In Honduras, REDD Projects Hold Real Potential for Communities and the Environment
In July, Honduras held its first national workshop on climate change and forests, called "Opportunities for Honduras to Participate in the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) Mechanism," with support from the Rainforest Alliance, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and a coalition of allied organizations and donors. One key outcome of the workshop: a promising new commitment to begin building a platform for REDD -- a commitment that could help the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, alleviate poverty among rural, forest-dependent communities and promote improved governance in the country's forestry sector.
Key government authorities responsible for climate policy in the country -- along with donors, conservation NGOs, civil society and indigenous groups -- participated in the San Pedro Sula event. Co-organized by the Department of National Resources and Environment (SERNA) and the National Institute for Conservation, Forestry Development, Protected Areas and Wildlife (ICF), the conference aimed to provide participants with an occasion to learn and debate the opportunities, risks and potential impacts of REDD, and to exchange lessons learned with countries already engaged in REDD preparation activities, including Costa Rica and Guatemala.
The REDD program aims to put a monetary value on reducing emissions from deforestation, offering an incentive for developing countries to reduce deforestation and degradation and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. REDD aims to make forest management and conservation more lucrative than deforestation and forest degradation -- an important goal in a country where forest covers some 14 million acres (4.18 million hectares), or 51 percent of the total land area.
"The REDD mechanism has the potential to add valuable benefits to the management and conservation of forests in Honduras," said René Romero, executive sub-director of ICF. He added that the program would allow the country to develop a system of payments for environmental services while also promoting poverty alleviation and helping to improve local government, ensure sustainable management of forestlands and enhance biodiversity conservation.
It is estimated that Honduras' forestry sector already directly provides some 65,000 jobs and, indirectly, supports an additional 175,000 employment opportunities. Under a successful REDD program, forest-based communities could receive payments for sustainable management activities that reduce deforestation and degradation, adding an important revenue stream to their existing forest enterprises.
"The workshop provided a very important opportunity for discussion on the need for a national strategy to reduce deforestation and revealed that Honduras...has great potential to invest in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions," said Gracia María Lanza, project management specialist for USAID in Honduras.
A key output of the workshop was the establishment of a National Working Group on REDD. Comprised of representatives from public institutions, private sector companies, NGOs, academic institutions and indigenous communities, the group is responsible for identifying the actions and information needed to develop the country's Readiness Preparation Proposal, a document that indicates what activities must be undertaken to prepare for REDD, providing a guide for how these activities will be implemented and with what resources.
"The Honduran forestry sector faces systemic problems which have resulted in high rates of deforestation," said Omar Samayoa, a project coordinator for the Rainforest Alliance's Training, Extension, Enterprises and Sourcing (TREES) program. "Our hope is that REDD will enable the policy changes necessary to improve forest sector governance, and that payments through REDD will catalyze community-based forestry. At the same time, REDD can promote a discussion with those outside the forestry sector and help build a national consensus on how to tackle deforestation. It is essential to understand that REDD goes beyond the forestry sector and that reducing deforestation will benefit all sectors."
At the workshop, both ICF and SERNA emphasized the need to prioritize REDD in all national policies related to forests, protected areas and wildlife, as well as in allied sectors.
Romero, executive sub-director of ICF, recognized that the implementation of REDD in Honduras will face some important challenges. First, it requires national support as well as consensus between key institutions involved in its implementation. Second, it requires the development of a supporting infrastructure -- including, for example, funds to provide for the financing of sustainable forestry, wildlife conservation and community forestry initiatives -- to ensure that the country is fully prepared to support REDD projects.
The challenges are enormous, acknowledged Lanza, "but this workshop was the first step. We must not wait any longer to start preparing for REDD in Honduras."