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Forest policy is a wicked problem precisely because forests matter to so many different people for so many different reasons. Developing institutions to mediate among the various claimants to forest land, buyers and sellers of forest goods, and beneficiaries of forest services has proven challenging to local user groups and international negotiators alike. This chapter focuses on tropical forests, which have a disproportionately significant value for global biodiversity conservation and climate stability, as well as contributing to the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest people. However, tropical forests are disappearing at alarming rates. There are no simple solutions to solving wicked forest policy problems, but community forestry, improved governance, changing norms, new forms of finance and technology, such as advances in remote sensing technology, are crucial to sustainably managing forests.
In the mid-1980s, tropical deforestation splashed onto the international agenda as the world became aware of threats to the survival of the human and biological diversity sustained by tropical forests. Activists protested the road-building and transmigration projects that were catalysing deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia; bilateral and multilateral donors mobilized funds for investment in forest protection; conservation organizations established alliances with indigenous and traditional peoples; and governments launched negotiations toward an international agreement on forests. Interest in tropical forests peaked in the aftermath of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio in 1992, and steadily declined over the next decade as national and international efforts to reverse deforestation proved disappointing.
Tropical deforestation has now reappeared on the international agenda due to its newly-appreciated link to climate change. In 2006, a review commissioned by the Government of the United Kingdom (Stern 2007) called attention to the fact that some 20 per cent of current annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is due to land use change – most of which is deforestation in developing countries – a share greater than the emissions produced by the transport sector globally. The review asserted that controlling deforestation could provide one of the least expensive strategies for reducing emissions, and that such efforts must be a key element of any future climate protection regime. As a result, reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) is now central to discussions of global and national mitigation strategies.
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