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Forest carbon rights for poor at risk ? study

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 15 Jul 2011 16:18 GMT
Author: Soumya Karlamangla
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The process of creating “carbon rights” – ownership of carbon stored in tropical forests – risks excluding the poor and landless who depend on forests if it is not done properly, a new briefing warns.

“We’ve got this very narrow definition of carbon rights,” said Essam Mohammed, a co-author of the paper by the International Institute for Environment and Development, and a sustainable markets researcher at the institute. “It’s very timely now, I think, to recognize the importance of this, of having a better look at carbon rights and having more focus on a pro-poor nature of the scheme.”

In the ongoing fight to reduce deforestation in developing countries, REDD+, a UN-led program aimed at Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation and slowing climate change, offers an opportunity to not only lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions but to lend a hand to the world’s poor, according to the paper, released this month.

REDD+ aims to provide financial incentives for developing countries to preserve their forest and cut back on deforestation, which is responsible for 12 to 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

THE DEBATE

But determining how funding is delivered and distributed - including who owns the stored forest carbon - has opened up a huge debate on land rights and benefit-sharing.

For carbon to be sold and traded on international markets, it must be turned into a form of property - a kind of ownership that the authors liken to intellectual property. But ensuring forest dwellers share in those rights and benefits is a challenge in many countries, the authors say.

They believe the definition of carbon rights should be expanded to ensure that the poor or landless who use forest land are included as beneficiaries, Mohammed said.

“We are all trying to suggest, or trying to make an effect, really, on how benefits can be distributed in a very equitable and fair way,” Mohammed said. “The primary goal of REDD and other schemes is conservation, but at the same time, there is no reason that you cannot achieve both objectives.”

The value set on forest also must extend beyond just carbon and include the many other things it provides for people, including firewood, water, food, medicine and other environmental benefits, the paper said. If these additional benefits are not factored in to forest value, the poor could lose access to them, the paper warns.

“Local people could potentially be excluded if there weren’t mechanisms in place to ensure that (forest owners) had to take into account the rights and priorities of those communities,” said Alison Hoare, an expert in natural resources and forest governance with Chatham House, an international affairs research group in London. “A lot would depend on the national legislation, certainly on what kind of procedures are in place to ensure that local community concerns are taken into account.”

INDONESIA LAND RIGHTS

In Indonesia, about 33,000 villages are located on land that have been designated as state-owned, and are therefore illegally residing there – even though the land has been their home for generations, a top Indonesian environmental official admits.

In effect, up to 50 million people in Indonesia are essentially squatters on their own land, said Andy White, a forest land tenure expert and coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition that encourages forest land tenure and policy reforms.

This week, Konturo Mangkusubroto, a top Indonesian environmental official announced that the country now aims to solve the land tenure conflicts.

Florence Daviet, a forest and climate change expert with the World Resources Institute, said that allocating carbon rights will require governments to face land tenure problems. She doubts the issue of carbon rights can be separated from that of land tenure rights, a far-reaching concern in the developing world.

“Benefit-sharing is a difficult thing,” she said. “It’s been struggled with in the development community for a very long time. REDD+ is just a different lens.”

Soumya Karlamangla is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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