The world’s tropical forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Deforestation is the second-leading cause of climate change after burning fossil fuels.
If forests are left to grow, they can provide vital mitigation for climate change globally. As the science behind the Paris Agreement shows, humanity’s future is entwined with the health of forests.
How to change global behaviour on deforestation
One of the only international initiatives to reduce emissions by offering financial incentives to countries to prevent deforestation is REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and enhancing forest stocks). Endorsed by the Paris Agreement, REDD+ has the potential to be a game changer for climate change mitigation, if it can keep forests standing and offer financially viable alternatives to deforestation and logging.
Has REDD+ worked in practice?
But REDD+ projects have not always worked well for environment and people – early projects led to rights violations, particularly of communities’ land ownership and forest use rights. Other REDD+ projects have been accused of gaining financial reward for only limited additional forest protection.
ClientEarth legal experts, together with national legal partners, have produced a briefing that explores whether laws in Ghana, Liberia and the Republic of Congo promote and support socially responsible REDD+ projects. Focusing on four rights – including transparency of information and decision-making, public participation, land tenure rights and equitable sharing of benefits – the briefing highlights that laws in all three countries could go further.
What’s the role of the law?
REDD+ provides an opportunity to strengthen national laws to ensure the initiative works for people and the environment. Law and Policy Advisor at our London office, Caroline Haywood, says: “Starting REDD+ projects without strong laws puts the cart before the horse – it opens up the possibility of bad projects, because there is no baseline to which all REDD+ projects must adhere.”
We are currently working to support NGOs and local communities in West and Central Africa to understand the laws relevant to REDD+ so that they can actively participate in REDD+ discussions.
Caroline adds: “To develop strong laws and address forest governance issues, you need the involvement of all interested stakeholders – government, private sector, non-governmental organisations and local communities.
“If civil society has a voice at the table, this can lead to better recognition of community rights in law, more equitable sharing of benefits among all stakeholders, greater access to information and better environmental outcomes.”
Case study: Striking the balance in Liberia
Last year, Liberia announced new land right laws, recognising customary land ownership – a massive step towards protecting community lands. And as the recent IPCC report on climate change confirms, strengthening local and indigenous land rights can also lead to better forest management. These laws also meant that communities have the right to consent to a REDD+ project on their land.
While REDD+ projects can bring financial and non-financial benefits, such as the means for improved agricultural yields, they can also place limits on the traditional use of forests by local communities.
An example of this could be collecting non-timber forest products, which has the potential to undermine local food systems if limited by a REDD+ project. For a REDD+ project to be successful, it is crucial to get the people who rely on the forest on board and uphold their rights to land and to participate in the laws that govern them.