Mark Poffenberger of Community Forestry International calls for the climate mitigation negotiations to take account of the rights and concerns of forest dependent people.
Worldwide, it is estimated that there are between 1 and 1.6 billion forest dependent and indigenous people representing some of the poorest communities on earth. In many Asian countries, historic forest sector transitions are underway characterized by devolution of public forest lands management responsibilities to rural communities. The Philippines, Nepal, India, Cambodia, Bhutan, and Bangladesh have all launched national community forestry programs covering millions of hectares, while Vietnam, China, and Indonesia are exploring decentralization strategies. In India, 21 million hectares of forests are being protected by 100,000 villages who have substantially contributed to stabilizing that nation’s forest cover after decades of deforestation. Forest cover on the island of Java increased from 1.27 million in 1985 to 1.87 million in 1997 largely due to the expansion of community-based agroforestry and forest gardens.1 Forest-dependent communities have strong incentives to conserve local forests and represent a logical ally for initiatives that seek to reduce greenhouse gases from forests. They are often the best positioned stakeholders to control local drivers of deforestation, typically possessing extensive forest knowledge, and if they are not in possession of de jure forest rights, they often hold them on a de facto basis. A number of international indigenous peoples organizations and forest dweller groups are raising important concerns regarding their forest tenure and resource rights under REDD initiatives, including those over carbon credits, that need to be seriously considered during forthcoming negotiations.
Financing community-based forest conservation programs has been a challenge for many developing nations, especially as donor ‘fatigue’ sets in and bilateral and multilateral agencies shift funding priorities to other sectors. United Nations’ efforts to forge a global forestry strategy over the past fifteen years have consistently failed to secure the major financing required to establish an international forestry fund. Some proponents of REDD see it as a mechanism to finance the expansion of participatory forest management systems to better conserve threatened forests while addressing long-standing tenure conflicts and poverty problems. To succeed in this mission, it will need to avoid past pitfalls. Earlier efforts to support afforestation and reforestation carbon projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol were limited by the restrictive eligibility criteria, complex methodologies, and burdensome and costly project approval requirements. By early 2009, only three forestry projects were approved out of 1613 registered as part of other CDM activities. As one analyst notes “small-scale projects have to bear the length of the approving process and the high transaction cost entailed by expertise and monitoring.2
National REDD can create incentives supporting the promulgation of enabling laws and policies that resolve forest tenure conflicts and protect natural forests from conversion to economic concessions, while sub-national projects are needed to support local communities and control local drivers of deforestation. A hybrid approach is required to address both national policy and field-level operational problems that are part of the complex and tiered structure of deforestation drivers. The financial architecture of REDD needs to be structured to allow funds flowing from international carbon credits to reach communities and other local project implementers, keeping transaction costs low and rewarding performance-based achievements. At the same time, public financing through multilateral and bilateral institutions is required to design and develop projects before carbon revenues are generated. Flexible project design and funding strategies will be essential to REDD’s success and broad-based implementation.
1 FWI and GFW. 2002. The State of the Forest: Indonesia. Bogor: Forest Watch Indoneesia and Global Forest Watch. p. 13. cited in Poffenberger, Mark. 2006. “People in the Forest: Community Forestry Experiences form Southeast Asia.” Int. J. Environment and Sustainable Development, Vol. 5. No. 1.
2 Karsenty, A. “The architecture of Proposed REDD Schemes after Bali: facing critical choices.” International Forestry Review. Vol.10 (3) 2008, p.445.