Climate, carbon, conservation and communities

What if there was a way to reduce climate change, protect wild species and improve livelihoods in developing countries?

News, 04 September 2007

Well, in principle, there is. But as a new briefing paper by IIED and WWF-UK shows, careful planning and community involvement will be key to reaping the potential of this combined solution to multiple problems.

The growing market for carbon trading is opening the door to projects that bring benefits for climate, conservation and communities by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

When forests are felled or burned, the carbon they contain is released to the atmosphere where it contributes to climate change. Overall this accounts for about 18 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions but efforts to avoid deforestation are not yet recognised in the Clean Development Mechanism of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This could change at December's UNFCCC meeting in Bali, Indonesia, where developing nations with large areas of forest will argue that wealthy nations that have contributed most to climate change should compensate them for keeping forests intact.

As the briefing paper shows, any efforts to reduce carbon emissions by protecting forests or planting trees must involve local communities and take account of their needs, and must also consider the impacts on biodiversity conservation.

The financial benefits that will arise from trading emissions-reductions could contribute greatly to local development. However, there are concerns that governments, private companies and others will capture these benefits to the exclusion of local communities, which often lack rights to access and control forest lands that they have used for generations.

Other issues that must be considered include the risks that poor people will be displaced to make way for lucrative carbon-storing plantations and that reducing deforestation in one area or nation will lead to more deforestation elsewhere.

The briefing paper warns that new initiatives to tackle climate change "have yet to include the lessons from the past few decades of biodiversity conservation and sustainable forest management. As yet, they pay scant attention to governance issues and the rights of poor local people, particularly those with limited livelihood diversification options and those critically dependent on forest resources".