Indigenous-owned and -operated REDD projects

  • • 

    Participatory monitoring demonstrates the potential to link local monitoring of a range of indicators (such as carbon, biodiversity, social welfare and governance) with national and subnational REDD+ measurement, reporting and verification

  • • 

    Data provides local perspective on the state of Indigenous-titled community forests, as well informing community-based forest management

 

  • • 

    Local knowledge and participation

  • • 

    Incentivizing protection and conservation of forest services and other environmental benefits

  • • 

    Ensuring transparency and access to information, and effectiveness and efficiency of systems

 
  
Gombe-Masito-Ugalla Ecosystem Project & Masito-Ugalla REDD Preparedness Project, Tanzania; Bukoma-Budongo Corridor REDD Preparedness Project, Uganda (Kweka 2014; Pintea 2012Android smartphones, tablets Open Data Kit 

  • • 

    Satellite imagery could be ground-truthed by the village Forest Monitors equipped with ODK and Android smartphones/tablets as part of an early detection system of deforestation

  • • 

    Open Data Kit (ODK)—community-based monitoring using VCS and CCBA-approved ODK tools runing on Google Android smartphones and tablets

 

  • • 

    Unknown

 
Ensuring high-quality on-the-ground data efficiency Local knowledge and participation 
  
Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve Acre, Brazil (Forest Compass 2017Offline local data management software (Smap) used to collect georeferenced data (e.g., text, audio, and photographs) 

  • • 

    Generating information on local perceptions of priority determinants of forest cover change and identifying and categorizing forest disturbance types to validate remote sensing images, as well as measuring above ground carbon stocks in community forest lands

  • • 

    Participatory design and bottom-up implementation, both local and government stakeholders collaborated to identify different monitoring themes and indicators

  • • 

    Policy uncertainties at the national level, in particular on the REDD+ “opt-in” mechanism for Amerindian communities, undermined efforts to embed a community-based forest monitoring model within a wider policy framework

  • • 

    Without a defined REDD+ structure, communities are unlikely to persevere with monitoring and its related costs, except perhaps for some indicators directly tied to local priorities (such as resource use and community well-being

 

  • • 

    Co-production of design and indicators, including carbon biomass and drivers of deforestation, and community natural resource use and well-being

  • • 

    Participating communities benefited from their findings in terms of their increased understanding of pressures on local forest resources and livelihoods, their ability to make informed decisions on land use practices, and their capacity to influence and engage in the development of REDD+ programs in their territories

 
Local community’s participation, contribution of knowledge on local forest conditions Contributing to build effective national forest governance structures Community Empowerment 

For example, in the Central Vietnam case study (Pratihast et al. 2012), mobiles increased local participation in data collection, but this was framed in terms of effective and efficient project implementation, which overshadows the normative need to engage with communities and ensure FPIC. Similarly, the available information on the case studies in Tanzania and Uganda (Kweka 2014; Pintea 2012) focused on how Open Data Kit (ODK) tools and Android technology could be used by communities for the early detection of deforestation. However, there was no consideration of how these tools may also be used to report back to communities or to engage in participatory processes for normative transparency.

The REDD+ studies highlighted in Table 1, however, do not show more broadly that technology significantly facilitates normative transparency around responses on distributive justice and normative REDD+. The data highlight feedback opportunities as a possibility, for example, in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, where codesign options through mobile devices have been explored. Using the technology to share information on safeguards with communities in monthly reports seems to be as far as the projects have moved in this direction. Leveraging mobile technology effectively and conscientiously in REDD+ will, therefore, require models and mechanisms that enable users’ engagement in monitoring so that participants do not only gather and analyze but also share local knowledge and request a response or feedback (Burke et al. 2006).

As described in Table 2, mobile technology could enable key areas of the Cancun safeguards processes, including process engagement, codefining impacts, data generation, data use, and longer-term maintenance and governance.

