REDD+ climate challenge: Confusion over who owns forested lands

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Brazilian Guarani community evicted from their own land and living by the roadside. Brazil has one of the best records in implementing forest tenure reform but insecure land tenure is still a major challenge for REDD+ implementation.Photo courtesy of Peter Mulligan/flickr.

BOGOR, Indonesia (7 April, 2011) _ With billions of dollars on offer for developing nations to protect their forests because of their role in slowing climate change, renewed attention is being paid to who owns the land on which the trees sit – and who owns the carbon in the trees and the ground.

In many developing countries, it is not clear who owns forested land – private individuals, indigenous groups, other local communities or national governments. Rights – and particularly, claims to rights – are emerging not only from formal legal systems, but also from customary systems or from the simple assertion of a claimant.

Fixing the clarification of rights to forest land, resources and carbon stocks is one of the key challenges to get REDD+ off the ground, said William Sunderlin, Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

REDD+ is a global mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The global mechanism offers one of the cheapest options for cutting global greenhouses gases.

“Tenure is one of the most important issues to address before REDD+ moves forward,” Sunderlin said. “There has been uneven progress on this, and the lack of progress and awareness in some countries is worrisome.”

Still, the billions of dollars being pledged for REDD+ has incentivised the acceleration of forest tenure reform in some parts of the world.

While REDD+ projects will go ahead before thorough tenure reform is accomplished, steady progress is crucial to give REDD+ long-term steam.

A $1 billion pledge from Norway for Indonesia to halt deforestation for two years looks set to come into play this year despite disputes over forest land use.

“It is important that these issues be faced squarely before REDD+ gets underway in Indonesia,” Sunderlin said.

Among countries beginning to implement REDD+, Brazil has one of the best records in implementing forest tenure reform. “Undoubtedly, Brazil is ahead of the game on the tenure situation. It has a comparatively large share of its forest estate either under community ownership or allocated for community use,” Sunderlin said.

But even in Brazil, where forest tenure reform is among the most advanced in the world, insecure land tenure in the Brazilian Amazon is considered the main challenge to REDD+ implementation.

A soon-to-be-published CIFOR study on land tenure and community participation in three REDD+ projects in Brazil by Amy Duchelle and co-authors, including Sunderlin, found that REDD+ project proponents have responded to this challenge through prioritizing land tenure reform in their REDD+ readiness activities. Such efforts include geo-referencing small properties for inclusion in official settlement projects and working with private property owners to implement Rural Environmental Cadastres, which is an important step towards environmental compliance.

In addition to challenges associated with tenure reform, the legal determination of rights to forest carbon is not yet clear in most REDD+ countries. It is a pressing issue because it is right at the heart of designing equitable benefit sharing systems for REDD+.

In Papua New Guinea, for example, communities have statutory ownership over much of the forest, yet controversy has risen over claims to forest carbon by the government and other stakeholders.

“Historically, people living in forests have been treated like trespassers in their own homes and have been deprived of a fair share of resource benefits,” Sunderlin said.

“It is important to give serious attention to tenure and other rights in anticipation of REDD+ so that the wrongs of the past are not repeated, and so that REDD+ has a chance of succeeding.”

For more information on tenure and REDD+:

InfoBrief: Rights to forests and carbon under REDD+ initiatives in Latin America

Forest tenure reform in the age of climate change

Rights to land, forests and carbon in REDD+

Tenure Rights and Beyond: Community Access to Forest Resources in Latin America

Grounding the REDD+ debate: Preliminary evidence from pilot initiatives in the Brazilian Amazon

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