At very high policy levels, efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) are considered to be innovative and cost-effective ways to make forest more valuable standing than cut. In response to climate change, international funding to support reductions in emissions needs to balance conservation and development. The Government of Vietnam is currently coordinating the design of a comprehensive benefit-distribution system, with the ambition to convert certified net emissions reductions into REDD+ revenue and distribute it to local partners in a transparent, equitable and cost-effective manner. A pilot scheme is underway in Bac Kan province. With forest cover of 56.6% and a poverty rate of 36.6%, Bac Kan is among the most heavily forested and poorest provinces of Vietnam, making it a potential site for pioneering REDD+ schemes in the country. Research questions were how to incorporate international, national and local stakeholders’ investments into any distribution scheme; and how to sustain and manage an efficient, effective and equitable funding scheme for environmental services, including REDD+ revenues. Multiple data collection and analytical methods (including participatory approaches) were used to answer both research questions. Additionally, for the second question, we employed cost-benefit, opportunity cost and economic analyses. Three key concepts formed the research frame for this paper: (1) benefit-distribution systems; (2) reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus conservation (REDD+); and (3) the broader concept of payments or rewards for ecosystem services; as well as lessons learned from existing, similar schemes. This results shows that an appropriate benefit-sharing system for REDD+ revenues can be developed in such a way that meets international regulations as well as national and sub-national circumstances, particularly for the environmental services’ providers who directly protect forests. Vietnam's payments for forest environmental services’ and integrated conservation schemes (where conservation and rural development are integrated) serve as a base for the development of a REDD+ benefit-distribution system. We discuss ways of bundling such schemes with REDD+ ‘service’ payments and income streams from forestry and agroforestry ‘goods’ to provide short-term food-security/economic return and long-term environmental benefits. This combination is expected to provide sustainable incentives, but further effort is needed in the use of participatory methods and a ‘bottom-up’ approach to provide a strong base for an effective and equitable REDD+ mechanism at landscape level. Experience drawn from Vietnam, in general, and in Bac Kan, in particular, can be replicated and directly contribute to reducing carbon emissions globally
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