The last few years have seen an escalation of interest in the concept of reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), and potential co-benefits such as forest enhancement and biodiversity conservation (REDD+). Human use of forests is believed to contribute c. 12% of total anthropogenic carbon emissions (van der Werf et al., 2009, Nature Geoscience, 2, 737–738), and REDD+ is expected to play a major role in any post-2012 agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is generally anticipated that an international REDD+ framework will see carbon accounting and payments taking place at the national level but around the world very large areas of forest are managed by local people under some form of community forest management. There remain many unanswered questions about how these people might contribute to REDD+ and how it might affect them. This important book, edited by Margaret Skutsch and with chapters from a range of expert authors, contributes to this debate by examining the potential role of local communities in the monitoring of forest carbon.
The book is an edited volume in two parts. The first covers Principles and Issues, and the second a set of case studies. All the material in the book is drawn from a major empirical study called the Kyoto: Think Global, Act Local (K:TGAL) programme, funded by The Netherlands Development Corporation. This 6-year programme conducted research at 30 study sites and nine control sites in seven countries. In each case local communities were trained with a standard methodology to monitor changes in carbon stocks in their forests. The sites selected were mostly in dry forests of a relatively low value from a timber perspective, where opportunity costs (for example from agriculture) were low and degradation a greater problem than deforestation.
The chapters in the first section of the book carefully explain the potential of community forest monitoring, the carbon emissions it can save, the value of local participation in monitoring, the broader policy context for REDD+, information required for national REDD+ programmes, and the costs and reliability of community carbon monitoring. It concludes with more technical chapters on the field methods used and the potential of free software for use in the field. These chapters provide a very clear and compelling case for community monitoring of forest carbon. Importantly, the authors are careful to avoid overstating the case, emphasizing repeatedly that carbon payments and local monitoring can be beneficial under particular circumstances but are unlikely to cover opportunity costs in high-value forest. The second part of the book presents a series of more detailed case studies at each of the K:TGAL sites, which include Nepal, India, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and several West African countries.
The book draws on its strong empirical foundations to deliver some important insights for REDD+. It demonstrates convincingly that local people are capable of collecting high-quality monitoring data that are not significantly different from data collected by professional experts, and at a much lower cost; that carbon payments at the local level of around USD 5 per tonne can result in improved returns for local people from community forest management, provided that they are still allowed to collect high-value forest products such as firewood; and that locally collected data are better than remote sensing data at picking up relatively small changes in carbon stocks in degraded forest. The book makes a series of recommendations for the design of REDD+. These include (1) crediting only measured increases in forest carbon under community forest management, because measuring avoided deforestation and degradation in degraded forests is technically too challenging to be worth doing given the relatively low baseline rates of loss, and (2) paying communities that are compliant with management plans for the act of monitoring carbon stocks, rather than for carbon produced. This would avoid equity issues arising from different growth rates of different forests and reduce incentives for cheating.
The book takes a generally optimistic view of REDD+ and could give more attention to concerns such as the lack of political incentives for powerful bodies to cede control over management and monitoring to local communities, and the challenge of convincing the UNFCCC to accept locally collected data. Nonetheless, it provides an important and timely injection of robust empirical data to the REDD+ debate and makes a convincing case for involving local community groups in the monitoring of carbon in degraded forests.