Talking Climate Change; Protecting Tropical Forests

by Inline Policy on 12 Sep 2014

Deforestation, the “direct, human-induced conversion of forested land to non-forested land”, as defined by the UNFCCC, and forest degradation, are one of the greatest challenges of our time. As the Global Canopy Programme (GCP) reports, tropical forests cover approximately 7% of global land area and provide habitat for at least half of the world’s biodiversity. However, they are currently experiencing a net loss of 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon every year.

The issue? There is not a clear international policy or financial regulatory framework that protects tropical forests, or the vital ecosystem that they provide, which also affects the climate, water, food, energy security, and our human health and livelihoods.

This analysis piece will be divided in two parts: the first one covers the challenge of deforestation, the UN REDD+ programme and a case study; the second one will cover the proposed solutions to address the issue of deforestation: increasing private sector demand and the upcoming UN Global Climate Summit & the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations.

The Issue of Deforestation

Tropical forests absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and either use it for new growth or transfer it to the soil. However, local communities often clear them for agriculture or timber, thus releasing the carbon dioxide stored in the wood and soil (as well as other greenhouse gases) to the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. This is an issue in many developing countries. According to the UN, ‘deforestation and forest degradation, through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging, fires etc., account for nearly 20% of GHG, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector’.

Indonesia, for example, has the fastest deforestation rate of any single country in the world and is also considered to be the world’s third-largest emitter of GHG, according to a 2007 World Bank report.

Trees directly protect approximately 1.6 billion people, as their livelihoods depend on forests. For instance, forests protect them from floods and provide them with food and other resources. Rainforests also contribute to the right balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air, because they produce over 40% of the world’s oxygen, as reported by the UN.

Forestry, therefore, has the potential to contribute 7%-25% of global emissions reductions by 2020, which may help meet the global warming target of 2°C – the goal of the UNFCCC. Addressing this challenge is key, however it is not an easy task. It requires the willpower, cooperation, and resource allocation of both developed and developing countries.

The Creation and Implementation of the UN REDD+ Programme

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries originated at the UNFCCC negotiations in Montréal in 2005, in 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. At Bali in 2007, the scope was expanded to include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. It was then renamed as REDD+. The programme was launched in 2008.

There is a total of 55 REDD+ partner countries located in Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, supported by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), as well as government, civil society organisations, and local forest-dependent and indigenous communities. Other partners that work closely with the UN-REDD Programme are the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the Forest Investment Programme (FIP).

Some developed countries, such as Norway, France, Germany, and the UK, have been REDD+ donors for several years now. The UK, for example, committed £355 million from 2011 to 2014. However, questions have been raised about the barriers to the actual implementation of REDD+ projects, e.g. corruption is a problem in many tropical forest countries. However, principles of transparency or accountability are not globally defined. There are contradictory incentives in certain cases, such as subsidies for agriculture; the reporting of forest statistics, which can be uncertain or less accurate; or poorly defined local law and access or use rights to land, as forest governance is weak.

The UNFCCC currently lacks a legally binding framework to protect tropical forests, which has made the coordination and financing of forests more difficult. The implementation and funding of REDD+ ought therefore to be a priority for the decisive Paris COP in December 2015. This is crucial, as REDD+ projects may require up to 30 times as much funding as it is currently expected from 2015-2020. Without a global agreement, REDD+ would likely be insufficiently funded.

UN REDD in Nepal: A Case Study

Nepal is a relatively small country, located between India and China, with a land of approximately 14 million hectares. In Nepal, agriculture and forestry account for 39.3% of GDP, according to the National Planning Commission. In addition, the country has over 118 ecosystems, 35 forest types, and 11 bioclimatic zones. However, according to the FAO, forest land has decreased from 4.8 million to 3.6 million hectares from 1990 to 2010; and national deforestation rates are 1.3%. The causes are attributed to agricultural practices, fires, infrastructure development, or timber, amongst other factors.

Government policy also plays a big role in deforestation and forest degradation, particularly unclear land tenure and use rights or poor planning policies. Nonetheless, the overall case of Nepal illustrates the importance and the benefits of having a strong regulatory framework in place to protect forests, which is also necessary in order to implement REDD+.

Private forests were nationalised during the 1960s – the Private Forests Nationalisation Act was passed in 1957 – and the Panchayat Forest Regulations twenty years later constituted the first devolution to local communities over forest management.

The Nepal Interim Constitution in 2007 (the Constitution is still in the process of being drafted) illustrates the country’s shift from a largely centralised government to a democratic and decentralised government system. It is worth mentioning that Nepal has introduced a successful community-based forest management regime. In 1993, Nepal adopted the Forests Act, a progressive reform which devolved rights to and empowered community-based forest management regimes to manage their own resources. Protected areas (24% of land) are already governed by the National Park and Wildlife Reserve Act (1973). Furthermore, environmental protection in Nepal is regulated by the Environmental Protection Act (1997).  The main actors are:

  • The Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MFSC): lead institution for the management of forest resources in Nepal.
  • The Department of Forests (DOF) and the Department of Forest Research and Survey (DFRS): main coordinating departments in charge of developing and implementing sub-sections of REDD Readiness.
    Specifically, the DOF regulates forest conservation and management through District Forest Offices (DFOs), enforcing forest laws and policies and providing technical support to community-based management regimes.
    The DFRS is responsible for the monitoring of forest cover and resources. Issues relating to wildlife, biodiversity and protected areas are managed by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC).

Nepal is currently in the process of developing a national REDD+ strategy and regulatory conditions with an expert committee and representatives from Government and civil society.

Also, the first Forest Carbon Trust Fund has been recently created in Nepal, in order to provide a performance-based financial incentive to local communities. Nepal has joined the REDD programme as an observer country, and already belongs to and engages with the FCPF, UNFCCC (it is also a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol), and the Norwegian government (NORAD), who has provided funds to implement capacity building at the community level. Nepal is also a signatory to the International Tropical Timber Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Mr. Dil Raj Khanal (FECOFUN) has said that “the strongest part of REDD Readiness in Nepal is the multi-stakeholder process.” However, as the Global Canopy Programme reports, Nepal has other political, economic and social challenges that need to be addressed, such as poverty, the drafting of the Constitution, or high corruption.

It remains to be seen what consequences the new Constitution of Nepal will have, as it will considerably impact the federal structure of the country, and subsequently all forest management regimes.

However, one thing is certain: in Nepal, Guyana, Brazil, Tanzania, and other tropical forest countries, REDD+ does not only have the purpose of mitigating climate change; it can also deliver other environmental and social benefits, provided that those countries have a solid regulatory framework in place. It will therefore be crucial to reach a global agreement that provides REDD+ with the appropriate implementation and funding frameworks at the Paris COP in December 2015.


United Nations, Forests for People Factsheet. 2011. Available at:

PEACE, Indonesia and Climate Charge: Current Status and Policies. 2007.

Available at:

Global Canopy Programme, Implementing REDD in Nepal. 2012. Available at:

Global Canopy Programme, The REDD Desk, Nepal. Available at:

ICIMOD, Pilot Forest Carbon Trust Fund, Rewarding local communities for forest conservation. 2011. Available at:


(Photo by Ben Britten/ CC BY- NC-ND 2.0) 

Topics: Energy policy, Climate Change, Economic policy

Inline Policy

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