Main Content

Are the Best Years for Tropical Forest Conservation Ahead?


Justin Adams

Executive Director of the Tropical Forest Alliance (seconded to the TFA from The Nature Conservancy)

January 2015

The Nature Conservancy's conservation initiatives in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo © Nick Hall
The Nature Conservancy's conservation initiatives in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo © Nick Hall

I recently read an article in Ecosystem Marketplace—“2014: the year in forest carbon”—that highlighted some of the successes in reducing tropical deforestation last year. Companies, organizations and governments made new pledges to end deforestation; buyer interest in avoided deforestation offsets tripled; and the Green Climate Fund passed the $10 billion threshold that can lead to a meaningful impact on climate change.

Reflecting back on year, I agree that good progress was made on the tropical forest front, but—as the Marketplace article recognizes—there is still much to be done, and reversing global deforestation remains a limited-time opportunity.

The coming years will be critical in determining whether we can successfully elevate project-based work and solutions to even larger pieces of land—transforming landscapes for the better and further normalizing low emissions development in countries rich with forests.

This expansion of low emissions development—known as a jurisdictional or landscape approach—can turn spirited commitments into actual results. Success, however, will require close cooperation and coordination between regional and national governments, indigenous groups, private companies and civil society.

I saw exactly this type of cooperation in action in Indonesia late last year, where the country is working to align economic incentives for sustainable land use with their needs to protect their environment and combat climate change.

On Indonesia’s island of Borneo—a place rich with biodiversity and also booming development—the district of Berau is combining an improvement in sustainable working conditions (including introducing integrated land-use planning, improving governance and increasing engagement with key players) with an increase in the scale of site-level activities through stronger community-led approaches, expanded certified timber and reduced-impact logging practices, and a new sustainable oil palm strategy.

But, how can we catalyze more collaboration and action at this landscape level?

The Nature Conservancy has just released a new report—“Early Lessons from Jurisdictional REDD+ and Low Emissions Development Programs”—which reinforces the idea that with the appropriate investment and stakeholder support, low emissions development programs have the potential to become models of forest-friendly development around the world.

The report assesses current projects taking place in Brazil, Indonesia, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Peru, Mexico and Nepal, and provides initial learnings from those projects that can be applied to others in the future.

Early Lessons from Jurisdictional REDD+ and Low Emissions Development Programs
Early Lessons from Jurisdictional REDD+ and Low Emissions Development Programs

Our findings show that applying low emissions development activities at a landscape level can provide multiple benefits, but also requires patience and compelling value propositions to be successful.

For example, a lot has been made of finding sufficient financial incentives for Indonesia and other forest nations to justify a shift in their development behavior—the idea of essentially paying people to act differently. Carbon markets may yet deliver some financial reward, but are insufficient in isolation.

Finance and incentive packages created for this purpose will need to be tailored to each jurisdiction, potentially combining financial assistance to strengthen a jurisdiction’s capacity—and ability to implement sustainable practices—with payments for on-ground results.

Another essential ingredient is stronger governance and transparency, including improved law enforcement, streamlined policies and increased empowerment of civil-society oversight.

And, teaching people in government, business and civil society why and how to act differently is another key element, as insufficient skills remain a significant barrier to increased landscape-scale action. For example, we are seeing that local communities who are empowered to manage their natural resources consistent with how they envision their future development is a successful model in many of the existing jurisdictional projects and one that must be replicated to achiever greater lasting results.

The Nature Conservancy works with logging companies to practice reduced-impact logging. Photo © Bridget Besaw
The Nature Conservancy works with logging companies to practice reduced-impact logging. Photo © Bridget Besaw

A closer look at Berau showcases how some of these approaches are leading to real results in Indonesia. We have been working with the government, companies operating in the region, and local communities for nearly a decade to promote forest-friendly development. Over the last six years we have been focusing on scaling up our efforts across the entire district. We have also been working with communities on how to more sustainably manage their forests, in part through smallholder rubber plantations, honey production and other livelihood activities. And, in recent years we have been working with the district government to develop new financial reporting software for its village administrations, and training village representatives how to use it.

Our shared experiences in Indonesia underscores the challenge of actually getting this work done, but also provides lessons that companies, governments and partners can seek to replicate in other districts of Indonesia and countries around the world. There are true value propositions emerging that promote rural development, maintain the natural environment and enhance market competitiveness, but we also must do more to communicate these win-win opportunities.

As Ecosystem Marketplace suggested, there were many reasons in 2014 to feel encouraged by progress to reduce deforestation and promote forest-friendly development. However, many programs are still in the early stages of development, and still have a long way to go to succeed. Our combined efforts will take time, patience, and cooperation among unlikely allies. But, by moving toward larger landscape-level low emissions efforts, tropical-forest countries have the potential to ensure stronger, more sustainable economic development, while also conserving the natural environment and taking a leadership role on climate.

Indeed, the best years for tropical forest conservation are likely still ahead of us—and that’s most exciting of all.

Originally Posted on Conservancy Talk

January 26, 2015