REDD+ developers hesitant to talk carbon to local communities, experts say

This article was originally posted on CIFOR Forests Blog on 2 December, 2011 by Leony Aurora.

DURBAN, South Africa (2 December, 2011)_Many REDD+ developers are hesitant to inform local communities about the global forest carbon scheme to avoid raising expectations that could not be fulfilled if long-term financing fails to materialise, experts said.

The tendency from developers to hold off on carbon information is understandable considering the “stuttering” of a decision on whether there will be REDD+ financing in the future, said Jim Stephenson, Program Officer at the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) at an event held as part of the UN climate summit in Durban.

Still, “if you don’t mention REDD+, how can you carry out full FPIC activity?” he said, referring to free, prior and informed consent from local communities.

Experts have said that the recognition of FPIC is key to assuring the success of projects under Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, or REDD+, a scheme to incentivize developing countries to keep their forests. Negotiators in the ongoing 17th Conference of Parties are hammering out details about safeguards to ensure that local people’s rights are taken into account in decisions regarding their forest.

Developers said they planned to go back to the villages and educate them about REDD+ once there’s certainty on what REDD is going to be, said Erin Sills, senior associate at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) which is carrying out a Global Comparative Study on REDD+ in six countries. This may pose problems; for example, if the projects are nearing their end and the developers lack the funds for the consultation process and carbon payments, she said.

Another possible negative consequence is that without local communities understanding REDD+ and the value of carbon in trees, it’s impossible to have grassroots projects developed by the forest dwellers, said Stephenson. “You will only ever get externally driven REDD+ projects.”

Since REDD+ gained prominence in the 13th Conference of Parties (COP) in Bali four years ago, hundreds of REDD+ demonstration activities have emerged around the world (see a map with details of REDD+ projects here). These projects serve as learning tools for which REDD+ practices work best in developing countries and ensure that the forest carbon scheme will be ready for full implementation once the global community agrees on what will happen after Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.

As little as two years ago, project developers still explained carbon credits to forest dwellers, said Stephenson. However, as communities grow impatient from waiting in limbo for the funds to flow in, “it’s starting to degrade the trust between local communities and developers,” he said.

Developers’ hesitance to educate local communities about carbon and forests’ role in fighting climate change may also mean a lost opportunity to learn which way is best to explain the complex and evolving REDD+ scheme in layman’s terms.

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