The Governors’ Climate and Forests (GCF) Task Force’s Theory of Change starts from the premise that the key challenges facing efforts to protect forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at scale are political and legal fragmentation across multiple levels of governance, limited incentives and support for political leaders and civil servants to focus on sustainable forest and land use, and lack of institutional capacity. The COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded and amplified these challenges over the last several years.
In the face of these challenges, bottom-up approaches to protecting forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions continue to offer important complements to more traditional top down approaches. The Paris agreement recognizes this, and subnational governments are now widely viewed as critical actors in implementing much of the international climate policy agenda. The challenge is to develop institutional frameworks that can motivate, support, connect, and scale these subnational efforts. The GCF Task Force provides one such framework, supporting 39 states and provinces across 10 countries that together hold more than one-third of the world’s tropical forests.
Given its scale, global reach, and multiple points of connection to other processes, the GCF Task Force offers a unique vehicle for advancing jurisdiction-wide approaches to protecting forests, reducing emissions, and enhancing livelihoods across tropical forest states and provinces. The GCF Task Force operates at both political and technical levels: it seeks to harness and support the political leadership of committed Governors in the fight against climate change and deforestation, while empowering the civil servants and their civil society partners that are so critical in the day-to-day effort to build and maintain successful jurisdictional programs. The GCF Task Force links these efforts with existing and emerging pay-for-performance opportunities, aligns them with national policies and programs, and works with public, private sector and community-level partners, including indigenous and traditional leaders. By strengthening and enhancing the multiple, overlapping networks of actors involved in building state and provincial programs for low-emissions development, the GCF Task Force plays a vital role in the broader international effort to protect forests, reduce emissions, and enhance livelihoods.
“Given its scale, global reach, and multiple points of connection to other processes, the GCF Task Force offers a unique vehicle for advancing jurisdiction-wide approaches to protecting forests, reducing emissions, and enhancing livelihoods across tropical forest states and provinces.”
But there are risks confronting any such effort—risks that have become more acute as states and provinces continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, three sets of interrelated risks threaten to undermine the GCF Task Force agenda: political, financial, and institutional risks.
The key political risk is that the forests and climate agenda will be crowded out by other pressing concerns as Governors decide that they can no longer continue to invest in forest protection and sustainable land use. The key financial risk is that budgets and resources for the forest and climate agenda will be further reduced and/or re-allocated to other concerns. And the key institutional risk is that in the absence of political and financial support, programs will atrophy and dedicated civil servants will leave the government, taking their skills, experience, relationships, and institutional memories with them.
These risks are already manifesting across the GCF Task Force network during the COVID-19 pandemic. Current Governors have struggled to lead during the crisis, often in the face of a profound lack of national leadership and assistance. With elections approaching in several key GCF Task Force countries, some Governors will likely not survive the political fallout and there is no guarantee that whoever comes next will continue to embrace the forest and climate agenda. State and provincial budgets for forest and climate activities have also been significantly reduced as governments have been forced to cut budget and staffing and re-allocate remaining resources to respond to the crisis. Key civil servants are at risk of losing their jobs or leaving the government. And civil society partners that have supported this agenda for years, as well as indigenous and local communities on the frontlines of deforestation, are facing a much less secure future.
In response to these risks, the GCF Task Force seeks to achieve four main outcomes that will keep member states and provinces engaged in approving and implementing policies for sustainable forest and land use and contributing to the impact of reducing deforestation in member jurisdictions.
First, we facilitate political engagement and leadership by Governors and their high-level staff in national, regional, and international processes. We do this by securing opportunities for GCF Task Force Governors and their high-level staff to participate in key meetings and processes and by facilitating their engagement with leaders from other governments, the private sector, civil society, and indigenous and local communities. In addition, we support the alignment of climate and forest strategies across GCF Task Force “clusters” of states, like the Brazilian Amazon, which promotes cohesion and solidarity across GCF Task Force members and allows for better articulation with national processes. And we support newcomers to the GCF Task Force as well as seasoned GCF Task Force “Champions”—Governors and high-level appointees—who demonstrate political leadership by making forests and climate change a prominent part of their agenda. This facilitation also includes an emphasis on the importance of gender equity and increasing the number of women representing GCF Task Force members at this high-level. Doing this as part of a larger global network of like-minded states and provinces reinforces and amplifies this leadership.
