Social safeguards don’t always benefit the right people, says new research

Policy instruments, such as social safeguards, that are used to protect the poorest people are not always reaching them, says new research from the ESPA-funded p4ges project, Bangor University and the University of Antananarivo.

The paper, which has been published in the Global Environmental Change journal, finds that processes for identifying and reaching people most in need of safeguards, are vulnerable to elite capture.

Hard-to-reach communities may be missing out on compensation schemes

Social safeguards, adopted by the World Bank and others, are designed to ensure that when environmental projects are undertaken the local communities – particularly those already considered poor and vulnerable – do not lose out. This can mean ensuring people’s lives won’t be adversely affected before funding any such projects or compensating people for any potential negative effects to their livelihoods or homes, brought about as a consequence of these projects.

Part of the process behind implementing social safeguards is to identify those who are most vulnerable to any negative consequences of any project that effects the local environment.

This paper, 'Can REDD+ social safeguards reach the ‘right' people? Lessons from Madagascar', demonstrates that social safeguards applied around a new protected area (and REDD+ pilot project) in Madagascar have not succeeded in identifying and reaching the people affected by the implementation of the protected area.

The paper finds that compensation has been awarded to those who hold positions of authority locally, have better food security and are more accessible to outsiders, while missing out significant numbers who are worse off and are most dependent on the natural resources.

The research identifies three main factors contributing to the failure to identify the correct beneficiaries for these schemes. A lack of geographical information and poor access means information does not always reach the most remote households. Some community members may withhold information from safeguard assessors to avoid government sanctions. And finally, some safeguard assessors rely on non-representative local institutions for information and access.

These findings have important implications for how social safeguards are used in the future. The new agreement for REDD+ reached at the Paris Climate Conference includes commitments to using social safeguards. However there is a risk that safeguards will be prone to failure if those entitled to compensation are not aware of their rights and are not enabled to seek redress when safeguards fail. This research demonstrates that existing safeguard commitments are not always being fulfilled.

The p4ges team have presented these results to the World Bank in Madagascar and other project partners.

Read the full paper in Global Environmental Change.

The findings have also been reported on BBC online.

You can also read a report on the project on the Bank Information Center.

Image credit: M Poudyal