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The economic and political conditions in Peru favor an increase in deforestation, despite the country having set a target of zero net deforestation by 2021, a new study shows.
“Peru is experiencing economic growth,” said Mary Menton of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), one of the lead authors of “The context of REDD+ in Peru: Drivers, agents and institutions” (published in Spanish), the latest in a series of occasional papers that gather and analyze extensive information on the political and economic conditions in forest-rich countries.
“Much of this growth is happening — and is likely to keep on happening — at the expense of the Peruvian Amazon.”
The REDD+ framework, which has been part of U.N. climate change negotiations since 2007, proposes that developing countries can reduce greenhouse gases by reducing deforestation and degradation of forests, conserving forests, increasing the number of trees planted, and promoting sustainable forest management and use.
Official figures put Peru’s forest cover at about 73 million hectares, equivalent to about 60 percent of its land area. The deforestation rate of 0.15 percent is relatively low, although deforestation accounts for almost half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“These historical deforestation rates do not reflect the effects of new and future interoceanic highways nor the recent agroindustrial expansion in the Amazon,” said Hugo Che Piu, lead author and president of Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR).
Although the Peruvian Ministry of Environment has announced in international forums its commitment to achieving zero net deforestation with its plan to conserve 54 million hectares of forest, these goals do not reflect the impacts of the current and planned activities driving economic growth, such as major road and energy infrastructure projects.
“If the government is really going to achieve zero net deforestation and reduce its emissions from land-use change, it must balance the demands for forest conservation and economic growth,” Menton said.
The road to riches
Economic growth is a major political imperative in Peru, where poverty is widespread, especially among the rural population, and particularly in the highlands where 60.3 percent are classified as poor and 21.1 percent as extremely poor.
A major cause of deforestation — and perhaps the oldest — is the government’s active encouragement of settlement in the Amazon, largely via immigration from the highlands. Amid growing demand for agricultural produce, the government has introduced a range of policies to encourage cultivation for national markets or, in the case of oil palm, for international markets.
Among the incentives was the granting of titles for land that was converted to agriculture. The government got around laws prohibiting the conversion of state lands by drawing on other regulations that allow titling where people add economic value to the land — which almost always means converting forest land to agriculture.
“The indigenous people and other rural people that conserve and sustainably manage the forests can never obtain property title over those forests, creating a contradiction that we need to resolve in order to create real incentives against deforestation,” Che Piu said.
Construction of road infrastructure, whose link with increased deforestation is well-established, has connected local populations to the rest of Peru and brought new migrants from the Andes and other regions. Other policies encourage investment in energy infrastructure and exploitation of petroleum and gas, which generate large tax revenues.
“All this investment is going on without full consideration of the social and environmental impacts,” Menton added. “And there isn’t enough in the way of policies or institutions that serve to protect the forest.”
MISSING IN ACTION
Other policies are contributing to the pro-deforestation conditions simply by their absence, the report indicates.
“We found that there isn’t really any integrated, cross-cutting vision for the country’s land-use planning in the short, medium or long term,” Menton said.
“This is at least partly responsible for contradictions within the legal and institutional framework between the goals of the national government and regional and local governments.”
Also missing are mechanisms for achieving coordination and communication over forest management between institutions – yet under current plans, at least four bodies will be responsible for future forest management, which must be able to coordinate their functions and levels if they are to help avert deforestation.
“All levels of government have got lots of strategies and plans, but much of what is planned never takes place,” Menton said.
“We saw this with the illegal logging strategy, which went for years without much action, and the anti-corruption plan could go the same way.”
“As such, the principal challenge that REDD+ will need to overcome in Peru is to demonstrate that it can indeed be implemented in an effective manner within the forests, and that it won’t become just one more strategy,” Che Piu added.
PURSUING THE “PLUS”
Tackling deforestation is nevertheless firmly on the national agenda.
More than 40 forest carbon projects are underway at the subnational level. Recently, the World Bank’s InterAmerican Development Bank Forest Investment Plan (FIP) was approved and is set to bring $50 million towards REDD programmes nationally.
The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP) has been continuously at the forefront of national discussions, arguing for promoting the equity of REDD by ensuring consultation and participation of indigenous peoples and prioritization of securing land tenure for indigenous peoples as a prerequisite to REDD in Peru. Their demands have been taken on board by the FIP.
“The incorporation of the indigenous peoples’ proposals is one of the most important advances in the preparatory phase of REDD in terms of governance,” Che Piu said.
Yet a media analysis by CIFOR indicates that international actors — primarily environmental NGOs — are dominating the arena in Peru, with the government’s voice and position largely absent in the national newspapers. This could undermine REDD-related policies, which require national ownership to succeed.
For Peru, the main attraction of REDD+ lies in the potential co-benefits — the “plus” in the name — such as improved livelihoods, bolstered forest governance and biodiversity conservation.
A focus on co-benefits could also contribute to the country’s deforestation target: Experience shows that having policies for indigenous rights and participation, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of forest resources has helped conserve many forests, even when the policies aren’t fully carried out.
“Yet, the funding streams proposed in the RPP for monitoring of carbon are 20 times the funds proposed for monitoring the social and environmental impacts,” Che Piu pointed out.
“Right from the beginning, the government has been saying that it is interested in the co-benefits,” Menton said.
“But even if it chooses to pursue those rather than deforestation directly, it still needs the capacity and coordination to make it happen.”
For more information on the issues discussed in this article, please contact Mary Menton at firstname.lastname@example.org
This research was carried out as part of the Global Comparative Study on REDD+ under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by AusAid, the UK Department for International Development and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).