LONDON (AlertNet) - Curbing climate change by paying to protect the world’s forests has proved much more challenging than first expected - mainly because of rising demand for forest land to grow food, widespread economic recession and failing efforts to create a global carbon market.
But growing recognition that people who live in and near forests are their most effective protectors means that their communities may be in line for a bigger share of forest carbon payments, a development that could boost the sustainability of forest protection work worldwide, experts at a forest and climate finance conference said this week in London.
“Rights (of forest communities) must be protected not just to comply with international human rights standards but because that is the way to preserve the forest,” said Justin Kenrick, an Africa policy adviser with the Forest Peoples Programme, which advocates for forest dweller rights.
Emissions from deforestation and damage to forests represent about 12 to 18 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, which are driving climate change. Cutting forest emissions has been seen as a relatively easy way to slow global warming.
The idea was that rich nations would pay poorer tropical forest countries to keep their trees standing and get credits for emissions reductions in exchange.
But that effort – known as REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation – has been difficult to make work. The structure of REDD is still being negotiated in bogged-down U.N. climate talks, and pilot efforts around the world - particularly in major forest countries such as Indonesia and Brazil - have run into a slew of challenges.
TINY AMOUNTS TRADED
One is lack of funds. The government of Norway last year committed $1 billion in funding to help Indonesia protect its forest. But as economic troubles plague the world, foreign aid – one source of start-up money for pioneering REDD efforts – is stagnating in many countries.
Private carbon markets, expected to provide the biggest share of financing, have also shown limited interest in forest carbon, in part because there is little prospect of a global cap on carbon emissions that would make carbon credits more valuable and widely traded.
So far, the amount of forest carbon under smaller trading programmes is the equivalent of just 20 days emissions by Indonesia, an amount that is little more than “a drop in the ocean”, said Jeffrey Hatcher, director of global programmes at the Rights and Resources Initiative, a Washington-based coalition working on forest tenure issues.
“The current mechanism for engaging private capital under REDD – the so-called ‘market approach’ – is highly likely to fail. Forest carbon trading is unworkable as currently constructed,” the report warns.
That means that to protect forests “we need to find some other solutions and find them fast”, said Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative.
FOREST LAND ‘GRABS’
The biggest threat to forest protection may turn out to be rising demand for food, conference speakers said. By 2050, scientists estimate world food production will need to rise by 70 percent to meet population growth and increasing demand, even as climate-driven extreme weather makes growing food harder in some parts of the world.
Those predictions are already fuelling large-scale land purchases in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions, and will likely drive farmers and investors increasingly toward forested land, speakers said.
One way to help deal with “grabs” for forest land and forest carbon rights is to work now to ensure forest communities have formal rights to their land and trees, they said.
“There’s a real need to put land tenure at the center of REDD implementation at scale,” said Daniel Zarin of the Climate and Land Use Alliance, which looks at how to use forest and agriculture to deal with climate change.
Recent studies show that ownership and management of forests by local people who depend on them leads to greater levels of protection, Hatcher and others noted.
Other keys to effective forest protection include strengthening governance in tropical forest nations, and monitoring an estimated $25 trillion in planned infrastructure spending in those countries over the next 20 years, much of it directed towards mining, road building and other projects in forested areas, Hatcher said.