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DEVELOPMENT: Opportunity to benefit from afforestation

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
June 29, 2010
Publisher Name: 
Daily Times
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It must be realised that while population growth and poverty do threaten forests, their destruction is more seriously determined by institutional and economic policies. Institutional failure can occur due to pro-degradation land use development policies or if there is a lack of regulation of resource use or corruption

Climate change is now a major issue for the entire world, and its varied implications are becoming clearer by the day. Addressing the problem, however, is tricky given that most rich and industrialised countries have benefited immensely from the use of polluting technologies, and it is now hard for them to convince developing countries not to do the same.

To find a way around this problem, the international development community has come up with some innovative solutions, like the introduction of a market-based instrument called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which aims to encourage developing nations to engage in environment-friendly projects that will help reduce global emissions. For every reduced tonne of greenhouse gases under the CDM, a developing country is eligible to get a carbon credit that may be sold to industrialised countries to enable them to meet emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Another interesting mechanism concerns the reduction of emissions by trying to prevent deforestation, and to promote afforestation instead. It is this particular issue that the current article will aim to draw more attention to.

The reason why forests are considered so important in helping address climate change is because scientists have estimated that deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for global warming. This amount of emissions exceeds the percentage emitted by the entire global transport sector.

The reason why forests have such alarming pollution capacity is because when forests are damaged or cleared for agriculture, the burned or decaying wood releases carbon stored in trees in the form of carbon dioxide, which is a major heat-trapping greenhouse gas. On the other hand, recent studies have estimated that nearly five billion of the 32 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted annually through human activity are absorbed by forests. So losing forests poses a double loss for humanity. We lose an ecosystem that absorbs greenhouse gases and their loss releases more carbon into the environment.

Realising this situation, international climate change negotiators have now devised a policy instrument called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) to incentivise the preservation of forests. REDD is meant especially for poor countries, where it is not industrialisation but deforestation and forest degradation that are the dominant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In places like Africa, deforestation results in 75 percent of the total emissions from the entire continent.

The idea behind REDD is basically for developed countries to finance developing countries for maintaining their forests, which can act as carbon stores rather than allowing these forests to be destroyed. It was back in 2005 that the international community realised the need to incentivise developing countries to retain their forests as critical carbon sinks. The plan is for REDD to come into effect in 2012.

The broader aim of REDD is to slow, halt and eventually reverse deforestation in developing countries. In order for REDD to achieve this objective however, it is necessary for policy makers in both the developing and developed world to understand both the on-ground imperatives of deforestation, and to devise mechanisms relevant enough to deal with them.

Land use change poses perhaps the most threat to forests, motivated by pressures for agricultural expansion, infrastructure and industrial development or to undertake logging or mining. Other indirect drivers of deforestation are demographic change, poverty and inequality, institutional failure to protect forests and faulty economic policies.

It must also be realised that while population growth and poverty do threaten forests, their destruction is more seriously determined by institutional and economic policies. Institutional failure can occur due to pro-degradation land use development policies or if there is a lack of regulation of resource use or corruption.

A majority of past efforts to reduce deforestation have failed as the designed projects were not able to address the above drivers of deforestation and, instead, viewed the forest sector in isolation from other sectors. While it is now becoming clearer that, in the long run, environmental sustainability is a prerequisite for development and growth, and that no country can do well if its natural resources are depleted, putting REDD into operation will not be easy.

There are still ongoing debates about the definition of a forest. There is evident criticism that the definition proposed by REDD does not distinguish between native forests and mono-cultural tree plantations, and may lead to the conversion of native forests to plantations.

Another contentious issue in the REDD negotiations is the treatment of forest degradation and inclusion of the concept of ‘sustainable forest management’, which NGOs fear will enable industrial scale logging. But, while some environmental groups oppose the inclusion of extractive activities altogether, many indigenous groups are concerned that their use of non-timber products and forest resources may be jeopardised by the tight restrictions imposed by REDD.

Once these conceptual issues have been sorted out, there will be a need for the actual management of REDD to be effectively handled, so that the lowest appropriate level is given responsibility, sense of ownership and accountability responsibilities, instead of governments marginalising local people to benefit from REDD themselves.

It is important for a country like Pakistan to give due heed to these latest developments given that unthinking deforestation has shrunk forest cover to just over 5 percent in our country, which is the lowest rate in South Asia. Seemingly oblivious to the potential benefits of safeguarding forests, the Punjab government recently announced plans to demarcate 30,000 acres of state forests for employment generation purposes.

Instead of allowing agriculture, perhaps it would be wiser for Punjab and other provincial governments to take a closer look at these above-mentioned international developments, and devise an incentive-based forestation scheme that can be funded by interested donors or the government itself, until international incentive mechanisms for doing so come into place.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut