Protecting forest communities

  • June 10, 2014
Protecting forest communities

The vagueness of safeguards aimed at protecting the interests of forest communities may see them marginalised from moves to conserve their environment, according to research by Albert Arhin.

The vagueness of safeguards aimed at protecting the interests of forest communities may mean that they end up being marginalised from moves to conserve their environment, according to research by a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

In an article published in the Journal of Forest Policy and Economics, Albert Arhin analyses the safeguards developed for implementing a new environmental policy that seeks to reward actions that Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and also promotes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. This policy – known as REDD+ – is being held up for its potential contribution to climate change mitigation, poverty reduction and sustainable development.

There have been concerns, however, that the policy is leading to proposals which could have negative consequences in developing countries such as displacement, restriction of people’s access to forest resources on which their livelihood depends and exclusion of poor people from consultation about environmental protection measures. To address these, safeguards – which are usually expressed as sets of environmental and social principles – have been developed and advocated by international bodies such as the World Bank.

In his paper, entitled  ‘Safeguards and Dangerguards: A Framework for Unpacking the Black Box of Safeguards for REDD +’, Albert argues that a key weakness of safeguards is that they can be subjected to multiple interpretations. He says: “If the safeguards are to be more than a façade of good intentions, then it is vital to distinguish more clearly what their focus and emphasis is. The safeguards are quite vague as they contain very broad and contested ideas.  This vagueness makes their application at national level quite difficult and complex.”

He adds that one of the main dangers is in part due  to the fact that the safeguards contain four broadly different goals or outcomes which are preventive, mitigative, promotive and transformative. He says each category has different implications for the livelihoods and non-carbon goals expected to be achieved under REDD +. Preventive safeguards aim to avoid harm while mitigative safeguards aim to minimise the harm if it were to occur. Promotive safeguards aim to enhance opportunities and spaces for forest-dependent communities to participate meaningfully in the programme and benefit from scheme. Transformative safeguards encompass the broader political and economic context and aim to radically shift discourses, narratives and approaches that reverse social exclusion and empower local communities so that they benefit from the REDD + scheme. All the four outcomes or pathways are legitimate goals in their own rights.

Albert [2012], who is doing a PhD in Geography, says: “Project implementers can claim that they have followed the safeguards to ensure that communities get benefits from their project when in actual fact what they might have done could just have been informing them about the project without involving them in the process. They may avoid displacement and  evictions, but on their own these are not benefits if communities if in practice communities are not directly involved.”

He says it is vital  that the different ideas contained in the safeguards be unpacked so that one aim (such as avoiding strategies that will displace people ) is not used to justify another (for example, enhancing community benefits). He states: “By clearly identifying these different goals, we might be able to develop clear policies and strategies to avoid harm, to mitigate harm (in case it occurs during the implementation of strategies), to promote better ways of engaging with and increasing local people’s participation in the REDD+ scheme and to transform existing practices and policies that work against people living around forests.”

Picture credit: dan and www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

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