Why forests need transparency

Global Corruption Report: Climate Change banner

The climate change report TI issued this week had a whole section on forest governance. Manoj Nadkarni, manager of TI’s Forest Governance Integrity Programme explains why.

Recently, I’ve been getting a few inquiries about whether we at the Forest Goverance Integrity Programme have an ‘official’ view on the whole concept of the UN’s REDD programme: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

“Will REDD work?” “Is the money already going towards REDD being spent properly?”

These inquiries are framed in such a way to make it seem as if we are required to take a stand on REDD. But the question for us is not whether we think REDD will work — ie, will it be effective in reducing emissions, protect forests and empower forest communities —  but what governance structures are needed to make REDD work. This is the spirit behind TI’s Global Corruption Report: Climate Change: not to judge whether this or that programme will work better, but how they can work better

Forestry in Indonesia

Forestry in Central Java, Indonesia. Photo: Center For International Forestry Research/Murdani Usman

Going by what we have found while looking at the corruption in the forest and timber trade, the systems needed to manage forests sustainability are woefully lacking, especially lacking in developing countries where REDD will work.

So while we applaud, and indeed work with, the countries and institutions that are pushing REDD, we are also fighting against the notion that success of REDD is dependent on technological or operational expertise… and the connected idea that this expertise can be created if you throw enough money at the problem.

Instead, we need to look at how forests are governed. Why do countries that have good forest laws on paper or excellent forestry experts still see their forests depleted?

Our two and a half years of work has given us the answer: Corruption is the reason; corruption ranging from policy capture by elites to bribing of forestry officials.

These are the same governance issues that could cause REDD to fail. An often heard rejoinder to this is that ‘well this may be true, but we can’t wait till all corruption issues are sorted, the forests will be long gone by then…’

However, if corruption is not acknowledged and if REDD fails, the effects could be catastrophic. Not only will mitigation be in jeopardy but investment in forest conservation will be seriously questioned. In such a scenario, should the funds dry up, the only recourse some countries may have is to go back to exploiting forests. That is something that our planet cannot afford to happen.

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