Second, we enable secretaries, key civil servants, and their civil society partners to implement the forest and climate agenda within their governments and beyond. We do this by mapping implementation capacity across the GCF Task Force membership, by identifying and assessing the key obstacles to implementation in individual jurisdictions, by creating peer-to-peer learning and exchange opportunities across the GCF Task Force network, by facilitating technical assistance to solve key implementation challenges, and by promoting civil servant commitment to and advocacy for forests and climate within and beyond their jurisdictions. When key civil servants and their civil society partners connect with and learn from each other and their peers within and across states and provinces, they gain knowledge and skills as well as a sense of identity, purpose, and connection that makes them better advocates for forests and climate in government programs and policies at multiple scales. In addition, we support diversifying the selection of GCF Task Force delegates, with an emphasis on the importance of gender equity and increasing the number of women representing the jurisdictions during these exchanges. Motivated and connected civil servants, together with their civil society partners, also provide much of the foundation for successful jurisdictional approaches and ensure continuity across changing administrations, thereby helping to mitigate the risks associated with political turnover.
Third, we support GCF Task Force states and provinces in their efforts to secure finance and investment to implement jurisdictional programs for sustainable forests and land use. We do this by identifying budget gaps and bottlenecks, mapping solutions to specific challenges facing jurisdictions, and providing targeted support to increase financial flows from a variety of potential sources including public and private funding opportunities, domestic finance reform, investment partnerships with supply chain actors, and emerging jurisdictional REDD+ standards and compliance markets. When new and additional sources of finance flow to GCF Task Force states and provinces, it demonstrates to Governors and their constituents the benefits that come from investing in the forest and climate agenda and it provides resources to civil servants and their partners to implement jurisdictional strategies for sustainable forests and land use. When voluntary and compliance markets make REDD+ a part of their program, they provide examples for other existing and emerging markets and further enhance the broader case for REDD+ in national and international processes. When supply chain actors embrace jurisdictional sourcing for high-performing states and provinces, they tackle the leading drivers of deforestation globally and reinforce incentives for jurisdictions to continue investing in sustainable forest and land use. And when domestic budget appropriation processes are reformed, GCF Task Force states and provinces are able to ensure that more funding is channeled to areas of greatest need and that damaging subsidies for deforestation are removed.
Fourth, we facilitate efforts in targeted GCF Task Force jurisdictions and regions to incorporate the rights, principles, and interests of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) into governmental policies for sustainable forests and land-use. We do this by strengthening our Global and Regional IPLC Committees; by establishing priorities and mapping obstacles for Governments seeking to incorporate IPLC rights, principles and interests; by advancing innovative approaches in targeted jurisdictions; and by promoting strategic partnerships and peer-to-peer learning. When we bring government officials and civil servants together with IPLC leaders, we provide a basis for cultivating mutual respect and understanding among historically antagonistic groups. These groups have agreed upon 13 Guiding Principles for partnership and collaboration between subnational governments, Indigenous Peoples and local communities toward inclusive and effective forest governance and protection. These principles When they translate those principles into priority actions, jurisdictional programs for sustainable forest and land use have a better chance of succeeding. When collaborative government-IPLC processes are institutionalized, they provide the foundation for new policies and programs that respond to people’s needs, realities, and ways of seeing the world, and thus have a higher probability of long-term success. When governments and IPLCs work together to implement joint priorities, financial support and technical assistance can more effectively reach frontline communities and contribute to the success of jurisdictional programs.
Importantly, these four outcomes also formed the basis of the Manaus Action Plan for a New Forest Economy, which was endorsed unanimously by all jurisdictions present during the GCF Task Force Annual Meeting in March 2022 in Manaus, Brazil. Implementation of the Manaus Action Plan will encompass each of the outcomes, outputs, and key indicators included in the Results Framework. Taken together, these outcomes provide a foundation to accelerate successful jurisdictional programs to protect forests, reduce emissions, and enhance livelihoods. As these jurisdictional programs advance and receive support, they provide proof of-concept to other jurisdictions and demonstrate the tangible political benefits of investing in forest protection and climate action—all of which serves to reinforce and strengthen the broader global effort to reduce and reverse the loss of tropical forests, protect biodiversity, alleviate poverty, and promote sustainable development.