Table 2 
Key Areas Where Mobile ICTs Intersect with REDD+ Stage of Project, Legitimacy, and Key Themes in REDD+ Governance
Input LegitimacyOutput LegitimacyRelevant REDD+ Process; 3E PrincipleElements of the Cancun Safeguards for REDD+ Informed by These Processes
Rights and participation: Improved participation and consultation: mobiles can increase local participation and consultation for FPIC Institutional openness: some evidence through engagement and codeveloped protocols FPIC Equity Knowledge and rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities Full and effective local community participation 
  
Codeveloping protocols: collection forms and protocols designed with local people   MRV Equity, Effectiveness Respect for the knowledge of members of local communities 
  
Community-based management: improved participation, knowledge, and skills; participation in monitoring and evaluation through increased information provision; automated measurement through camera phone and tree growth Cost-effective: ICTs as a cheap way to improve reporting processes enabling substantive transparency MRV Equity, Effectiveness, Efficiency Full and effective local community participation 
  
Technology to facilitate data provision: frontline SMS shown to be able to generate data; ubiquity of smart phones is a benefit Improve efficiency: local data collection to support national processes MRV Effectiveness, Efficiency Transparency and access to information 
  
Ground-truthing of data: ODK and Google Earth enabling “ground-to-cloud” reporting and verification of satellite forest data Coproducing data for government outcomes: local data used to support national inventories under climate regime MRV Effectiveness, Efficiency Effectiveness and efficiency of development of indicators for SIS 
Input LegitimacyOutput LegitimacyRelevant REDD+ Process; 3E PrincipleElements of the Cancun Safeguards for REDD+ Informed by These Processes
Rights and participation: Improved participation and consultation: mobiles can increase local participation and consultation for FPIC Institutional openness: some evidence through engagement and codeveloped protocols FPIC Equity Knowledge and rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities Full and effective local community participation 
  
Codeveloping protocols: collection forms and protocols designed with local people   MRV Equity, Effectiveness Respect for the knowledge of members of local communities 
  
Community-based management: improved participation, knowledge, and skills; participation in monitoring and evaluation through increased information provision; automated measurement through camera phone and tree growth Cost-effective: ICTs as a cheap way to improve reporting processes enabling substantive transparency MRV Equity, Effectiveness, Efficiency Full and effective local community participation 
  
Technology to facilitate data provision: frontline SMS shown to be able to generate data; ubiquity of smart phones is a benefit Improve efficiency: local data collection to support national processes MRV Effectiveness, Efficiency Transparency and access to information 
  
Ground-truthing of data: ODK and Google Earth enabling “ground-to-cloud” reporting and verification of satellite forest data Coproducing data for government outcomes: local data used to support national inventories under climate regime MRV Effectiveness, Efficiency Effectiveness and efficiency of development of indicators for SIS 

Substantive and normative transparency mechanisms aim to improve the ability to hear unheard voices in climate finance mechanisms and are increasingly seen by policy makers as critical for long-term success in land use–based carbon market participation (Jackson et al. 2017). Mobile devices, therefore, may influence emerging FPIC processes. For example, UN-REDD uses a rights-based approach, while the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility implements FPIC based on the World Bank’s operational policy on Indigenous Peoples; the “consent” nature of this process enables parties to hold each other accountable toward the agreed outcomes. For example, community members can be involved substantively at all stages of designing and carrying out monitoring of consent agreements, including performance standards. This is evident in the Surui Forest Carbon Project in Brazil, where FPIC processes establish a basis for engagement in project decision-making (Table 2).

It can be difficult to design REDD+ consultation processes or monitoring systems that are responsive to feedback or findings (Williams and De Koning 2016) and substantive, governance-by-disclosure measures (Gupta 2008). However, as the study on the project in Rupununi in Guyana emphasizes, ICTs provide a pathway to increase the use and adoption of Indigenous knowledge and local skills for REDD+ projects, which in turn increases opportunities for empowerment.

Discussion and Conclusion

This analysis supports others, such as Gupta and Mason’s (2016, 88), who highlight how the trumping of one rationale over the other is dependent on disagreements about the “diverse goals of disclosure, which reflect, in turn, divergent views of whose actions should be made transparent, by whom, and to what end.” Input and output legitimacy are also sites for power—where different voices and assumptions may be foregrounded or marginalized.

