Talking the talk of change: REDD+ discourse in the national media

Produced as part of the Advancing climate finance and investment CCCEP research programme theme

This paper investigates the main discourses around REDD+ as expressed by policy actors in the national media across seven REDD+ countries and assesses the extent to which these public discourses support or challenge the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation.

The data are position statements of policy actors on REDD+ reported in three national print media outlets between 2005 and 2010 in each country. Using Bäckstrand and Lövbrand’s (2006) classification of environmental discourses around tree planting, the paper identifies the predominance of weak ecological modernization discourse, which is characterised by simplistic, win-win storylines that do not directly challenge drivers of deforestation. Foreign actors in particular (funders and international NGOs) as well as state actors have adopted this discourse.

Most of these frames fail to challenge the existing policies driving deforestation and denote a lack of engagement of state policy actors with potential trade-offs between economic, ecological and social outcomes. Policy actors that challenge the status quo, and draw attention to possible trade-offs are a minority and they do so indirectly. For example, they recognize the need for improvements in forest governance, draw attention to the possible adverse consequences of REDD+ on local livelihoods, and to a lesser extent demand improved participation and empowerment in decision making processes.

The paper concludes that media discourse reveals a latent resistance to change, that might indicate doubts on the part of national policy actors about reconciling development goals with carbon emission reductions from forests.