Getting incentives for forest conservation off the ground

Deforestation is marching ahead globally at a rate of 5.2 million hectares per year (roughly the size of Costa Rica), driven by land conversion for agriculture, infrastructure development, logging and other consequences of a burgeoning population and a growing demand for food, fibre and fuel.

This trend is one of the major contributors to climate change, responsible for up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because standing forests store enormous amounts of carbon, carbon which is released into the atmosphere when forests are felled and land is transformed.

Agricultural land in Indonesia. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

Land conversion for agriculture is one of the main drivers of deforestation worldwide. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) is a climate change mitigation mechanism that seeks to curb deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions from forested land in developing countries by providing incentives to local communities to leave their forests intact.

Since it emerged in 2007, REDD+ has appeared a promising mechanism for delivering climate, livelihood and conservation benefits and hundreds of organisations worldwide have piloted initiatives to test its viability.

But a new study pinpoints two key barriers to moving forward with REDD+: unclear and unstable land tenure and poor economic viability, both of which are largely beyond the control of these organisations.

The study, The challenge of establishing REDD+ on the ground, led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), draws insights from 23 subnational REDD+ initiatives across Brazil, Peru, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia and Vietnam, including Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) REDD+ Community Carbon Pools programme in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The path to tenure reform

REDD+ initiatives are often implemented in regions with unclear, unstable or contested land tenure – the right to access, use or own land.

But because REDD+ requires clear land (and carbon) rights in order to reward local communities that are successfully contributing to reductions in deforestation, it will be necessary to take a range of steps to achieve the goal of secure and clear tenure. For example, resolving conflict between statutory and local systems governing land rights, enforcing existing rights and clarifying forest carbon tenure rights.

Improving tenure and land use planning will require collaboration between proponents of REDD+ and government institutions, as will integrating national forest land use planning across all ministries and sectors and aligning it with REDD+ goals.

Making REDD+ economically viable

Ultimately, generating sufficient revenue for REDD+ to incentivise and reward actions by tropical forest countries, and particularly isolated forest-edge communities, to reduce deforestation at scale will require a binding international climate change agreement and a robust international market in forest carbon offsets.

It will also need transformational change away from policies that support deforestation and dependence on fossil fuels, so that REDD+ has a chance to compete against powerful business interests in land use decision-making.

Deforestation in Indonesia. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Currently, most policies that influence land use decision-making in developing countries favour deforestation over REDD+. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

At a national level, strengthening governance and reducing corruption, establishing national policies to utilise land more efficiently and invest in sustainable agricultural supply chains, reducing demand for wood fuel in urban centres and enforcing laws against illegal logging can all help make REDD+ more economically feasible, according to the study.

REDD+ in Indonesia

FFI has been engaged with REDD+ since 2006, as an approach to conserve wildlife-rich forests and benefit local communities.

FFI’s community-based approach to REDD+ is enshrined in our Community Carbon Pools programme of work, which helps build the capacity of local communities and local governments to actively participate in REDD+ pilot projects in Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Liberia.

Forest elephant in Indonesia. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.

Many tropical forests are home to incredible biodiversity, including this forest elephant in Indonesia. Credit Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.

In Indonesia, FFI’s country team is facilitating community-based approaches to REDD+ in village forests (hutan desa) in West Kalimantan and Jambi Provinces. The approach empowers local communities with the right to manage forest sustainably and improve their livelihoods by facilitating legal recognition of their village forests, building the capacity of local forest management institutions and supporting sustainable livelihoods activities and establishing the necessary frameworks to measure and reward reductions in forest loss.

Meanwhile the project team is engaged in the development of a national REDD+ policy framework and is supporting local governments and Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry to implement community forestry programmes.

Ultimately, the programme will feed lessons learned into policy dialogues at sub-national, national and regional levels, aiming to contribute to the policies and institutional reforms necessary to ensure recognition of land tenure and carbon rights that are critical for REDD+ to succeed on the ground.

Read more about the REDD+ Community Carbon Pools Programme in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Download the full paper The challenge of establishing REDD+ on the ground: Insights from 23 subnational initiatives in six countries.