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Features & Commentary

Forest Degradation: The Unattended Party in REDD+

The international attention in the climate context has very much focused on deforestation, while less work has been done on degradation and therefore we know less about how to approach it. By Markku Simula

Markku Simula

According to a recent assessment carried out by the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, about 1 billion hectares are reported to be degraded forests and forest lands. About 80% is located in the tropics. Globally degradation is thought to result in similar emissions to those from deforestation.

There are about 350 million people consisting of indigenous peoples, local communities, settlers and smallholders who depend on degraded forests and forest lands for their livelihoods and they are often suffering from extreme poverty. Bringing degraded areas under sustainable management would not only help in climate change mitigation and adaptation but it would also create employment and income for millions of people. 

There is, however, a risk that the rural poor may not be able to benefit from REDD+ and that their forest tenure and use rights can be negatively affected when maintenance and enhancement of the forest carbon pools are introduced as a binding objective by REDD financing. Without establishing clear and secure land tenure, building capacity,  provision of financial support and due consideration of the values and needs of local people it is unrealistic to assume that they will really benefit from REDD+. Another issue is that in many countries lands that have been transferred to community ownership have often been degraded and require significant investment through restoration. REDD payments would have to be sufficient and may have to be differentiated to address variation in local conditions.

On the other hand, if forest owners, communities and dwellers are paid for doing nothing, the system is not likely to work. Many payment schemes for forest environmental services have suffered from becoming simple subsidy schemes where the link between the payment and the obligation of the owner has remained unclear.

In forest management the objectives are always set in the long term and this also holds true for the maintenance and enhancement of carbon reservoirs. Periodic short-term changes in the forest growing stock are part of regular forest management. We should definitely avoid a situation where harvesting under sustainable forest management becomes forbidden, i.e. considered generating emissions as this would make its achievement impossible in practice leading to significant losses of other benefits. What matters is that the carbon pools are maintained and enhanced in the long run.

Degraded forest of blue pine in Bhutan

The issue of reference period/scenario in the degradation context is probably less problematic than in the case of deforestation. What matters is that we focus on the estimation of change in carbon stocks over a specific time period while eliminating their short-term variation. This should be done across a designated area which is large enough allowing stand-level variation due to regular management interventions as part of sustainable forest management. Stand/site-level assessment is also needed but for taking local-level corrective action rather than for reporting on changes in carbon stocks.

Mitigation of climate change requires quick results, and restoration of degraded forests can absorb more CO2 fast. It represents an excellent bridging strategy and at the same time, resilience is improved and the capacity of vulnerable biological populations is improved. The opportunity costs are low and the results have important co-benefits. Time will be needed for capacity building, tenure reforms and governance strengthening, but action cannot be delayed.

Markku Simula is an independent consultant specialized in forest policy and economics. He heads a consultancy company, Ardot, working for various international organizations. He holds a Doctor of Forestry from the University of Helsinki where he teaches international forest policy as Adjunct Professor.


In this issue


The Road Ahead for UN-REDD

Forest Day 3 in Copenhagen

Moving in the Right Direction on MRV

UN-REDD in the Classroom

Features & Commentary

Forest Degradation: The Unattended Party in REDD+ --By Markku Simula

Reports & Analysis

Google Earth and Forest Monitoring--By Maurizio Teobaldelli

Looking ahead

Fourth Policy Board Meeting of the UN-REDD Programme
17-19 March 2010, Nairobi, Kenya

Previous issues

August 2009

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

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