Pay indigenous people to protect rainforests, conservation groups urge

Date of publication: 
17 October 2008

Rich countries should try to cut the greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation by first investing in the people who live and use forests, rather than relying on the financial carbon markets to encourage conservation, leading development experts have proposed.

If not, they risk unleashing a wave of land grabs, corruption, cultural destruction and civil conflict, said the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of of UN- and government-funded research organisations including the World Conservation Union and the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor).

The loss of trees is responsible for almost a fifth of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide – stopping and reducing it is seen as one of the quickest and cheapest ways of cutting emissions

The call for human rights to be put at the centre of the issue came after Johan Eliasch, Gordon Brown’s special adviser on forests, proposed this week that tropical forests be included in future carbon markets.

UN climate change negotiators are trying to set up a new financial mechanism, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd) which could generate billions of dollars a year for reducing forest loss in the tropics.

But initial findings of World Bank-commissioned research presented at a conference in Oslo, Norway, suggest it will cost far less to save carbon by recognising forest community rights rather than relying on the future money markets.

A study by Jeffrey Hatcher, an analyst with Rights and Resources in Washington, found that it costs about $3.50 (£2) per hectare to recognise forest people’s land. The costs of protecting forests under Redd have been estimated as about £2,000 per hectare.

“There is lots of evidence from around the world that communities conserve their forests when their [land] rights are recognised. There are now about 400m hectares of forest formally owned by communities. These 400m hectares conserve about 20-40m Gigatonnes of CO2. This means that it costs about $1.6bn (£925m) to achieve this conservation. The Eliasch review suggested it would cost about nearly $17bn year to to stop deforestation, which works out as far more expensive”, said Hatcher.

Norway’s Minister of Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, said that efforts towards reduced emissions from deforestation in developing countries should be based on the rights of indigenous people to the forests they depend on for their livelihoods, and should provide tangible benefits to them consistent with their essential role in sustainable forest management.

“In addition to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, early action, pilot projects and demonstrations should safeguard biodiversity, contribute to poverty reduction and secure the rights of forest-dependent communities in order to achieve any degree of permanence, legitimacy and effectiveness, “ said Solheim.

The UK and Norwegian governments pledged £108m earlier this year to protect the forests of the Congo basin.