Climate Conversations - Protecting forests key to livelihoods, tackling climate change
The United Nations has dedicated 2011 as Year of Forests to raise awareness on the sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. The opening of Forests 2011 took place this week at the 9th meeting of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) in New York. The UNFF provides the space for countries to discuss and strengthen their long-term political commitments on the conservation and sustainable development to forests.
This week’s gathering in New York is the first major international meeting on forests after an agreement was reached last month on ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries’ (REDD-plus) as part of the broader Cancun Accords on climate change action.
While years of endeavors to stem tropical deforestation have yielded only mixed results, forests now bask in the limelight of global attention. The momentum with which REDD-plus developed under the Climate Convention, and REDD preparations on the ground, have contributed to this renewed global interest.
IUCN this week highlights two important issues: First, the role that forests play in sustainable livelihoods of forest-dependent communities and second, the considerable potential that the restoration of degraded forests represents to tackle climate change.
SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL FUNCTIONS
Forests maintain a stable global climate and should be central to efforts to deal with climate change. “Forests offer the quickest, most cost effective and largest means of curbing global carbon emissions,” says Stewart Maginnis, IUCN director of environment and development. “Halving forest-based emissions between now and 2020 could provide up to 40 percent of necessary greenhouse gas reductions for the next decade.”
REDD also has the potential to contribute to additional social and environmental benefits. Forests are home to 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity and provide for the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people. IUCN estimates that locally-controlled forests yield $130 billion in benefits for the poor each year.
There is however often too much emphasis on technological capacity of countries and the measuring of changes in carbon stocks. Not enough attention is given to the question how REDD-plus can contribute to social benefits and biodiversity conservation.
Successful REDD implementation depends on support on the ground from various stakeholders. Particularly important are indigenous peoples and other local communities that for years have contributed to the conservation of forests. Many of these communities are, however, poverty stricken and depend on forests and forest biodiversity for their livelihoods.
REDD policies should recognize and value the contributions that forest-dependent people make to the protection and sustainable management of forests. These groups should therefore be able to fairly benefit from any payments that might become available through REDD implementation.
Various developing countries with forests are currently discussing the integration of benefit sharing schemes as part of their REDD preparations. Many countries however face challenges because the rights that local people have over trees and forests are ambiguous or contradictory. It is of crucial importance that these issues are clarified so that REDD can reach the forest dependent people.
This shows why it is so important that all relevant stakeholders engage as equal partners in REDD preparation and decision-making. REDD policies will only be effective if they build on the knowledge and interests of people that live and work in forests, and if REDD strategies respond to the needs of people whose concerns have so often been ignored. Moreover, if forest-dependent communities share ownership of the process through joint-decision making, it increases the chances that REDD decisions will enjoy support on the ground at the time of implementation.
REDD-plus offers a broad range of options for action in the forest sector that can contribute to reduction of carbon emissions, conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The Cancun Agreements state that REDD-plus should include reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; the conservation and sustainable management of forests and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
The broad scope enables the participation of a large variety of developing countries in REDD-plus. Nevertheless, the issue of degradation is often under-emphasized and not enough attention is going to the potential of forest restoration in REDD national strategies.
Around 1 billion hectares of degraded forestlands and secondary forests worldwide are potentially suitable for restoration. The restoration of degraded land and degraded forests provide a relatively rapidly available opportunity to enhance forest carbon stocks.
The potential contribution that forest restoration can make to reducing climate change is at least equal to the worldwide potential that reducing deforestation represents. Moreover, forest restoration holds considerable benefits in the form of biodiversity conservation and in terms of the development of sustainable livelihoods.
“People around the world suffer and miss out on livelihood and wellbeing opportunities due to lost and degraded forest lands,” says Carole Saint-Laurent, IUCN senior forest policy advisor. “We are talking about taking forest landscapes that are not doing anything for anybody, or not doing enough, and producing something of value through restoration.”
REDD-plus has put forests back on track and presents real opportunities for things to be done differently in the forest sector. REDD countries have to build REDD-plus strategies tailored to their country-specific situations. In order for REDD to be effective and fair, decisions should also ensure that the socio-economic and ecological functions of forests are taken into account. REDD-plus can and must be made meaningful for those that often have contributed most to the preservation of forests. We can’t afford to do it any other way.
Jan Willem den Besten works for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Washington, DC.