While the United Nations Collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries is gaining momentum under the banner of climate change programs, it has not really received the green light from the government in Bhutan.
The Watershed Management Division of the agriculture ministry is trying to convince the government of the crucial role of REDD and its potential to attract international funds. The Chief Forestry Officer, Watershed Management Division, Karma Tshering, said they are still waiting for a concrete decision from the government. “The delay is because the government has to take into account the issues of overall national interest,” he said.
While REDD is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development, REDD+ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
In Bhutan, areas have been identified to have a high rate of forest degradation which could be turned into REDD+ potential project sites.
The REDD+ initiatives are aimed to provide alternative revenues for development and additional income streams for local communities depending on forests. Karma Tshering said REDD+ projects must be ecologically, economically and socially sustainable for which carbon finance mechanisms must be transparent and equitable in the distribution of those benefits like recognizing customary rights in community forests.
As REDD mandates low carbon strategies, which have already been prioritized by the government, “The need to move forward quickly in order to originate carbon credits from Bhutan REDD+ projects has been emphasized so that the benefits to the environment and local communities can be realized,” he said.
There are various opportunities that may also be generated from the carbon market. These are generation of money to finance forest protection, conservation and sustainable management, conversion of forests into more profitable land uses, enhancement of overall forest governance, improvement of wildlife habitat and species preservation, overall improvement of biodiversity and ecotourism, promotion of private sector involvement, and cooperation between governments, NGOs, corporations and between many carbon traders.
However, one of the biggest challenges faced in the pursuance of the carbon market is the risk of human displacement and eviction from the REDD identified areas. “The people will then have to be resettled in another area which would be difficult if people of that area refuse to leave. Their customary rights will be violated,” said karma Tshering.
The agriculture minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho, during a seminar on REDD+ potential in Bhutan in June said the presence of human settlements in the forests and even in the protected areas is a reality in Bhutan that must be respected and preset under any terms of REDD implementation.
Other challenges include development concessions and logging subsidies, replacing old-growth forests with monoculture tree, problems in assuring broad-based participations, community involvement, benefit sharing, risk of increased corruption and crash in carbon price.
The minister then said that REDD has been politically challenging, technically perplexing and economically enticing for Bhutan to provide a definitive context under which it can be applied without undermining the sublime themes of GNH.
Karma Tshering said the REDD programs, globally, is victim to the wider breakdown in negotiations, no internationally agreed finance framework, country selection and policy priorities. “REDD is just a political statement and not a legal binding document,” he said.
Meanwhile, the UN-REDD program was launched in developing countries in September 2008 to assist developing countries prepare and implement national REDD+ strategies. The program currently supports REDD+ readiness activities in nine pilot countries, spanning Africa, Asia and the Pacific and Latin America: Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, United Republic of Tanzania, Viet Nam and Zambia.
While the current funding is limited to the nine pilot countries, 13 other countries have become observers to the program. The observer countries include Nepal, Argentina, Ecuador, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Republic of Congo, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, and Sudan.