No trees without tenure

Reducing deforestation will need to be a part of a post-2012 agreement on climate change. But whether any such scheme will benefit – or marginalise – forest communities is a critical question, write Lorenzo Cotula and James Mayers.

“No trees without tenure” may be a useful update to “no timber without trees”: the rallying call of those who brought vital attention to rainforest sustainability in the 1980s. Resource tenure – the systems of rights, rules, institutions and processes regulating resource access and use – is crucial to shaping the distribution of risks, costs and benefits.

While insecure tenure makes local people vulnerable to dispossession as land values increase, secure resource tenure gives them more leverage in relations with government and the private sector. Insecure or contested resource rights may also increase risk for investors; for example, reputational risk, in relation to possible tensions with local groups.

There is now a vibrant international debate on REDD (“Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries”), with spreading recognition that deforestation and forest degradation account for some 17% of greenhouse-gas emissions globally, and that the emission reductions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change are so large that they will not be achieved without reducing forest loss and degradation.

Given the immediate challenge of negotiating a post-2012 agreement on climate change, much of the debate about REDD has focused on international aspects. But whether REDD will benefit – or marginalise – forest communities ultimately depends on local to national arrangements about the allocation of benefits within countries. So resource tenure is crucial.

Yet tenure issues have only recently begun to receive attention in international debates – largely due to civil society pressure. Indeed, in terms of country submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by early 2009, only from one country – the tiny island nation of Tuvalu – had there been a proposal to make community-managed forests or indigenous peoples’ rights a binding part of a REDD agreement.

REDD was hotly debated at the UN-led international climate-change talks (COP14) in Poznan, Poland in December 2008, but with few concrete results. The Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus on Climate Change joined forces with various NGOs in an effort to generate agreement among parties on the need to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in any future REDD regime, including human rights instruments such as the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and procedural rights such as the right to Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC). But the final statement of the COP was weak in this regard, recognising only “…the need to promote the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities.”

Our report, Tenure in REDD: start-point or afterthought?, aims to take the debate forward by identifying: a typology of tenure regimes in rainforest countries and some of the challenges they present for REDD; the nature of tenure and usage rights regimes within key rainforest countries; and the issues revealed by exploration of these regimes that will need to be engaged with if REDD and related strategies are to have sustainable impact. Seven rainforest countries – examples of those likely to be major players within a REDD system – are the foci of attention: Brazil, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guyana, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

Overall, the rainforest countries reviewed here present great diversity of tenure contexts, and different mixes of strengths and weaknesses when possible arrangements for REDD are considered. The following table is purely illustrative:

It appears evident that many countries are ill-equipped in practice to ensure that REDD schemes benefit local people. Improvements in tenure alone will not achieve this. Tackling some of the powerful players behind deforesting activities, like destructive logging, pressures for infrastructure development and conversion of forests to agribusiness, will require concerted action on an unprecedented scale in many countries.

While specific policy developments must be tailored to local contexts, some general recommendations that deserve attention as REDD schemes are developed include:

• Shape REDD schemes to contribute to improved forest governance, not vice versa.

• Strengthen local resource rights, including customary rights.

• Ensure carbon rights are effectively established in national regulations.

• Build on practical mechanisms for cross-sectoral engagement.

• Develop effective arrangements to channel benefits to the local level.

• Connect national policy to key international thinking and requirements.

• Support learning groups for REDD and related approaches.

Effective local institutional capability, and the knowledge and preparedness to put good forestry into practice, will be essential for REDD. For this to be achievable, effective and equitable local property rights are needed. Consideration of tenure will thus need to be the starting point, not an afterthought.

Lorenzo Cotula is a senior researcher at IIED.

James Mayers is head of the Natural Resources Group at IIED.  

The full report, Tenure in REDD: Start-point or afterthought?, is published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). It is available for download here

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