Evaporating Euphoria

OM ASTHA RAI

“Save forest, make money.”
“Now forest carbon is on sale.”

These were the kinds of headlines that Nepali newspapers chose when they ran stories on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a United Nations program which offers incentives, among others, for developing countries to conserve forests.

When the REDD+ was reported by the Nepali media with such oversimplified headlines in 2007, following a deal was struck at the 13th Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) to take meaningful steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation of forests, thousands of community forest users in Nepal were delighted.

In Nepal, where nearly 18,000 forests have already been handed over to community use groups, the oversimplified message of the REDD+ spread like wildfire. A majority of Community Forest User Group (CFUG) members hardly knew what the REDD+ actually meant. They did not even know what carbon trade was all about. All they knew was if they saved forests, they would get monetary rewards.

“In villages, some people even mistook carbon for some precious herb,” says Dharma Raj Uprety, an expert on forestry and climate change. “And there were rumors that they went into the wood to collect carbon. They probably wanted to pack carbon into sacks and sell them in the market.”

Over half a decade has elapsed after the CoP-13 agreed on the REDD+. However, none of the CFUGs, except for a few selected for a pilot project initiated with the support of the Norwegian Government in three districts of Nepal, is ready to fetch money by selling carbon in the international market.

As a result, the euphoria of carbon trade among the CFUG members is now fast evaporating. The enthusiasm with which the CFUG members used to talk about the REDD+ until a few years ago no longer exists now. “There is no longer the same level of enthusiasm,” says Ganesh Karki, General Secretary of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN), an umbrella organization of over 13,000 CFUGs. “In villages, people are getting disappointed.”

Worse, the dream of earning money by selling forest carbon is unlikely to come true even by the end of this decade. The government is now just preparing a REDD+ strategy which is expected to outline, in details, how Nepal can benefit from this scheme. “We’re expecting to finalize the REDD+ strategy by 2014,” says Resham Bahadur Dangi, Deputy Director General of the Department of Forests (DoF).

According to Dangi, preparing the strategy is just one of the three lengthy phases of implementing the REDD+. “It is called the readiness phase,” explains Dangi. “When this phase is completed, we will still have to go through two more phases – demonstration and implementation – to start earning money by selling forest carbon.” Dangi, who leads the REDD+ cell within the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC), says, “Even if everything goes as planned, we will be trading forest carbon only after 2020.”

“We are yet not ready to benefit from the REDD+,” says Bhaskar Karky, resource economist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), one of the four agencies that collectively carried out the REDD+ pilot project in Dolakha, Gorkha and Chitwan. “However, we have learnt from our pilot project that the local people are capable of and interested in implementing the REDD+.”

The road to realizing the essence of the REDD+ is not as smooth as it now looks. With fresh issues and arguments cropping up in every new CoP, it would not be surprising even if any of the upcoming UN climate talks ends up further complicating the REDD+. “At every new CoP, the realization of the REDD+ looks more difficult,” says Karki of the FECOFUN. “This is also adding to our frustration.”

However, even if no new obstacle emerges in any of the upcoming UN climate talks, as anticipated by Karki, and if the government smoothly sails through all phases of the REDD+, it will still not be easy for Nepal´s CFUGs to benefit from forest carbon trade, say experts.

Bharat Kumar Pokharel, an expert on governance of natural resources, says the REDD+ contains a few preconditions that make it almost impossible for Nepal to benefit from it. For instance, according to Pokharel, there is a condition of permanence in the REDD+ which means that a forest, selected for carbon trade, needs to be preserved continuously for at least 30 years. “In such a long period, if a wildfire destroys some portion of the forest, people will not get money,” he explains.

Likewise, there is another precondition of leakage, which means that forests, whether inside or outside areas handed over to community user groups, need to be protected. “If a community user group protects its forest area but deforestation occurs elsewhere, they will still be deprived of carbon money,” explains he. “There are several other preconditions that make the REDD+ not so applicable in our context.”

Pokharel dubs such conditions of the REDD+ as the ´dishonesty´ of developed countries. “We cannot benefit much from the REDD+ in such conditions,” says he.
Upreti, another expert, adds, “For a forest area to be selected for carbon trade, it should cover about 10,000 hectares of land, which is difficult to be found in Nepal. We do not have a block of such a vast area of forest land. Our forest areas are divided by human settlements, national parks or wildlife reserves.”

Upreti says Nepal, despite all these constraints, can still benefit from the REDD+. However, he adds, “We need to create conducive environment for the trade of forest carbon. The existing conditions are not conducive for the REDD+ to be implemented. We have a carbon trade-friendly police. We also need to sort out the issue of carbon ownership.”

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Published on 2013-11-15 12:59:45

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