The political economy of reforestation and forest restoration in Asia–Pacific: Critical issues for REDD+
Under REDD+, the enhancement of carbon stocks through reforestation and restoration of degraded forest landscapes offers considerable potential benefits. In the Asia–Pacific region, however, many previous reforestation and forest restoration initiatives have exacerbated existing inequities by concentrating resources among powerful political and economic actors, often to the detriment of forest-dependent communities. Both in design and implementation, tree-planting programs have been guided by forest rent distribution practices of state forestry bureaucracies and by corporate accumulation strategies linked to increasingly globalized commodity chains.
This article examines the political economy of reforestation and forest restoration programs in Asia–Pacific and highlights governance challenges these pose. In various contexts, they have:
• consolidated the control of state agencies and corporate actors over ‘degraded’ forest landscapes, often resulting in the displacement of rural communities;
• exacerbated economic disparities by channeling large capital subsidies and resource rents to companies with close ties to state elites;
• facilitated corruption and financial fraud, in some cases on a grand scale;
• accelerated biodiversity loss by creating perverse incentives for the conversion of ‘degraded’ secondary forests; and
• generated mixed results for rural small-holders, at times locking them in inequitable agreements with plantation companies, and in other cases, offering enhanced tenure security.
To avoid the negative results of earlier reforestation schemes, REDD+ must incorporate: (1) rights-based spatial planning; (2) equitable and accountable distribution of financial incentives; (3) improved financial governance to prevent corruption and fraud; (4) policy reform to remove perverse incentives for forest conversion; (5) strengthening of economic benefits and safeguards for small-holders.