The Role of Social Forestry in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in the ASEAN Region

This report provides a general overview of social forestry in the ASEAN region and its potential to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The report focuses on the countries of Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Malaysia (particularly the States of Sarawak and Sabah), Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

ASEAN countries are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The region’s long coastlines, low-lying coastal areas, and large river delta systems are at risk from frequent and severe storms, sea level rise, and flooding. Unpredictable rainfall patterns, droughts, and floods may negatively affect agricultural productivity and food security. The impacts of climate change will be felt most strongly in the least developed countries that have limited abilities to cope and adapt.

Forests store large amounts of carbon which are released into the atmosphere by deforestation or degradation. An estimated one-fifth of global CO2 emissions comes from the forest sector. In fact, 97% of Cambodia’s CO2 emissions come from its forest sector. Indonesia is considered to be one of the biggest contributors to global CO2 emissions, with the majority of its emissions produced by land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF).

Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies nonetheless rely on forests. Managing forests sustainably and enhancing the extent and condition of forest cover can increase carbon sequestration. This fundamental principle underlies international mitigation mechanisms. Forest resources furthermore support climate change adaptation by helping diversify livelihoods, thereby reducing the vulnerability of rural peoples to natural disasters. Accordingly, forest management will be integral to addressing climate change.

asfn_article_01-2Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is an effort to valuate forest carbon and generate financial incentives for forest protection. Much as its namesake suggests, it reduces emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. In addition, it promotes sustainable forest management (SFM) as well as the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon. As such, REDD+ has the potential to increase recognition of customary land rights, encourage participation of local people in forest management, and provide financial resources for continued development and poverty reduction. Conversely, it has just as much potential to further exclude rural and indigenous people from forest resources. Governments and private companies may restrict forest access and resource use in order to secure the potentially high volume of financial flows from REDD+ for their own benefit.

A range of REDD+ pilot projects are already taking place throughout ASEAN countries. These projects contribute to a growing body of experience and knowledge on the systems and structures needed to reduce deforestation and forest degradation while engaging local communities. However, the international community of policymakers and practitioners has yet to address the myriad of challenges that REDD+ development and implementation present.

REDD+ countries will need comprehensive legal and policy frameworks to govern national and local forest management. Existing laws and policies may require updating or amending to determine how REDD+ strategies are managed, implemented, and monitored; to recognize customary rights; and to delineate how the potential benefits will be shared.

Awareness and understanding of REDD+ among local people must also be enhanced. Free, Informed and Prior Consent (FPIC) of forest-dependent people will help foster their participation, which in turn, will be critical in enabling them to claim an equitable share in the potential REDD+ benefits.

asfn_article_01-3Future financial rewards from REDD+ will need to be made available to forest-dependent communities to reward them for forest protection and compensate them for lost revenues. To this end, the development of robust mechanisms for benefit-sharing is crucial. Profitable land use strategies – such as timber production, industrial agriculture, palm oil production, or mining – are powerful economic drivers of deforestation and can act as powerful disincentives to forest protection.

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) aims to balance the forest’s economic, environmental, and social functions and ensure their continued benefits. Social forestry, which emphasizes the role of local people in forest management, is a key strategy for SFM in many ASEAN countries. Social forestry thereby presents an opportunity to link sustainable forest management, forest protection, biodiversity conservation, and improved livelihoods, as well as climate change mitigation strategies like REDD+.

The current status of social forestry across ASEAN varies from country to country. In some places, social forestry is established with large areas of forestland officially managed by local people. In other places, existing national policies and legal frameworks for local forest management remain weak. Still others have established the necessary laws and policies, but lack institutional capacity for effective implementation. The varying conditions suggest that REDD+ may meet similarly varying degrees of success across the region.

The Potential Role of ASFN 

Many ASEAN countries are moving forward with REDD+ with pilot projects. These projects are generating a growing body of knowledge and experience on the implementation of REDD+, the role of social forestry, and the engagement of local people. ASFN could help disseminate this information in order to support the development of effective policy and institutional capacity. Regional activities may include producing communications materials on social forestry best practices in ASEAN languages; facilitating regional learning and sharing events; and conducting study visits to pilot project sites in other countries.

Such an exchange of information will also help coordinate regional action on climate change adaptation. Because forests and climate change transcend government sectors and administrative boundaries, local and national agencies must synchronize their policies, strategies, and actions. ASFN could act as a regional body for coordinating relevant policies and programs across and within ASEAN countries.

ASFN could also support capacity building of government institutions and stakeholders at all levels to effectively design, develop, implement, and monitor REDD+ projects. This might consist of a series of trainings and workshops that provide a platform for the dynamic exchange of knowledge and experience.

Finally, the role of social forestry in climate change adaptation has received little attention. It will be an important area for future research, which ASFN may be able to support.

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