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Money on trees

Book>> The Little REDD Book--can we learn from a review of proposals and positions for developing a global system of payments for maintaining and increasing forests Global Canopy Programme 2008

By Chetan Agarwal
Published: Sunday 15 February 2009

The case for investing in forest conservation is compelling. Forests have traditionally been valued for a variety of economic, cultural and environmental reasons. They are repositories of timber and non-timber produce, they regulate water flow, are habitat to animals and have recreational value as well. But in recent years, forests have been catapulted into policy-making rooms for another reason they absorb carbon.

Historically, governments have relied on regulation and public investment to avoid deforestation. Increasingly, policy makers are also recognizing the role of secure tenure for forest dwelling communities. But people who conserve forests forgo certain options.For instance, they cannot harvest it for timber; or have to harvest it in a sustainable manner. According to Food and Agriculture Organization, forests support the livelihoods of 90 per cent people living in acute poverty. These communities are now being called on to deliver us from climate change.

So, should they be paid for such services? Should high emitters pay countries and communities to increase forest cover and reduce deforestation? Or is the quality of forests that really matters? What principle should be used to reward countries and communities that conserve forests? Should they be rewarded for conserving forests in the past? Or should the rewards be for future action? Such questions have exercised the brains of policy makers and conservationists, since 2005. That year Papua New Guinea proposed that countries, which are willing and able to reduce emissions from deforestation, must be compensated. Some other countries and conservation groups made similar proposals. The Little REDD Book is a guide to 33 proposals, put forward by governments and other entities, for designing a global incentive based mechanism for avoiding deforestation and degradation.

For many, this little guide might evoke memories of The Little Red Book, the collection of Chairman Mao's quotations, which was part of every official's education in Communist China in the 1960s. The guide, however, derives its name from a concept on the anvil of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, or redd.

The value of this guide is primarily twofold. One, it compiles and summarizes the proposals of various countries. Two, it provides a simple and comprehensible framework for analyzing the various proposals, and also looks into the merits and flaws of different proposals. Key elements of the proposals are presented graphically. But most proposals in the guide do not talk of rewarding communities for the current stock of forests. The rewards are only for future conservation. Such incentives are not only weak they also let historically high emitters off the hook.

Down to Earth While millions of people still cut down trees to make a living for their families, a major cause for deforestation is large-scale agriculture driven by consumer demand. The driver of the demand for agricultural land varies globally. In Africa, it is the small-scale subsistence farming. In South America, it is large-scale farming enterprises, producing beef and soya for export. In Southeast Asia, palm-oil, coffee and timber products drive deforestation. So incentives must be powerful and flexible enough to reward a variety of actors.

The other big issue with redd is--can it be made to work ethically? What must be done to ensure that local people are not deprived of the rewards? The Little REDD Book only hints at some of the enabling conditions the importance of clear tenure, the role of indigenous and local community institution in disbursing the money.

Chetan Agarwal is with Winrock International India

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