Forests at the frontline

Nepal supports a global agreement to help protect the climate by leaving the country’s forests intact. Bhimsen Thapaliya investigates the politics of such a deal.

Nepal has lobbied in favour of a global pact that will convert its community-managed forests into cash, without cutting down a single tree. With less than 60 days left before the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, Nepal is raising its voice to call for a framework agreement that ensures judicious payments for carbon-absorbing forests – and their enhancement – achieved through local-level management.

Regenerating forests by checking potential deforestation can act as “green servant”, cleaning up the carbon mess created by big polluters in the developed world. One of the key negotiating points for Nepal, which has 1.25 million hectares (12,500 square kilometres) of forests under community guardianship, is that these carbon mopping and management services should be duly compensated.

The rich polluters should pay not only for the carbon our trees absorb, but also for the managerial and forest enhancement efforts put by the communities, said Jagadish Chandra Baral, head of the REDD-Forestry and Climate Change Cell, which is under Nepal’s ministry of forest and soil conservation.

Voices for new pact have already been raised and will intensify in Bangkok this week, and in the Barcelona meeting, leading up to the Copenhagen summit in December, Baral said. Nepal has an impressive track record in community-involved forestry management, which was started to save forests from the critical point of deforestation in the mid- to late-1970s. However, deforestation still continues at the rate of nearly 2% every year.

“We are seeking a global framework pact in Copenhagen that recognises the role of our forests in carbon absorption, biodiversity conservation and other ecological services,” said Bhola Bhattarai, general secretary of the Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal (FECOFUN). Bhattarai is part of a readiness action group for the proposed forest conservation and payment mechanism, which is known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

The REDD scheme, which is still a hot topic of debate, seeks recognition of the role of deforestation control measures in reducing carbon emissions – an issue overlooked by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Carbon dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas causing global warming and climate change. If the proposed REDD plan comes into force, Nepal’s community forests can claim payments in the global carbon market for checking potential deforestation.

But the issue does not end there. The proposed REDD scheme has now evolved into more inclusive programme called “REDD-plus”, which seeks to cover additional components, such as compensation for forest management, improved livelihood and enriching he ecology.

“Community forestry is not only about checking the dangerous trend of deforestation and forest degradation,” said FECOFUN’s Bhattarai. “We have also accumulated a vast storehouse of conservation knowledge over the decades. We are going to claim payments for this as well.”

If things proceed as envisioned by the REDD-plus proposal, Nepal is set to convert its forests into cash, turning the saying Hariyo ban Nepal ko dhan (“Green forests are Nepal’s money earner”) into a reality. But significantly, these earnings will come without losing any trees.

As Nepal continues works on REDD in readiness for the Copenhagen climate jamboree, it is seeking the commitment of developed nations to abide by specific emissions reduction targets and ensure payments to services rendered by anti-deforestation measures. “We want payment commitments from developed nations for all the services our forests have rendered to the environment and communities. They cannot leave us alone in the carbon market controlled by private sector,” said Bhattarai.

The Kyoto Protocol has made emissions reduction legally binding for developed countries, but offers flexible arrangement under which they can offset their excess emissions by purchasing carbon credits from “clean” projects.

“At the climate summit, we will be seeking commitments from the developed nations to cut their emissions by 45% on 1990 levels by 2020,” said Purushottam Ghimire, a key climate change official at Nepal’s ministry of environment, science and technology, speaking at a recent consultative meeting.

REDD-plus is a scheme that will bring benefits to Nepal, but it should also not come in such a form that infringes upon the livelihood rights of forest-dependent indigenous peoples, said Nima Lama, secretary of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN). Lama said that the global caucus of indigenous peoples has demanded that clear distinction be made between local communities and indigenous peoples and no REDD project should come into operation without their consent.

This article first appeared in Gorkhapatra/The Rising Nepal. It is translated and reproduced here with permission.

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