Although the use of mobile devices in REDD+ contributes to improving data provision for input and output legitimacy, the power dynamics at play and the extent to which this feeds through to effective transparency are unknown. The use of technology in the case studies provided highlights the opening up of opportunities for technology to include REDD+ in the context of other projects that use mobile phones and data platforms (e.g., Ushahidi), and as such may be seen to improve transparency. This supports others who highlight the role that ICTs can play in individual and collective empowerment and assist in broader transparency, such as anticorruption and institutional accountability. For example, Gigler and Bailur (2014, 12) note studies on political participation using mobile device text messages in Uganda which conclude that “a greater share of marginalized populations use this channel [through mobile devices] compared to existing political communication channels.”

However, the power dynamics and structural barriers within broader governance structures may limit the extent to which this outcome can be achieved. Furthermore, the dominance of substantive approaches to legitimacy may overshadow normative issues, despite the importance of normative elements around equity and FPIC for achieving effectiveness and efficiency under MRV. The success of ICT in such mechanisms is dependent on pursuing both normative and substantive improvements in transparency at multiple levels (Graham et al. 2014).

Building on the exploratory data and this narrative, we can characterize ICTs in REDD+ within an informational governance context that highlights how mobile devices, and the platforms they are using, contribute to improving output and input legitimacy through information provision. Figure 4 highlights how input and output legitimacy, as drivers of normative and substantive transparency, respectively, feed into institutional connectivity through procedural requirements between REDD+ institutions and the market and local participants (project developers, communities, etc.). These processes, in turn, also embody a push outward to decentralized participation for both output and input legitimacy.

Figure 4 

Informational governance of REDD+ transparency. Information flows, governance, and legitimacy in REDD+ governance (author adaptation after Soma et al. 2016; Vatn and Vedeld 2013). Examples of potential opportunities for ICTs to improve input and output legitimacy in REDD+, and how institutional change is connected to processes of governing through information at multiple levels, and through varying forms of centralized versus decentralized processes of information flows through the system.

Figure 4 

Informational governance of REDD+ transparency. Information flows, governance, and legitimacy in REDD+ governance (author adaptation after Soma et al. 2016; Vatn and Vedeld 2013). Examples of potential opportunities for ICTs to improve input and output legitimacy in REDD+, and how institutional change is connected to processes of governing through information at multiple levels, and through varying forms of centralized versus decentralized processes of information flows through the system.

We can see how global processes decided in the REDD+ SIS provisions shape, and in turn are shaped by, procedural requirements for transparency. In doing so, we can consider that, following Soma et al. (2016), governing through information and institutional change may occur as a result of information flows. These link local and global processes, which are constructed through the information flow procedural requirements and engage both centralized institutional information flows and more decentralized information flows through the use of mobile devices as ICTs.

Our construct, and the albeit limited data from the case studies, points to the fact that information from decentralized sources, like community groups, and centralized sources such as standard monitoring of carbon stocks are interacting in the governance of REDD+. Despite being nascent in the climate-development space, such multinodal and decentralized information systems may enable positive institutional change to be more responsive to multiple voices. Questions still exist, however, on whether these flows and forms of information are simply changing the degree of interaction (i.e., more information, more connected people) or influencing the structures (new channels, actual changes in local benefits) toward more transformational outcomes (Avgerou 2010).

Improved Governance Opportunities

Accountability of finance, local impact effectiveness, and the ability to meaningfully participate in global climate mechanisms are central pillars to securing long-term provision and improved socioeconomic and environmental change. This is reflected in the increasing focus on partnerships, and decentralized governance systems(cf. Haas 2004; Zelli and van Asselt 2013). Linking substantive and normative procedural transparency requirements with input and output legitimacy—and how mobile devices may enable increased information flow from marginalized communities in REDD+ processes—contributes directly to better understanding how governing through information with participants may be linked with institutional change (see Figure 4).

