Plans to fight global warming through reforestation has raised concerns among forest-dependent communities.
THE approach appears to be simple and straightforward: countries that ensure forests are kept as carbon sink in the global fight against global warming will be rewarded.
Developing countries in the tropical region led by Indonesia and Brazil had pushed successfully for forests to be recognised as the next viable solution to combat the scourge at the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Bali in 2007.
Grouped under the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, they are seeking compensation for the carbon stored in their forests to be part of the agreement replacing the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol. Besides Indonesia and Brazil, other members of the coalition include Costa Rica, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Peru.
The Protocol is a global treaty whereby between 2008 and 2012 developed countries are legally compelled to cut their emissions by 5% from the 1990 emission level. Apart from domestic emission cut, developed nations or Annex I countries are allowed to purchase carbon offset through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to meet their emission targets, mainly from the energy sector.
Funding under CDM for forestry sector is restricted to afforestation (growing new forests on lands that previously do not contain forest) and reforestation (establishment of forest plantation in areas that were formerly forested) but it excludes existing forests.
There was excitement over the proposed Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism at the December meeting in Poznan, Poland. Some 80 proposals from governments, environmental groups and donor agencies were submitted for consideration as 192 nations of the UNFCCC met at the historical city of Poland.
Generally, REDD is viewed as a “win-win” option to the problem of logging, that accounts for one-fifth of global carbon emission and the diminishing ability of degraded forests to soak up carbon. The latest Earth Policy Institute study showed that each year, deforestation in the tropical region released 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.
REDD holds the potential to be the most promising and attractive forest conservation scheme yet – stabilising the climate at a low cost and securing the other ecosystem services that healthy forests provide. Even though the mechanism is still in its design stage, the flurry of so-called REDD testing activities on the ground suggests that market-based, carbon offset mechanism will emerge as the over-riding financing model.
In fact, the government of Norway has pledged US$500mil (RM1.7bil) per year towards REDD activities as a promising start to develop a market that will generate the necessary funds.
Indigenous peoples and other forestdependent communities may find it hard to benefit from REDD in countries where customary land rights are not recognised.
Carbon market myth
But as usual, the devil is in the details. The overwhelming reliance on funding from carbon trading and the contentious inclusion of plantation forest as part of the scheme worries certain quarters.
Indigenous peoples are raising the alarm that any proposal that increases the value of forests may trigger a rapid increase in abuses of land rights by the state and corporations at the expense of their customary rights. Voices of dissent were heard since Bali and the opposition to REDD grew stronger in Poznan.
Friends of the Earth International points out that if REDD is funded through carbon offsetting it will undermine current and future emission reductions agreed to by industrialised countries.
“It would create the climate regime’s biggest loophole by allowing rich countries to buy their way out of emission reductions,” it said, suggesting alternative funding sources like taxing fossil fuel use and diverting fossil fuel energy subsidies in industrialised countries. It also said halting deforestation should be more than just a carbon counting exercise. Governments, it argued, should challenge the underlying causes of deforestation directly, addressing demand-side drivers in importing countries and resolving governance, poverty and land tenure issues in forested countries.
Financing, it added, should be invested in national programmes and infrastructure that directly support forest conservation, sustainable management, natural regeneration and ecosystem restoration, such as community-based forest governance.
The environmental federation of two million members is campaigning for forests to be kept out of carbon markets, that plantations are entirely excluded and land rights are enforced as the basis of any forest policy.
Sandy Gauntlett, a Maori indigenous rights activist from New Zealand said: “The definition of forests under REDD is utterly ridiculous. It leaves wide open the ability of countries to destroy their natural forests and replace them with industrial tree plantations which destroys wildlife habitat and displaces indigenous and forest dependent communities.”
Conservationists say large scale monoculture tree plantations cause drastic changes in local and regional hydrological cycles, the deterioration of rivers and streams, air and water pollution due to the use of agrochemicals and loss of biodiversity. Plantations also store only 20% of the carbon that intact natural forests do.
Despite assurances from promoter of REDD such as World Bank, United Nations Environmental Programme and scientific organisation like Centre for International Forestry Research that anyone can participate in REDD projects on an equal footing, critics are saying that the assurance is at best naive and at worst flawed.
Indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities may find it hard to benefit from REDD even if they wish to participate simply because in countries where customary land rights are not recognised, those without clear land tenure are unlikely to qualify as participants.
“Some countries have good land tenure system like Papua New Guinea and Brazil but countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and those in the Congo Basin are facing unresolved land conflicts as national law does not recognise indigenous peoples’ rights,” said Nils Hermann of Rainforest Foundation Norway.
World Bank which was criticised for its exclusion of indigenous participation in its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) said the bank is developing guidelines on consultation and outreach with forest-dependent communities which will be decided at the individual country level.
“I know you’ll only be convinced when you see it. I can’t predict how or if all the countries will be successful (with REDD),” said its head of sustainable development Benoit Bosquet. The bank has so far selected 25 countries to participate in FCPF that was operational since June and carried out trial in Indonesia, a country with appalling record of forestry governance.
Chairman of Global Forest Coalition Dr Migeul Lovera warned that the outcome of the negotiation on REDD could lead to large scale deforestation in favour of monoculture plantation which would have a devastating impact on the climate, biodiversity and the 60 million indigenous people and 1.6 billion others who depend on forests for their survival.
Indigenous rights ignored