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Preparations for a proposed international scheme to pay local users to cut greenhouse gas emissions through reduced deforestation are directing more attention to forest tenure problems — but they do not solve them, researchers have found.
REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) is a mechanism being developed under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation creating a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, incentivizing sustainable management of forested lands in order to reduce emissions.
“REDD+ may lead to improvements in some project areas, but it has not brought fundamental change, and at this point it appears unlikely to do so,” said Anne Larson, a principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Larson led the publication of “Land tenure and REDD+: The good, the bad and the ugly,” a recent paper based on a study of 22 REDD+ pilot projects in 71 villages spread over six countries: Brazil, Peru, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Literature referenced in the paper has established that proposed payments for additional carbon sequestration through forest conservation under REDD+ “require not only clear rights to land but also the ability to demonstrate exclusion rights, which includes the right and means to prevent third parties from changing land cover”.
This means that before a community, company or state body can receive money to keep trees standing, it must be able to prove that it owns the forest and can keep others from cutting it down.
CIFOR scientists tried to verify whether projects that have started to experiment with REDD+ met this prerequisite, or addressed it successfully where tenure was weak.
“The findings suggest that in most cases REDD+ has clearly provided some new opportunities for securing local tenure rights, but that piecemeal interventions by project proponents at the local level are insufficient in the absence of broader, national programs for land tenure reform,” they wrote.
In all countries surveyed, conflicting claims by different forest users affected many areas earmarked for pilot projects, and rights holders complained of difficulties in enforcing them.
“In many cases, concessions or even land titles given by different ministries and/or lower-level governments overlap; colonists live inside areas demarcated as indigenous lands,” said Larson. “It is even quite common to find that the sum of land attributed to various stakeholders amounts to more than actually exists.”
Brazil stands out: substantial tenure reform has been unfolding there, with the government formally attributing land to local communities and to hundreds of thousands of untitled smallholders on the condition that they respect environmental legislation.
Yet as Larson notes, pointed out that “it started happening long before REDD+”. She added that uncertainties about the future funding of the scheme mean that few advocates of tenure rights in the six countries surveyed see the international climate change scheme as a game-changer — but they use the extra attention and money it brings them nonetheless.
“The NGOs and indigenous communities conducting REDD+ projects see it as one more asset to help move towards a longer-term goal,” she said.
The Brazilian example has its shortcomings, too: Larson said that tenure reform there has been more robust in some states than in others, and the comparative research finds that local people face the same problems in enforcing their newly acquired rights as those in countries with less favorable legislation.
Some 83 percent of the villages surveyed in Cameroon and 55 percent of those in Indonesia reported a conflict over at least part of their land.
Nearly all the proponents of REDD+ pilot projects told CIFOR researchers that they had identified tenure problems in their area and were working to resolve them. In many cases, they were able to help local people secure rights to their land, using the resources available to prepare for REDD+.
However, this proved more difficult when the conflicts were “tied to national economic development”, such as international investment in palm oil plantations. “The problem with communities and indigenous people is that they are always the underdog,” said Larson said. “Emissions may come from large-scale users, but it is easier to deal with less powerful people in a local community and ask them to stop cutting down trees than to tackle the underlying factors that allow a large plantation to develop by clearing rainforest.”
This leads the authors of the paper to conclude that REDD+ will not trigger large-scale improvements in the security of land rights unless national governments get actively involved. “To address some of the most serious tenure problems at the local or project level, the state needs to confront its own policies,” they wrote.
This was emphasized by a study of the way national media covered issues relating to forests and climate change. CIFOR scientists found that the proponents of REDD+ who advocate tenure reform — such as NGOs — were hardly ever perceived as influential in press coverage, while governments were.
Striking examples of tenure reform linked to REDD+ had developed recently, Larson said.
“In Peru, the World Bank has just recognized a coalition of indigenous organizations’ REDD+ alternative,” she said. She was referring to the formal inclusion of the “Amazonian Indigenous REDD+,” promoted by Peru’s Amazonian indigenous federation, AIDESEP, in the Climate Investment Funds’ Forest Investment Program $50 million next round of funding at the end of October.
This means that some of the international funding earmarked for the fight against climate change will go towards programs developed by indigenous people’s organizations, whose proposal ranked land rights as their No. 1 priority, Larson said.
“Indigenous organizations were able to take advantage of REDD+ as an opportunity,” she said. “But this case also suggests that we should be wary of REDD+ initiatives that are primarily aimed at imposing new limitations on poor people in forests, and rather look for alternatives that build on local experience of what works to conserve forests.”
This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.