Climate Change Mitigation
Local people can manage forests to help mitigate the effects of climate change, especially within the framework of new initiatives like REDD+.
The Need for Forest-Based Mitigation
The potential of forests to help mitigate climate change is now widely recognized. Stopping global deforestation and degradation would decrease global CO2 emissions by about 17%, and enhancing forests would store even more carbon. However, rural poverty, weak law enforcement, and escalating demand for food and fuel continue to drive forest destruction at an alarming rate. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, 3.7 million hectares of natural forest were destroyed annually between 2000 and 2005 — an area nearly the size of Switzerland lost each year.
What Is REDD+?
REDD+ is a global initiative that aims to protect forests as carbon sinks. It would allow poor countries, where forests are the most threatened, to receive financing from wealthy countries for actions that help to improve the conservation or management of forests.
A practical and cost-effective way to mitigate climate change is to ensure the world’s forests are better managed. Plus, if the management is pro-poor, forests provide considerable social and economic benefits for local communities and indigenous people.
Mitigation Through Community Forestry
With 450 million people living in and around forests in the Asia-Pacific region, the success of forest-based mitigation relies on actively involving local communities and indigenous people. Local people are not the only key players, but because of their sheer numbers and dependence on forests, they are the most important. Community forestry is a proven and effective means of securing local rights to forest resources, strengthening fair systems in benefit sharing, and ensuring participatory decision making.
If local people's close relationship with forests is not respected and mitigation efforts negatively affect their livelihoods, then mitigation through forests has little chance of success. Past forest protection and biodiversity conservation efforts have failed because they ignored forest people's needs, aspirations, skills, and knowledge.
Many believe that the REDD+ initiative will prove the elusive catalyst needed to halt decades of forest destruction and help achieve sustainable forest management. To do so, it must first overcome long-standing issues that have led to poor forest management: unclear rights, weak governance, and a lack of benefits for local people, who need them most. It must redress the balance in favor of the millions of rural people who interact with the forests on a daily basis; otherwise, a world with well-managed forests will not be realized.
Essential REDD+ activities such as carbon monitoring, forest protection, and reforestation can be most effectively and efficiently delivered by local people.
However, to ensure their long-term investment in forest protection and enhancement, they need real incentives and fair rewards. Their rights to use forests must be made clearer and stronger, and they have to play a central role in decision making and implementation.
Countries in the region are now recognizing that community forestry can help them address these issues in REDD+ initiatives. For example, in its National Forestry Program, Cambodia has identified community forestry as its preferred model for engaging in REDD+ activities. In addition, both Vietnam and Thailand have featured community forestry significantly in their national REDD+ strategies.
It is now widely agreed that at the very minimum, REDD+ must do no harm to local people. But we must aim higher and ensure REDD+ can meet environmental objectives and improve local livelihoods. Community forestry can make these goals a reality.