Stepping out of the REDD+ Shadow – Forests and Adaptation

Jim Stephenson highlights why more attention needs to be paid to forests and adaptation in the UNFCCC process and points to the new RECOFTC Community Forestry and Adaptation Policy Brief launched yesterday.

Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020

Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020

For those of us with hazy recollections of the middle of the last decade, it is easy to forget that when REDD+ was assigned to the mitigation stream under the UNFCCC, many commentators, including indigenous peoples, thought it should straddle both adaptation and mitigation[1].

Since then discussions on forests in the UNFCCC have been dominated by REDD+, with little attention being paid to their vital role in the success of climate change adaptation. We see glimpses of this role being recognized again, most explicitly with Bolivia’s proposal for a ‘Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism’ for forests. This follows on from Durban Decision 2/CP.17 that joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests could be developed, largely based on Bolivian negotiators’ interest in promoting non-market approaches to REDD+.

Such a joint mitigation and adaptation mechanism for forests would be something to be welcomed and may go far in dissolving the artificial boundaries between them in the forests and climate change agenda.

This mechanism could play an important part in recognizing and supporting the role of community forestry in climate change adaptation.  Throughout 2012, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests has been analyzing the vast potential of community forestry to strengthen the climate resilience of rural communities across the world through diversifying livelihoods, increasing food security, leveraging existing institutions and knowledge, and advancing disaster risk reduction.

You only need to glance at the numbers to see how important forests are for climate adaptation amongst the rural population. A global comparative study by CIFOR concludes that forest products provide on average one fifth to a quarter of household income in rural areas globally[2] – a vital source of livelihood and income diversification in times of climate uncertainty. Forest ecosystems are more resilient to climatic change than agricultural ecosystems and contain a greater diversity of plant and animal life – for example the Lao population uses over 700 species of forest plants, insects and fungi for food and other uses[3] with each species responding differently to climatic change.

This diversity also strengthens the food security of communities, particularly in times of climate related crop failure. When households have access and extraction rights over a forest they can diversify the range of species consumed, thus providing a broader intake of vital nutrients. The Lao PDR National Biodiversity Strategy estimates that non-timber forest products (NTFPs) contribute between 61-79% of non-rice food consumption by weight, and provide an average of 4% of energy intake, 40% of calcium, 25% of iron, and 40% of vitamins A and C.

However, this tremendous potential of forests to support community adaptation is impaired in many countries by a lack of rights for communities to access these resources. Even where community forestry rights are given, there is still a need to identify and remove legal barriers which restrict commercial and livelihood activities, and hinder access to markets. NTFP collection restrictions for local communities should also be reviewed and reduced, albeit with sustainable extraction limits in mind.

While some national adaptation plans mention community forestry, these references tend to be superficial in nature. There is a need to mainstream community forestry into national adaptation planning and support existing community forestry networks to integrate climate adaptation strategies in forest management planning.

These are just a handful of issues to be addressed in taking community forestry forward in climate adaptation. A fuller range is presented in RECOFTC’s newly launched Policy Brief ‘Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020’. This Brief provides a concise overview of the Roadmap project, with key findings and recommendations, along with sample ‘Roadmaps’ to 2020 for selected countries. The full set of five country Roadmaps (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam) will be launched in early 2013.

Watch this space….


[1] RECOFTC, FAO and CoDe REDD (2012). Forests and Climate Change after Durban: An Asia-Pacific Perspective.

[2] Angelsen, A (2011). ‘The economic contributions of forests to rural livelihoods: a global analysis. Oral presentation at the PEN Science Workshop: Exploring the Forest-Poverty Link: New Research Findings’. University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, 13-14 June 2011.

[3] RECOFTC and NAFRI (2007). Status of Community Based Forest Management in Lao PDR.

What should Community Forests mean to Obama?

