Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Seeing people through the trees

The world's forests are in danger of being plundered as governments scramble to address (0r unfortunately in all too many cases -- exploit) the fuel and food crises fueled in large part by climate change.

According to the Rights and Resources Initiative, "The lack of clear rights to own and use land and trade in forest products has driven millions of forest dwellers to poverty, and has encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss".

Keep your eyes on the geopolitical map and watch for subtle shifts in countries of "strategic importance". The ugly specter of "resource wars" looms on the horizon. (GW)

Warnings of a global land grab

By Paul Eccleston

July 14, 2008

The relentless demand for raw materials will lead to the destruction of the world’s forests, a new study warns. The rush for fuel, food and wood will result in a global land grab that will leave millions of forest people impoverished and homeless.

And it is possible governments and companies will exploit confusion over ownership in rural areas to evict local people and divvy up their land.

The warnings come in two reports from U.S.-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), an international coalition of forestry governance and conservation groups.

The first report "Seeing People through the Trees" says by 2030 the world is likely to need 515m more hectares to grow food and biofuels - twice the amount of additional land that will be available.

The second "From Exclusion to Ownership" says that governments in developing countries claim ownership of the majority of forests and have made only limited progress in recognising land rights of the local people. Forests worldwide play a key role in keeping the global climate stable and at the same time acting as a storehouse for carbon emissions but are under constant attack. Deforestation for agriculture and logging accounts for about 25-30 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

RRI claims there has been a sharp increase in government allocations of forests to industrial plantations and that the surge in demand for fuel and food is rapidly eating up vast areas of forest in the Amazon and Southeast Asia. It says the fate of forest lands will help determine the severity of climate change, the course of wars and civil conflicts, and the ecological health of the planet.

Andy White, Coordinator of RRI and co-author of Seeing People through the Trees, which is based on six studies of forest tenure, climate change and the impact of demand for fuel and food, said: “Arguably, we are on the verge of a last great global land grab. Unless steps are taken, traditional forest owners, and the forests themselves, will be the big losers. It will mean more deforestation, more conflict, more carbon emissions, more climate change and less prosperity for everyone.”

Both reports conclude that measures needed to combat climate change and poverty will fail unless indigenous people who depend on the forests for survival are taken into account. Securing land rights, strengthening civil rights, and introducing more democracy will be critical in combating the biggest challenges of the 21st century - climate change, poverty, conflict, and environmental degradation.

But they warn that in most regions of the developing world governments maintain a firm grip on the majority of forests and that “industrial claims on forest lands are increasing sharply, for biofuels production, among other reasons.” Crops that produce biofuels alone will require an additional 30m-35m hectares of new productive land within the next decade. “High prices are intensifying land speculation, deforestation, and encroachment on an unprecedented scale,” RRI says.

The study says the 10 countries who account for two-thirds of global emissions from land-use change - Brazil, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Peru and Zambia should be targeted for the first wave of the billions of dollars that will be spent in years to come on protecting the forests.

And the focus in poor but forest-rich countries such as Benin, Cameroon, DCR Ivory Coast, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria and Zambia should be on the rights of people who live in their forests. It also calls for transparency and accountability in the carbon markets.


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