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Communities can measure forest carbon like experts - study

by Jake Lucas | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 29 October 2013 16:35 GMT

A study in Asia shows local people can measure forest resources as accurately as professionals, but many forest protection projects don't involve them

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Local people could easily estimate the carbon value of forests with nothing more than a stick, some rope and a little training, and do it as accurately as professional forest managers, a new study says.

“We’ve shown here that local communities can monitor forests up to the highest standards of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change),” said Finn Danielsen, the study’s lead author and a senior ecologist at the Nordic Foundation for Environment and Development in Copenhagen.

The participation of forest peoples is vital to the success of the U.N.-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative to sustainably manage forests and to reduce the 15 to 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions that come from deforestation, Danielsen said.

The study - which spanned forests in China, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia - was released on Tuesday to mark the start of the Oslo REDD Exchange, a conference in Norway that is examining how REDD+ has fared in the five years since it was launched and how it can be improved.

Although the REDD+ framework calls for local communities to play a role in measuring the value of forests, the study examined the extent to which this is taking place, and found their involvement often falls short.

“It is possible, but it is not happening in practice,” Danielsen said.

Of the current projects that meet the standards of the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) globally, 48 percent had no plans to involve community members in monitoring biodiversity, deforestation or livelihoods, according to the study, which was produced in collaboration with the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF).

 Aside from REDD+ stipulations, local inclusion is important because the welfare of community members is tied to the wellbeing of forests, Danielsen said.

“These are people living in the forests,” he said. “They are the ones that depend on the forests still standing there.”

Danielsen visited the communities involved in the study, and found they use the forest for everything. They live there, hunt there, and rely on its resources, he said. As such they have the most to lose from deforestation and know the importance of forests better than anyone, he added.

Even if they do not understand the ramifications of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation or why biodiversity must be preserved, they have same desire to conserve the forests as the rest of the world, Danielsen said.

Given that, asking them to measure forest resources and ecosystem services is natural. “They’ve always been doing it - maybe not systematically and maybe not as systematically as we’re asking them to do it here,” Danielsen said. But they have always needed to take stock of what the forest has to offer, he added.

Nonetheless, the push to involve local people in conservation efforts is a relatively recent one. In part, that’s because “the tendency for many years was to think that local people are the ones creating the problem”, the researcher explained.


Now, evidence is mounting that the opposite is true. On Tuesday, at the Oslo REDD meeting, a group of indigenous Mesoamericans leaders presented research findings suggesting that government redistribution of land to indigenous people in the region is associated with improved forest protection.

The study from PRISMA, a Salvadoran research institute, and the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, identified a strong correlation between forest cover and sites where indigenous people had significant land rights. In many cases, they outperformed government and industry in forest conservation.

The locations for Danielsen’s research on measuring forest biomass include some of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. He was surprised that this complexity did not seem to affect locals’ ability to perform measurements accurately, he said.

Their knowledge of, and proximity to, the forests will allow them to build up the methodological and inventorial measurements over time to meet the highest standards set by the IPCC, he added.

“Even from a government perspective, that means the quantity of credits the state could claim could be higher because the precision is higher,” he said, referring to units of avoided carbon emissions that can be traded on markets. Not only can those credits be purchased to offset emissions elsewhere, they also provide a channel for investment in forest conservation.

Although the initial cost of training community members made professional foresters slightly cheaper in the research, the cost of using local people will likely decrease over time, making it less expensive for them to make the measurements in the long term, according to the study published in the journal Ecology and Society.

That includes the cost of compensating the time it takes for community members to do the work - vital to prevent exploitation and maximise benefit for forest dwellers, Danielsen said.

Jake Lucas is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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