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Forest Conservation in Asia: Progress Has Been Made, but Challenges Remain

The United Nations has declared 2011 as the “International Year of Forests”. With heightened attention on forest conservation, a broad range of initiatives are underway in Asian countries towards more sustainable forms of forest management. However, there are many challenges remaining.

This issue features an interview with Dr. Henry Scheyvens, Director of the Natural Resources Management Group, IGES, including updates of forest conservation activities in Asia and future prospects.

Henry Scheyvens
Dr. Scheyvens, Ph.D. in Political Science from Monash University, Australia, joined IGES in 2004. Before joining IGES, he lectured in Geography at Massey University, New Zealand. His current research spans forest law, forests and climate, and legality and sustainability certification.

March 2011

Forest Conservation in Asia:
Progress Has Been Made, but Challenges Remain


Henry Scheyvens
(Director, Natural Resources Management Group, IGES)


Current Initiatives: Some Progress Made

--- The United Nations has declared 2011 as the “International Year of Forests” to raise awareness on forest conservation. How do you evaluate the present state of conservation activities in Asia?

Scheyvens:
There are a broad range of initiatives underway in Asian countries towards more sustainable forms of forest management. Some aim at strengthening the management and increasing the coverage of protected areas, and here we see progress as well as challenges; a joint World Bank-UNDP review of 10 protected forest areas in developing countries found that most were under threat due to weak and unclear tenure rules, insufficient budgets to promote development opportunities, and lack of involvement of local people in management of the protected areas. Other approaches aim at improving harvesting practices in forests allocated for production and using markets to reward the responsible management of these forests. Their results are also mixed. They have succeeded in creating forest management standards aiming at environmental, social and economic outcomes, but where these standards are mandatory, enforcement is weak, and where they are voluntary, uptake is slow. Processes to facilitate community involvement in forest management are also evident in the region. With sufficient support and controls in place, communities are showing that they can protect and enhance forest resources in ways that provide both environmental and economic benefits.

In sum, we can see gains here and there, but we do not have the evidence to say that these efforts have contributed to a significant reduction in aggregate deforestation rates; the FAO found that globally we lost 13 million hectares of forest per year over the last decade, only a small decline from 16 million ha/year during the previous decade.

Ensuring the Success of REDD+

--- With an eye on linkage to climate change issues, Asian countries have intensified their efforts on readiness and substantive activities for national REDD-plus. What would you say is the major theme when implementing REDD-plus in Asia?

Building local capacity for forest carbon accounting
Scheyvens:
At this stage in the development of REDD+ we need to focus on preparation, with a view to implementation, rather than implementation per se. Despite considerable international support, countries still have a long way to go before they will be ready to report forest sector emissions reductions or carbon stock enhancements at a national level.

What is required at the readiness phase? There is a common understanding on the general preparations required. Comprehensive reviews of forest sector institutions are needed to better understand what policies have or have not worked and why. Cross-sectoral mechanisms must be created to ensure that all departments that impact forests (including agriculture and mining), work towards national REDD+ objectives. Multi-stakeholder processes must be set up to ensure that REDD+ policy is developed with broad stakeholder buy in. Large investments are required in ground-based forest inventories and capacity building to establish reference levels(*) and monitor carbon stock changes.

Establishing national systems to ensure that the benefits of REDD+ are shared equitably is also high on the REDD+ agenda. The IGES Forest Conservation Team is arguing that we must go further than thinking about benefit sharing to consider responsibilities, roles and rewards. That communities can contribute in many ways to REDD+ requires greater consideration and on the ground research to clarify exactly what roles communities might play and be rewarded for. IGES is now working with its partners in several countries to develop and test approaches to engage communities in carbon stock measurement and monitoring. We believe that this type of engagement can contribute to local ownership and understanding of REDD+, both of which will be essential for REDD+ implementation.


Curbing Illegal Logging

--- Illegal logging is still a major concern in Asia. What should be done to curb the trade of illegal wood?

Scheyvens:
The international attention on the issue of illegal logging was sparked by studies that suggested that in some countries the volume of the illegal timber harvest exceeded that of the legal harvest. This attention was also driven by the recognition that widespread illegal practices in the forestry sector are associated with failures in governance - in the worst cases the forest police and other public officers are involved.

What needs to be done? Forest and other policies and laws require periodic review to ensure clarity of tenure rights, coordination between sectors, and equitable outcomes - “legal timber” can also be a problem where forest rights have been nationalised then passed on to logging companies with no consideration for the customary rights of forest-dependent communities. Where there are good forest laws, they must be properly enforced. This requires systems that ensure there is no political interference in the implementing mechanisms; the allocation of sufficient resources to monitor forestry operations, but also transparency and accountability within forestry departments; and strong penalties for non-compliance. Too often, enforcement drives only succeed in catching the people who “hold the chainsaws”, not the people responsible for organising and funding the illegal operations. Here, thinking outside the box of forestry policy is required. Bringing money laundering and anti-corruption laws to bear on the issue and requiring financial institutions to screen forestry sector proposals from economic, social and environmental perspectives are key interventions.

Wood users and consumers are also part of the solution. Private and public procurement policies that require evidence of timber legality and sustainability as well as legislation to prohibit the import of illegal timber are key initiatives.


New Challenges to Discuss at Rio+20

--- Forest conservation is ranked as one of the most important themes for Rio+20 in 2012. What specific course do you think the discussions will take?

Scheyvens:
One of the three key objectives of Rio+20 is addressing new and emerging challenges. An “old” issue for forest management that has taken on new dimensions is conversion of forests for agriculture. Since 2007/2008 we have been experiencing a global land grab, driven by concerns for food security associated with a spike in global food prices, energy security, and investors simply seeking high returns. A recent World Bank study found that global agricultural land expansion in 2009 was 10 times higher than the annual average for previous years.

The effect of this land grab on forests needs further study. It is clear that in some countries it is driving deforestation. For example, in less than one year, the government of Papua New Guinea appears to have granted lease rights to over two million hectares of forest land for agricultural development projects such as oil palm plantations, and this in a country that is at the forefront of the global REDD+ movement.

What course the discussions on Rio+20 will take on forest conservation is not clear, but they need to take up the major challenges to global forest conservation such as the global land grab, with a view to providing tangible outcomes. An overarching theme of Rio+20 is the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. The global land grab and other “big issues” for forest conservation need to be addressed within this framework to provide solutions that accommodate not only environmental concerns, but also local needs and global food and energy security requirements.


--- Thank you very much.


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* The reference level is the estimated net/gross emissions from a geographic area within a reference time period without any additional action being taken to reduce emissions or enhance forest carbon stocks.




About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES has released “Top News on the Environment in Asia” on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, “Top News” has collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

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