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The International Institute for Environment and Development published an important new report last week, “Tenure in REDD: Start-Point or Afterthought?“. Written by Lorenzo Cotula and James Mayers, it is a welcome addition to the discussion on REDD.

Like a football match, this is a report of two halves. In the first half, the authors discuss the issues surrounding tenure of land and trees in the context of REDD: “the systems of rights, rules, institutions and processes regulating their access and use”.

The second half consists of seven country studies. The authors note the “often apparent gulf between policy and practice” in looking at the land tenure situation in the seven countries. “The current international drive to explore REDD could do more harm than good,” if it focusses on the letter of the law rather than the practice, Cotular and Mayers write.

“REDD is simply an idea cooked up at an international level,” Mayers said in an interview with the New York Times. In their report, Cotula and Mayers note that the “vibrant international debates on REDD” have only recently begun to consider tenure issues. Much of the debate has focussed on international aspects, partly because of the urgency of negotiating a post-Kyoto agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009. “But whether REDD will benefit – or marginalise – forest communities ultimately depends on local to national arrangements about the allocation of benefits within countries. So resource tenure is key,” they write.

Early in 2009, IIED carried out a review of REDD initiatives world wide. They came up with a total of 144 REDD initiatives, carried out by a range of organisations, including banks, UN organisations, aid agencies, governments, NGOs, academic institutions and companies. But Cotula and Mayers point out that in the country submissions made to the UNFCCC so far, only one includes a proposal to make community-managed forests or indigenous peoples’ rights a binding part of REDD. That submission came from the tiny island nation of Tuvalu. (Bolivia’s submission at the end of April 2009 also recognises indigenous peoples’ rights.)

Cotula and Mayers acknowledge that addressing tenure alone will not stop deforestation:

It appears evident that many countries are ill-equipped in practice to ensure that REDD schemes benefit local people. Improvements in tenure alone will not achieve this. Tackling some of the powerful players behind deforesting activities, like destructive logging, pressures for infrastructure development and conversion of forests to agribusiness, will require concerted action on an unprecedented scale in many countries.

However, they argue, effective and equitable local property rights are needed, to achieve effective local institutional capability. “Consideration of tenure will thus need to be the start point, not an afterthought.”

The introduction to the report points out some of the reasons why avoided deforestation was, until recently, unpopular as a climate strategy:

  • Emissions from forest loss are hard to measure, monitor and control (giving rise to questions of additionality and measurement).
  • Benefits from efforts to reduce emissions would be short-lived (the permanence issue) and suffer leakage (reduced emissions in one place linked to increased emissions in another place).
  • Focusing on deforestation in developing countries reduces pressure on developed countries to cut their own emissions.
  • Including forests in trading schemes would flood carbon markets and make other types of measures to reduce emissions unprofitable.
  • ‘Fines and fences’ approaches to forest protection would be given a new lease of life, with governments attempting to displace and disenfranchise local communities.

Although REDD is now an important part of the climate negotiations, the authors note that “the above worries did not disappear”. In order for REDD to work, “high levels of central coordination will be important – strong and fair rules and institutions, macroeconomic and agricultural policies in tune with forest policies, effective monitoring – and issues of tenure at local level will be critical.”

The report acknowledges that none of this will be easy and mentions “temptations for corruption and the flouting of weakly enforced law in relation to land use. To create effective incentives for protecting forests, action to strengthen resource tenure must be combined with policy interventions to address these forces.”

The report takes the risks of REDD seriously, which is particularly important given the international rush for REDD:

While hopes for some are running high about the opportunities that REDD may offer to forest communities, 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.
[ . . . ]
[T]rees are not just sticks of carbon, and while the old worry among foresters was that the forest sector is so complex that it will not figure in climate change regimes, the new worry is almost the opposite: that forest carbon finance is coming forward so quickly that it will not support sustainable forestry and livelihoods.

Cotula and Mayers suggest some of the “governance hardware” that might be needed to implement REDD successfully.

Securing climate change mitigation and adaptation from forestry is thus a complex task, especially in circumstances 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. Tenure is thus a critical part of the forest governance agenda to which REDD may contribute, but not the full agenda.

The second half of the report looks in more detail at the “governance hardware” in seven countries: Brazil, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guyana, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The authors find serious problems in each country.

Of the seven countries, Brazil is the only one that has signed ILO Convention 169, which recognises the “rights of ownership and possession” of indigenous peoples and requires states to consult indigenous peoples on the allocation of natural resource concessions on indigenous lands.

The report observes (without comment) Brazil’s plans to expand its area of industrial tree plantations and “sustainably managed forest”: “Under the National Forest Programme 2000–2010, Brazil is seeking to establish 50 million hectares of sustainably managed forest and 20 million hectares of forest plantations [sic] on private land by 2010.” While the report mentions that land settlement schemes since 1995 “have been the largest resettlement in history and a huge issue in deforestation” and that soybean production is “another major source of deforestation”, there is no mention of the expansion of soybean or sugar plantations planned for Brazil.