We see this as an opportunity for further investigation to harness the power of existing technology platforms and understand how they may be better used for emancipatory opportunities in environmental politics that link local to global environmental politics processes (cf. Newell and Bumpus 2012). This is especially important for uncovering the challenges of information asymmetry, for example, between global-level decision makers and local-level communities, power dynamics between actors, and outcomes that attend to both substantive environmental benefits and normative equitable development outcomes.

Within the REDD+ sphere, high-quality on-the-ground and real-time data are key to enabling a stronger understanding of local contexts. For example, national forest monitoring systems should provide transparent, consistent data and information that are suitable for measuring, reporting, and verifying while taking into account national capabilities and capacities. ICTs could assist countries to achieve this via a combination of remote sensing and mobile devices for ground-based forest carbon inventory approaches that must be implemented in strong consideration of normative transparency issues. Many countries have existing infrastructure and networks for mobile devices, which REDD+ proponents could build on and reach further areas without other communication possibilities. ICTs/mobile devices could facilitate freer flows of information among different groups of stakeholders, including the government, civil society, the private sector, and community members. These offer opportunities for promoting transparency, accountability, and empowerment through genuine participation given the growing body of evidence for using mobile devices in detecting corruption. For example, in Zimbabwe and China, citizens report bribes and send information (via SMS) on corruption cases to build databases (Hellström 2010). ICTs themselves have shown to be possible drivers for such reforms, for example, in stronger social bonds to fight corruption (Grönlund 2010). However, realizing the full potential of ICTs for enhancing transparency, accountability, and thus institutional change depends on largely political, social, and economic barriers, beyond some of the current infrastructural challenges that are being overcome. It is therefore important for REDD+ countries to embark on real governance reforms that will serve as a strong foundation for these ICT interventions to be successful.

This article aimed to investigate how substantive and normative transparency are evolving in REDD+ with respect to the governance of information and how mobile devices are becoming part of these structures. We posited that mobile technology can contribute to normative and substantive transparency and that the REDD+ SIS provide a framework within which to situate mobile device technologies. Although data are nascent, and further work is needed, our theoretical and conceptual construct provides a way to consider how mobile devices can enable improved local and institutional engagement through the 3 Es of REDD+ and contribute more directly to input and output legitimacy. Currently, designing REDD+ processes that are responsive to stakeholder needs is challenging; we see an opportunity for mobile technology to assist in this process when implemented in conjunction with improved institutional governance at multiple levels.

Critical questions still remain, however, on how such enhanced transparency will enable or disable legitimacy in projects and decision-making in REDD+ (Bauhr and Nasiritousi 2012). The extent to which actors in REDD+ are able to harness the power of broader information provision and improve decision-making will be a critical factor in enabling better environmental and social outcomes from REDD+ projects. Critical here is also the danger of further “technicalization” of REDD+ processes that emphasize data collection (i.e., through MRV; Gupta and Mason 2014, 193) rather than harnessing technology to enable greater participation in the total governance of REDD+ implementation. Conversely, the ubiquitous familiarity of mobile phones could mean that they enable the technicalization of REDD+ to become more accessible to community groups involved. The results from the analysis seem to show this possibility.

Currently, though, the main focus of the technology is still on data gathering and flows of information “up” levels in order to ensure that data on carbon stocks are accurate. This focus on substantive transparency must be coupled with a recognition of the importance of normative transparency and the intersections between the two. It is important for stakeholders to ensure that local environmental changes are noted through data gathering, but we see opportunity, and necessity, for mobile devices to be used more expansively to enable the move from “improved participation” to “enabled empowerment.” This includes within-project (co-)design and implementation and a broader sharing of information on impact, benefit sharing, and feedback on challenges associated with REDD+ implementation. Mobile devices and ICTs could be worked in to assist in strengthening participatory governance, especially in the context of normative transparency through FPIC (Kuriyan et al. 2011).

The information itself has agency, and as such, informational governance should be an important concept for global environmental politics scholars to consider in interrogating the role of technology and information in governing social and global environmental outcomes through multilateral processes like REDD+. The role and impacts of ICTs, therefore, need to be further explored with the aim of enhancing transparency and empowerment and creating effective governance systems that enable improved social and environmental outcomes through climate finance initiatives.

Note

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