A recent paper from the Global Canopy Programme, “Land tenure and fast-tracking REDD+: time to reframe the debate?” rightly points out that legally defensible and enforceable land rights are an essential condition for effective, equitable implementation of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation plus augmentation of carbon stocks). The authors assert that clear land tenure and usage rights determine who should be compensated for reducing deforestation or held accountable for continuing it. This will require reform of laws and policies surrounding land tenure “to ensure that REDD+ projects will both reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, and positively impact the livelihoods of forest communities by maximising the flow of REDD+ benefits to these groups.”
However, the authors note that legal reform is a lengthy process with uncertain outcomes. Over the time that such reforms unfold, forests remain under pressure, subject to widespread clearance and unsustainable use. Even where forest and land governance laws are reformed and harmonized, the authors contend that poor implementation, weak enforcement, and unsustainable practices can thwart achievement of desired REDD+ objectives.
Citing examples from published literature and brief case studies from Nepal and Papua New Guinea, the authors argue that legal reform of land and forest tenure will not successfully advance REDD+ objectives if the de facto power of communities remains weak, enforcement is poor, and the influence of powerful political and economic stakeholders who benefit from unsustainable forest practices remains unchecked.
The authors propose immediate interim measures that can help foster successful REDD+ efforts; their description of these measures implies that the proposed steps differ from and fall outside the typical reform of legal land tenure systems. They propose: mapping laws and policies across sectors to ensure policy consistency and to identify perverse incentives, legal loopholes, and conflicting priorities; the use of moratoria and the revision of concessions; and the engagement of community forestry user group networks with governments to expand recognition and protection of de facto community land rights.
While these are all important steps, they are an integral part of the longer-term process of reforming tenure governance to develop clear, enforceable land and forest rights for communities. The international Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security adopted in 2012, outlines these and other principles and practices.