In Cameroon,

Many institutional limitations in Cameroon have been exacerbated by the lack of concerted effort to address governance problems in the forest sector: i) diverging initiatives with often ill-conceived approaches to development and poverty alleviation; ii) limited contributions of forest management units, community forestry and forest conservation projects to socio-economic development and poverty reduction in neighbouring or involved communities; iii) increasing problems in the collection, management and distribution of Annual Forest Royalties and forest incomes in general; iv) increasing conflicts over forest access and benefit sharing among forest actors, and an upsurge of intra-community conflict; v) dwindling capacity and financial resources within the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MinFoF); and vi) inadequate levels of training/awareness of field staff regarding governance issues.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo,

The main legal instruments for land and forest are the 1967 Bakajika Law, the 1973 Land Tenure Law and the 2002 Forest Code. The state of implementation of these laws, however, is unclear and there are often significant inconsistencies. Many of the decrees needed to implement the reforms under the 2002 Forest Code and 1973 Law have not been made. The transitional government was almost exclusively guided by external agencies, including the FAO, the World Bank and some NGOs, in its forest policy formulation. Since then, some further development of application decrees has taken place, but there is almost no activity at implementation level.
[ . . . ]
To date the decrees necessary to implement the Code have only concerned industrialised logging, with important elements remaining in a legal vacuum.

In Guyana, the authors note that the Guyana Forestry Commission has seen its budget slashed in recent years.

There is some evidence of a breakdown in the operation of the system. For example: corrupt acquisition of concession lands, failure of concessionaires to produce appropriate management plans and the collapse of log tracking and monitoring procedures. The GFC has considerably reduced its field monitoring capacity since 1999, and there is concern that it is no longer effective in controlling logging practice.

The authors also note the “major challenge” of regulatory capture, “the consequence of which is that 98 per cent of large-scale forest concessions are controlled by Asian loggers.”

The implications of this for Guyana’s forests are serious:

Although not permissible without prior presidential approval, subletting of concessions is a common practice. The procedures for estimating annual allowable cut are also poorly implemented. This leads to unsustainable targeting by loggers of the few commercially valuable timber species and out of area harvesting, together with many other slippages between laws, regulations, procedures and what actually happens on the ground, largely due to regulatory capture.

In Indonesia, the authors point out that “Between 1990 and 2000 an estimated 1.3 million hectares (1.2 per cent) was lost due to illegal logging.” They mention palm oil as a major driver of deforestation but they do not comment on the area of forest damaged or destroyed through legal logging or the impact of the pulp and paper industry on Indonesia’s forests.

The authors note the structural problems in the forest sector:

The Agrarian law of 1960 and Forestry Law of 1999 are the primary legislation for the regulation and management of natural resources in Indonesia. Conflicting provisions have been a major constraint in the application of these laws. They are mirrored by ineffective control within the government, corporations and communities in managing forest resources. Corruption is a widespread symptom of ineffective governance.

In Malaysia, “Logging in forest areas claimed by indigenous communities has created conflicts between timber operators and local communities, particularly in Sarawak and chiefly for the nomadic Penan people.”

In Papua New Guinea, “[T]here is a significant problem with non-compliance with forestry laws in PNG, due to the lack of effective implementation and monitoring of the laws and regulations, and lack of inadequate financial and human resource.”

There is of course much more to be said about each of these countries and none of these problems are completely insurmountable. But they do present serious problems for local communities, indigenous people and forests. They should also create something of a headache for international negotiators in discussing REDD.

The first half of IIED’s report ends with a series of recommendations:

  • Shape REDD schemes to contribute to improved forest governance, not vice versa.
  • Strengthen local resource rights, including customary rights.
  • Ensure carbon rights are effectively established in national regulations.
  • Build on practical mechanisms for cross-sectoral engagement.
  • Develop effective arrangements to channel benefits to the local level.
  • Connect national policy to key international thinking and requirements.
  • Support learning groups for REDD and related approaches.
  • REDD simply will not work unless it is locally credible; it will be undermined and overthrown.

These recommendations are important. But there is one topic that is omitted from the recommendations: the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to decide for themselves how their forests and land are to be managed. Free, prior and informed consent is referred to five times in IIED’s report. Once in relating to the outcome of the climate negotiations in Poznan, December 2008, once in a discussion about ILO 169 and in three case studies (pointing out that there is no legal recognition of FPIC in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Papua New Guinea or Cameroon).

In a section on “Customary rights and indigenous peoples”, Cotula and Mayers refer to the importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will also be of increasing importance in this regard. This requires the promotion of processes for the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources (including carbon assets), and for the implementation of provisions on free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, small forest owners and local communities.

This should have been a key recommendation in the report, rather than a couple of sentences tucked away in the depths of the report. Without the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights and the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and local communities, REDD will never work.

Cotula and Mayers’ report focusses on an important aspect of REDD and one that is not receiving enough attention at the international level. In the article about the report in the New York Times Mayers is reported as saying that “it is important to consider how such an international mechanism is applied and to include a wider range of stakeholders, such as locals, in the ongoing international climate change treaty discussions.” This is not happening. Instead, Denmark, the host government of COP15, seems to be doing everything it can to include big business in the climate negotiations. The World Business Summit on Climate Change (24-26 May 2009) is the brainchild of the Danish government, as Corporate Europe Observatory points out in a new report. For three days, up to 1,000 business leaders will discuss climate change and produce “The Copenhagen Call”, a joint statement aimed at influencing the climate negotiations. Meanwhile indigenous peoples and local communities must struggle to get their voices heard, without the help of the governments that have signed on to UNDRIP, and without the help of the large conservation organisations that are so conspicuous in the REDD discussions (and projects) so far.

By: redd-monitor.org