UN forest protection plans failing because of land scarcity and demand for food

The clearing of peatland - shown here close to Lake Sentarum National Park, Indonesia - releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases (© Rante/Greenpeace)

The billions of dollars available under REDD-type forest protection schemes could make it a magnet for corruption

REDD-type forest agreements ignore indigenous populations and are seeing a scramble for forest 'carbon credits' by governments and individuals, warns study

Schemes that pay countries to protect their forests are failing to stop deforestation because they ignore economic drivers such as land scarcity, demand for food, and biofuels, according to a study published this week.

At the UN climate talks in Mexico last December the international community agreed to provide money to less industrialised countries for projects that protect their rainforests (projects loosely termed as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)). Over the next decade it has been estimated as much as $35 billion could be provided to such schemes every year to reduce deforestation.

However, this has resulted in a growing number of land grabs by governments and individuals who are motivated by a desire to take advantage of forest-based carbon credits, says a study by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO).

The authors say the UN-led forest protection plan to transform forests into storehouses for carbon, or for biodiversity or some other narrow purpose, will fail. Instead, they say, REDD-type projects should focus more on supporting regional and national efforts to tackle the economic and local factors driving deforestation.

'Unless all sectors work together to address the impact of global consumption, including growing demand for food and biofuels, and problems of land scarcity, REDD will fail to arrest environmental degradation and will heighten poverty,' said co-author Constance McDermott, from the Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute.

'We are not saying we need to abandon a global approach to forest governance, but we do need to establish the appropriate roles,' said Professor Jeremy Rayner, chair of the IUFRO panel that produced the report. 'The REDD process, for example, might provide a great way to raise money for sustainable forest management and other forest programs, but much of the details and operational aspects would be undertaken at the regional and national levels.'

Useful links
Study in full: Embracing Complexity: Meeting the Challenges of International Forest Governance

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