Who owns forest carbon?


As the government prepares its national strategy on Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), a debate over the ownership of carbon of community forests has now cropped up.

Who owns carbon of community forests? Or, more specifically, who deserves the money made from forest carbon trade? This is one of the key questions that need to be answered before the government finalizes the REDD+ strategy by 2014.

The government, in line with the Forest Act – 1993 and the Forest Regulations – 1995, has handed over altogether 17,808 forests to community user groups. Both the act and the regulations state that Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) can use all the forest products but forest land. The land, though covered by community-managed forests, will always belong to the government, as per the act and the regulations.

“Communities enjoy ownership over timbers, firewood and even leaves but not carbon,” says Resham Bahadur Dangi, deputy director general of the Department of Forest (DoF). “But, unless our act and regulations are revised, carbon of community forests is the government´s sole property.”

However, the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN) says carbon, just like timbers and firewood, should also belong to communities. “We own not just the trees but even their roots,” says Ganesh Karki, general secretary of the FECOFUN. “If we own all forest products, why do we not own the carbon?”

When the forest act and the regulations were drafted, the concept of forest carbon trade was yet to be established. At that time, not even the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding deal that would force developed countries to reduce carbon emissions, was signed. In 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, the issue of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation was still not touched upon. Only in 2007, the REDD+ was agreed upon, paving the way for developing countries to earn money by conserving forests.

Deforestation and forest degradation contribute up to 20 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries, like Nepal, are expected to offset carbon emitted by developed countries by preserving forests. In return, developing countries can earn money for sequestrating carbon.

“If you look at the issue of carbon ownership from a legal point of view, it surely belongs to the government,” says Hari Dhungana, executive director of Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies (SIAS). “But, we should look at this issue from the point of view of justice.”

Published on 2013-11-15 12:56:33

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