Are ‘Landscapes’ the new ‘Forests’?

Regan Suzuki, program officer with RECOFTC, reports from the COP18 in Doha, Qatar.

Focusing on landscapes allows for broader, multi-sector approach.

Focusing on landscapes allows for broader, multi-sector approach.

We are witnessing a shift. Ever since 2007 when REDD+ first appeared on the table in Bali, forests have benefited from a profound image makeover. For five years now, forests have been the hero of the climate change discussions taking place everywhere from the gleaming convention halls of the UN Conference of Parties to local government offices fielding interest from the private sector and NGOs in establishing REDD+ projects. For the first time in a very long time forests have taken center stage. And yet, there are indications that the star of a stand-alone forest sector may be waning.

CIFOR’s much appreciated Forest Day, held at the last five COPs following Bali, has been a critical meeting point for many working in forestry issues. A celebration of forests: replete with incisive debates, a festival-like atmosphere and a who’s who of the forestry field. However, Forest Day 6 in Doha this year will be the last. Peter Holmgren, CIFOR’s new Director General, eloquently brings a close to an era in a blog arguing that the work needed to be done in drawing attention to forests has been a success. That at this juncture we must now move beyond our familiar sectoral domains and into the relatively uncharted territory of ‘landscapes’.

Sustainable Forest Management Requires a Multi-sectoral Approach

While perhaps without the same explicit goal of ‘coming out of the forest’, parallel moves towards fostering inter-sectoral approaches are growing in momentum. On the morning of Friday, November 30th, ODI organized a roundtable on strengthening inter-sectoral collaboration in REDD+. Participants unanimously echoed a common theme:  to protect forests, we need to think beyond them. Only when water, agriculture, mining, and other relevant sectors and industries are brought to the same table will we have a chance at stemming the drivers of deforestation. To remain within the silo of forestry will ultimately curtail the sustainable management of forests.

And yet, apple pie concepts such as improved cooperation between sectors are much easier said than done. While we may analyze at length the hurdles to such congenial collaboration, the practical logistics and even more importantly, the will to engage with competing sectors may prove to be an almost insurmountable roadblock. Perhaps a new paradigm is in order: a re-framing of the questions and the ways in which we operate. To truly employ a landscape-based approach requires a massive shift in how we view and manage our natural resources.

What does this mean for local communities?  It remains to be seen, but is possibly a step in the right direction. Not only is a more integrated understanding of forest ecosystems helpful in and of itself, it is equally important in relation to the communities living in and around forests. There are some 250 million to 1 billion people worldwide, depending on which numbers one uses, who are classified as ‘forest dependent’. And yet this sectoral classification risks simplifying these people’s relationship to the natural environment and the multiple other systems with which they engage (e.g., socio-political and economic). Communities have a range of dynamic livelihood and subsistence strategies; single sector classifications can limit their ability to adapt to changing contexts. For example, one of the reasons the Community Forestry Bill in Thailand has struggled to be legislated is the unwillingness to grant forest access rights to ‘farmers’. However, it would be most difficult to find any ‘forest communities’ that do not practice some form of agriculture for subsistence purposes.

Perhaps the time has come for a more nuanced and integrated view of both land-use types and the communities that engage with them.

It’s Official: Local People Hold the key

The growing prominence of REDD in the negotiations has made CIFOR’s annual Forest Day an increasingly important draw for negotiators and assorted dignitaries. On Sunday, Forest Day 3 glorified in the presence of four Nobel prize winners, no less, and a recorded address from Bill Clinton.

The opening plenary addresses were very promising. I was delighted, in particular, with Gro Harlem Brundtland’s analysis. Some of her comments were very familiar:
“Unlocking the potential of forests to climate change mitigation is a major opportunity for leadership at COP15.”
“Involving local people is a moral and formal obligation, and the ONLY WAY TO MAKE REDD+ WORK.”

Perhaps she’s been reading our materials.

Wangari Maathai at Forest Day 3

Or perhaps (and I am seeing encouraging evidence of this at COP15), RECOFTC’s message is becoming mainstream.

Less surprising, but equally satisfying, was Elinor Ostrom’s testimony. I would specifically like to draw attention to her language on the issue of trust. The promise of local peoples’ contribution to monitoring forest resources in the long term, and thus to the generation of information required for REDD to be a credible mitigation strategy, requires trust between them, their representatives, and their governments over a long time horizon. And this trust must work both ways.

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