Forest funding 'could put
billions in wrong hands'
David Adam, environment correspondent
Monday July 14, 2008
The rush to protect forests as a way to tackle global warming
could see billions of pounds handed over to corrupt politicians,
criminals and polluting industries, experts have warned.
The Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of groups from
around the world, says not enough has been done to address land
rights in tropical countries, where much of the money is being
directed. Without clearer guidelines on land ownership and
involvement by local people, they say, the funds provided by rich
countries, including Britain, to protect trees could fuel violent
conflict and fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Deforestation causes about a fifth of man-made greenhouse gas
emissions, and how to protect the huge stocks of carbon locked in
tropical forests has become a key issue in the climate change
debate. Sir Nicholas Stern, in his 2006 review of the economics of
the problem, said that £2.5bn a year could be enough to prevent
deforestation across the eight most important countries. Britain
and Norway have already pledged £108m to a fund to protect forests
in the Congo basin. Rich countries paying tropical regions to
protect forests is likely to form part of a new global climate
deal to replace the Kyoto protocol, which could be agreed next
Stern also said that a series of institutional and policy reforms
were needed, including forest property rights. Without such
changes, said Andy White, coordinator of the initiative, the money
aimed at protecting trees could go to central government officials,
many of whom were closely tied to illegal logging and mining
activities. He said direct payments to local groups would be more
effective, but that required them to be given clear land rights.
Evidence from Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil showed that local
communities protected the forests better than governments, he said.
White added: "These forests are often in lawless regions with a
history of conflict. We have huge concerns about sending all this
money in the name of fighting climate change if the land rights
for people living there are not resolved. It could cause more
violence, benefit only a wealthy elite and lead to even greater
"We think it would be a terrible mistake to reduce development
funding purely to carbon and mitigating climate change. This poses
a real dilemma for governments of conscience like the UK. They
risk undermining all of their development and human rights work in
this area if efforts to protect carbon don't support and
strengthen community land rights and organisations."
Two reports from the Rights and Resources Initiative, published
today, show that progress on land rights has slowed in recent
years. The group says just 27% of developing-country forest is
owned by local communities, or designated for their use. It warns
that the next two decades could see the remaining forests
threatened by the "last great global land grab", with booming
demand for land to grow food, biofuels and wood products.
White said more effort was needed to map remote forests and
register the people who live there to protect their interests. "We
know how to do this. It's not rocket science, it just needs to be
scaled up." He praised steps Britain has taken in the Congo basin.
Gareth Thomas, green minister at the Department for International
Development, said: "We don't spend money on any project if we
can't be certain that the money is going to go where it is needed.
But we have to step up work on land-use management, ownership
issues and improving governance. We have made quite a lot of
progress, but it is not realistic that we can sort out every land
use issue by the time of the next climate treaty."
James Heneage, the director of the Prince's Rainforests Project, a
group set up by the Prince of Wales to work out a mechanism to
fund forest protection, said a focus on land rights risked
delaying efforts to protect the climate. He said: "The issue of
land rights is important and must be looked at, but it is also an
intractable problem and will take time to solve. We are in a state
of emergency with climate change and we cannot allow the issue of
land rights to delay getting serious amounts of money into forests
to stop deforestation."