Realizing REDD as a Mechanism for Equity and Environmental Justice in ASEAN

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that deforestation accounted for 20% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. The mitigation of deforestation and forest degradation related activities hence contributes significantly to the reduction of GHG. The REDD mechanism is then initiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

REDD is an acronym for Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries which is grounded on the idea that forest protection is beneficial to the overall global environment. Thus the forest protectors (villagers, forest plantation companies) should receive compensation, a mechanism to create positive incentive to protect forests. The project evaluates the values of carbon stock stored in forests and translates it into monetary terms. This amount of payment is rendered to different communities in developing countries as the incentive for forest protection and in parallel as a strategy to poverty eradication.

In principle, REDD is well-formulated, but in practice, it is still very ambiguous, problematic and challenging which in need of further negotiation, debate and discussion on the outcomes and other negative effects. The academics and NGOs are concerned that such mechanism could pose impacts on forest-dependent communities in the areas of rights, customary livelihoods from forest products of villagers as the forest protection becomes more stringent under the project. This can intensify conflicts between community and community, community and forest industrial companies, as well as government and community.

The remaining forests in ASEAN are accounted for 16% of global tropical forests. In these intact forests, not only exist the diversity of plant and animal species but also the indigenous people who live and rely on the extraction of forest biodiversity. The REDD project may be a mechanism to either promote conservation and sustainable natural resource management or marginalize and violate the rights of local forest communities. Experiences of ongoing pilot projects in different countries are lessons to be drawn for other developing countries as elaborated in the following.

Seima Protection Forest of Cambodia, once a degraded logging concession site was transformed into the forest rich in biodiversity after the Wildlife Conservation Society supported its participation in REDD project. However, the Seima Protection Forest continues to provide livelihood access to surrounding villagers to collect wild products or hunt animals for food and agriculture of the Bunong tribe who through many generations rely on forests. (1)


 Seima Protection Forest, Cambodia

Networking for Equity in Forest Climate Policy (2)   reported that on Panay Island of the Philippines, government officials entrusted by the villagers had encouraged the community to plant different tree species in an allocated plot for REDD project. Nonetheless, the community was not informed of the plan that this area would be declared a protected area in which their right of forest extraction was delimited.

In Terai Province of Nepal where REDD+ is being piloted and where the rate of deforestation and forest degradation are extremely high, only 2% of the area is transferred to the community for management. The rest of 98% are managed by the government with the claim that forests belong to the nation and should not be owned by certain communities. On the other hand, some villages which have succeeded in restoring, managing, and sustaining the livelihoods in the forest over many years are not partaking in REDD+ project or are excluded from “community forest users groups”. They then have not received any support from REDD+. Moreover, the chronic conflicts on land ownership and ambiguity of associated laws lessen the restoration efforts by the villagers, viewing that they would lose the land once it was rehabilitated. In addition, some leaders have made claims of private ownership on previously degraded forests which were recovered by the villagers. Currently there are 14 similar cases pending in the Nepali judicial processes and some even reach the appeal court of justice. (3)

For Thailand, the Elephant Conservation Network in Salak Pra Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnchanaburi province is a reforestation initiative which villagers receive some compensation from Nature Conservation Fund and Elephant Nursery Center for participating in the project. There is also another community forest project in Ban Papao, Lamphun province which gains other advantages from the project, such as flood mitigation, water table retention, training programs for villagers and construction of school for community.

According to all 4 case studies, clearly REDD project implementation can create incentive measures for forest conservation and restoration. But in case that its management fails to incorporate human rights dimension, participation, equity and fairness for community forest user groups, it will deepen ingrained conflicts and further widen the gaps of inequality and injustice in the society.

Numerous challenges need to be tackled here, such as the issue of community rights, transaction costs, benefit sharing scheme between government and local communities, technical and methodological aspects, including the definition of forest, methods of GHG emission assessment, incentive measures, etc.

At last, the deforestation and reforestation are issues to be managed by ASEAN with or without an existence of REDD mechanism. Any supports from REDD are positive as long as the main goal of mitigating GHG emission at source countries are fulfilled for the mutual survival of the planet.   

 The villagers try to extinguish a fire before spread to forest fires. Indonesia


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