The prestigious journal – ‘Nature Ecology & Evolution’ today published a research paper titled- ‘Global forest restoration and the importance of prioritizing local communities’ in their August 2020 edition. This is one of the first comprehensive studies to examine the extent to which opportunities for tropical forest restoration overlap with global populations and levels of economic development.
This research done by an international group of experts, based at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Dartmouth College (US), the University of Manchester (UK), the University of Sheffield (UK), and the University of Michigan (US) finds that nearly 300 million people live in areas with high potential for forest restoration in the tropics and identifies the importance of empowering local communities to manage forest restoration as a just and sustainable mechanism for climate change mitigation. This is essential to ensure both the immediate success and long-term viability of restoration projects.
The research estimates that 294.5 million people presently reside in areas with high potential for forest restoration in the tropics and that over one billion people live within 8 km from such high-potential sites. Among low-income countries, almost 12% of the population resides in areas considered important for forest restoration.
Further, the study highlights the high value of partnering with indigenous people and local communities to ensure the success of investments in carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and local jobs and livelihoods. Providing communities with the right to manage forests and implement forest restoration offers a just and sustainable way to address climate change.
The study reveals that most forest restoration opportunity areas and their associated populations are found in countries with strong legal foundations for community forest ownership. It was analyzed that 22 countries (including India) with pre-existing legal frameworks and evidence of community forest ownership contain two-thirds of forest restoration opportunity areas. Further, these 22 countries contain 70% of people living in or near forest restoration opportunity areas.
Dr Ashwini Chhatre, a co-author and Professor of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business (ISB) said: “Our findings show the path to further action on climate change by identifying countries where investments in forest landscape restoration will create the highest synergies between mitigation and human development. Global efforts to accelerate forest regeneration must include local communities as equal partners for maximum benefits on multiple dimensions.”
Talking specifically in terms of India he further added India already has a robust legal framework for empowering local communities living in or near forest areas – the Community Forest Resource rights provision in the Forest Rights Act 2006. This has already been implemented in several states, with Maharashtra and Gujarat as the leaders in setting up successful pilots for community rights. Within the last two years, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha have also prioritized the expansion of Community Rights as a mechanism for empowerment and poverty alleviation. In addition, the Central Government has recently released close to 50,000 Crores to states under the CAMPA Fund specifically dedicated to afforest degraded lands. India could learn from its own positive experiences and set up an example for the global community. At present, less than 3% of potential areas for community rights over the forest in India have been covered under provisions of the FRA.
Dr James Erbaugh, the lead author based at Dartmouth College (USA), commented: “Enabling communities to design forest restoration by extending rights to manage forest areas promotes more inclusive environmental governance. There are countless examples of how conservation projects—though often well-intentioned—have excluded and disenfranchised indigenous people and local communities.” National Governments around the world are seeking to implement their ambitious pledges to collectively restore 350 million ha of forest area by 2030. This research finds that countries such as Brazil and Indonesia contain the great potential to remove atmospheric carbon through forest restoration, and further contain the most people living in areas important for forest restoration.
Dr Arun Agrawal, co-author of the study and Professor of Sustainability at the University of Michigan (USA) emphasized “We highlight the critical need for close ties between researchers, decision-makers, and local communities to secure greater wellbeing for people and ecosystems. Those working on forests – whether government agencies or researchers – forget far too often the necessity of working with people, not against them.”
The research team employed data published by researchers at the Earth Innovation Institute, NASA, the Rights and Resources Initiative, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute. These data were combined with information on where forest restoration opportunities exist in the tropics; the extent to which carbon can be removed using natural carbon capture; the location and density of global populations; nighttime light emittance as a proxy for economic development; national income categorizations; and legal foundations for community forest rights.