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The Role of Social Forestry in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in the ASEAN Region

Executive Summary

This report provides a general overview of social forestry in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region and its potential to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The report focuses on Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia (particularly the States of Sarawak and Sabah), Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.


ASEAN countries are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The region’s long coastlines, low-lying coastal areas, and large river delta systems are at risk from frequent and severe storms, sea-level rise, and flooding. Unpredictable rainfall patterns, droughts, and floods may negatively affect agricultural productivity and food security. The impacts of climate change will be felt most strongly in the least developed countries that have limited capacity to cope and adapt.

Forests store large amounts of carbon that are released into the atmosphere by deforestation or degradation. An estimated one-fifth of global CO2 emissions comes from the forestry sector. In this respect, Cambodia’s forestry sector is responsible for 97% of national CO2 emissions. Indonesia is considered to be one of the biggest contributors to global CO2 emissions, with most of its emissions produced by Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies nonetheless rely on forests. Managing forests sustainably and enhancing the extent and condition of forest cover can increase carbon sequestration. This fundamental principle underlies international mitigation mechanisms. Forest resources furthermore support climate change adaptation by helping to diversify livelihoods, thereby buffering rural peoples’ vulnerability to natural disasters. Accordingly, forest management will be integral to addressing climate change.

REDD+ is an effort to valuate forest carbon and generate financial incentives for forest protection. As well as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, it promotes sustainable forest management (SFM) as well as the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon. As such, REDD+ has the potential to increase recognition of customary land rights, encourage participation of local people in forest management, and provide financial resources for continued development and poverty reduction. Conversely, it has just as much potential to further exclude rural and indigenous people from forest resources. Governments and private companies may restrict forest access and resource use in order to secure the potentially high volume of financial flows from REDD+ for their own benefit.

A range of REDD+ pilot projects is already in place throughout ASEAN countries. These projects contribute to the growing body of experience and knowledge on the systems and structures needed to reduce deforestation and forest degradation while engaging local communities. However, the international community of policy-makers and practitioners has yet to address the many challenges that REDD+ development and implementation present.

REDD+ countries will need comprehensive legal and policy frameworks to govern national and local forest management. Existing laws and policies may require updating or amending to determine how REDD+ strategies are managed, implemented, and monitored; to recognize customary rights; and to delineate how the potential benefits will be shared.

Awareness and understanding of REDD+ among local people must also be enhanced. Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of forest-dependent people will help to foster their participation, which in turn, will be critical in enabling them to claim an equitable share in potential REDD+ benefits.

Future financial rewards from REDD+ will need to be made available to forest-dependent communities to reward them for forest protection and compensate them for lost revenues. To this end, the development of robust mechanisms for benefit-sharing is crucial. Profitable land-use strategies – such as timber production, industrial agriculture, palm oil production or mining – are powerful economic drivers of deforestation and can act as powerful disincentives to forest protection.

SFM aims to balance forests’ economic, environmental, and social functions and ensure their continued benefits. Social forestry, which emphasizes the role of local people in forest management, is a key strategy for SFM in many ASEAN countries. It presents an opportunity to link SFM, forest protection, biodiversity conservation, and improved livelihoods, as well as climate change mitigation strategies like REDD+.

The current status of social forestry across the ASEAN region varies from country to country. In some places, it is established with large areas of forestland officially managed by local people. In other places, existing national policies and legal frameworks for local forest management remain weak. Still others have established the necessary laws and policies, but lack institutional capacity for effective implementation. The varying conditions suggest that REDD+ may meet similarly varying degrees of success across the region.

The potential role of the ASEAN Social Forestry Network (ASFN): Many ASEAN countries are moving forward with REDD+ in pilot projects. These projects are generating a growing body of knowledge and experience on the implementation of REDD+, the role of social forestry, and the engagement of local people. The ASFN could help to disseminate this information in order to support the development of effective policy and institutional capacity. Regional activities may include producing communications materials on social forestry best practices in ASEAN local languages; facilitating regional learning and sharing events; and conducting study visits to pilot project sites in other countries.

Such exchange of information will also help to coordinate regional action on climate change adaptation. Because forests and climate change transcend government sectors and administrative boundaries, local and national agencies must synchronize their policies, strategies, and actions. The ASFN could act as a regional body for coordinating relevant policies and programs across and within ASEAN countries.

The ASFN could also support capacity building of government institutions and stakeholders at all levels to effectively design, develop, implement, and monitor REDD+ projects. This might consist of a series of training events and workshops that provide a platform for the dynamic exchange of knowledge and experience.

Finally, the role of social forestry in climate change adaptation has received little attention. It will be an important area for future research, which the ASFN may be able to support.


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