Green Shoots and REDD herrings

Article, 15 October 2009

Forests continue to be trashed in many places. One recent estimate, admittedly 'on the back-of-an- envelope' indicates a global natural capital loss of US$2.5 trillion a year, of which forests represent a substantial part. We have all recently become used to hearing about trillions of dollars being wiped off the world's virtual economy, but this natural capital is real, and its loss is permanent.

Old problems, new opportunities

Forests continue to be trashed in many places. One recent estimate, admittedly ‘on the back-ofan- envelope’, indicates a global natural capital loss of US$2.5 trillion a year, of which forests represent a substantial part (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study). We have all recently become used to hearing about trillions of dollars being wiped off the world’s ‘virtual economy’, but this natural capital is real, and its loss is permanent. Underlying this forest loss, and cutting across the seven themes of the Congress, we see some old and well-known forest problems that are yet to be solved and a set of new pressures and opportunities which make the work of all who are trying to improve forestry more vital than ever before.

Old problems are still with us – rights in the wrong hands, and capabilities not matched to need. Some 77% of forests worldwide are still government controlled. This would be fine if governments had the capability to manage them well, but often they do not. The Rights and Resources Initiative, which analyses this, notes that small gains have been made for community control since 2002 in countries like Cameroon, Tanzania and India, but in general rights are commonly in the wrong hands and capabilities are poorly matched to need.

New forest land grabs are being made, for food and fuel. Some 1,000,000 acres in Madagascar may yet be leased to the Korean company Daewoo to plant corn and oil palm for the Korean market. Biofuel developments are spreading in Malawi, Ghana, India, Indonesia and many other countries. The trade-offs with the local values and global public goods from these forests have barely had time to be considered. Flash-points of conflict around the world are evident – from Iquitos in Peru, to Mabira Reserve in Uganda, to the Kampar Peninsular in Indonesia.

Opportunities are emerging. Despite these old problems and new pressures, there are increasing opportunities to make vital moves towards locally controlled forestry, viable forest-based climate strategies and practical forest governance.

Locally-controlled forestry – invest now!

Forestry can and must do more for local development and poverty reduction.

Industrial scale commercial forestry’s inputs to national economic development, by paying taxes and reinvesting profits, may trickle down to help the poor - but the evidence is not strong, while commercial forestry jobs and income have at best avoided exacerbating poverty. Locally-controlled forestry is a much better bet. This means decision-making by smallholders, community groups, forest-dependent people and other local groupings for managing or growing forest resources and running small enterprises based on them. Securing tenure and rights of local communities is a vital part of this, but not in itself enough. Communities need to be able to defend these rights – requiring effective sanction and disempowerment of those that can abuse and override them, and requiring the ability to develop viable enterprises and self-determination processes around secure rights.

The time has come for a major push for investment in locally-controlled forestry – for action to enhance locally controlled forestry assets, chiefly the supply of finance and the development of human resources and practical management systems. Creating the enabling environment for this with good information, strong local democracy, fair enforcement of simple rules, creative ideas and models, and a range of highly committed partnerships will all be needed to make this work. In pieces on Forest Connect and Growing Forest Partnerships this is explored further.

REDD revealed – it’s the governance stupid!

Most debate about REDD is still at the international level – many old hands and young idealists are working very hard in negotiations with varying aspirations for an effective and equitable post-2012 agreement. But its at the local level that REDD will be judged, yet thinking about its local practicalities is in its infancy. Hopes for some are running high about the opportunities that REDD may offer to forest communities, but there are also risks that REDD schemes may result in governments, companies, conservation NGOs or speculators carving up forestlands, and pursuing forest protection approaches that marginalise rather than empower forest people.

Securing climate change mitigation and, equally importantly, adaptation from forestry is tricky where few other forest goods and services are themselves secure. A combination of the following ‘governance hardware’ is likely to be needed: strong forest and environmental institutions effectively enforcing tenure and use rules and regulations; macroeconomic and agricultural policies that make it less profitable to clear additional forest; payments for maintaining natural forests and forest resources; strong civil society support for, and scrutiny of, sustainable forestry; and regular and systematic monitoring.

Social justice in forestry – a practical proposition

Locally controlled forestry is critical in itself and vital for REDD. Neither will be achieved without better forest governance. Yet injustice undermines any prospect of decent forest governance and sustainability in forests in many countries. Poor people are often excluded from participation in forest decision-making – being denied their rights and having little defence from institutional disdain, criminality, abuse and corruption. Yet such situations are increasingly questioned - civic organisations have grown more effective in their demands for greater public accountability. With today’s evolving challenges in forestry never has citizen empowerment and public accountability in forestry been so important, and understanding about how it can be built in practical ways is spreading.

Contact: James Mayers

October 2009
See also: World Forestry Congress

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