In the midst of President Obama’s much anticipated visit to Southeast Asia, RECOFTC Communications Officer Ann Jyothis describes how community forestry could align with and fulfill many of the objectives that the US has outlined for its potentially growing involvement in the region.

President Barack Obama walks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

President of the United States Barack Obama walks with Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Image taken from The Nation, http://www.nationmultimedia.com.

As expected the media flurry of political and economic analysis of the Obama administration’s rising interest in Southeast Asia is raising speculation about the “true agenda” of his visit to Thailand, Myanmar and the ASEAN meeting in Cambodia this week. How will an emerging Myanmar, set to be the chair of ASEAN next year, affect the geopolitics of the region? What will be the economic and social impacts of ASEAN’s free trade zone proposal? These are a few of the important questions raised by many in and around the region. But here, we ask a relatively simple question: What could community forestry mean to Obama’s view of possibilities, in this region?

Essentially this question would arise from a more nuanced dialogue on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Given the current global outlook on the climate, it is pertinent to ask whether the US administration will raise climate issues in its discussions with Southeast Asian leaders this week, since, in reality, the scope of US foreign policy and trade interests are critical to the future of several forests and forest communities in the region.

In fact, almost every issue that Obama is expected to discuss during his visit is strongly connected to the forests of Southeast Asia, specifically, increased trade partnerships, energy and security cooperation, human rights and job creation.

The State of the World’s Forests report from 2012 emphasizes the historical connection between forest, markets and the expectation of higher living standards. Forests have always had a key role to play in trade, beginning with long timber for shipbuilding which enabled global trade, to guitars from Gibson Guitar Corp., which violated the US Lacey Act by purchasing and importing illegally harvested wood materials into the United States from Madagascar and India. Community Forestry is based on this connection between forests, markets and people; it embraces a sustainable livelihood system that enables caring for the forest as a livelihood production system rather than a finite resource base for windfall commercial gains.

Although the enforcement of laws such as the Lacey Act demonstrates the willingness of US lawmakers to take illegal wildlife trade and deforestation seriously, it has largely overlooked the human rights aspect of environmental degradation. The link between local people’s rights, natural resource management, and climate change adaptation and mitigation is widely missing in dialogues on climate. This brings us back to the question: What could Community Forestry mean to Obama?

The ASEAN region is endowed with rich natural resources and a strategic location providing economic advantages for international shipping and foreign trade. According to a report published by RECOFTC – The Centre for People and Forests and ASEAN Social Forestry Network (2010), millions of people across ASEAN countries depend, directly or indirectly, on a range of economic, environmental, and socio-cultural services derived from forests. With 49% forest cover in the region (FAO 2010), forest-based industries contribute significantly to economic growth, providing employment, raw materials, and export revenues. These natural resources play an important role in the economic and socio-cultural sustenance of the over 50% of the ASEAN region’s population who live in rural areas (FAO 2010). In effect, any trade and energy policies in this region must take into account that local communities and indigenous peoples view their assets and culture as an integral part of resource management (RECOFTC 2010). Disregard for this will lead to and has led to conflict over natural resources, especially land tenure.

Issues intrinsic to biodiversity conservation, deforestation and climate change are addressed within the scope of community forestry, which is a decentralized and democratic process, enabling a sustainable relationship between forests and the needs of human beings. Community Forestry can play a significant role in supporting economic stability while ensuring that local people’s rights and share of benefits are protected and strengthened. At a deeper level community forestry offers a reinforcement of governance processes in countries where democratic institutions are young or fragile. Over the past decade, several ASEAN countries, including Cambodia, have begun to realize the importance of giving land tenure to people and forests.  As a result, some ASEAN governments have begun to officially recognize the role of local people in managing their forest resources.

Community forestry is symbolic of a people based approach to poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. As the US agenda for Southeast Asia unfolds, it is hoped that initiatives such as community forestry are given due significance in regional policies and agreements that will have an impact on climate change adaptation and mitigation, and human rights in the region.

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