REDD+ and forest carbon rights in Vanuatu - Background Legal Analysis
Who owns the carbon in the forest? This is a question which all developing countries preparing to engage with REDD+ need to address, including Vanuatu. Deforestation and forest degradation account for approximately 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire global transport sector. Beginning in 2005, this has prompted the development of a new mechanism known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The purpose of REDD+ is to provide developing countries with a financial incentive to reduce their levels of deforestation and forest degradation, and to increase their forest carbon stocks.
All land in Vanuatu belongs to the indigenous ‘custom owners’. Almost all land is held under customary tenure, whether leased (9.3%) or un-leased (89.7%). Vanuatu is the only country in Melanesia which already has a statutory framework for forest carbon rights, although this only applies to leased land: the Forestry Rights Registration and Timber Harvest Guarantee Act 2000. The legislation creates a separate property right, which allows the carbon to be decoupled from the land. The grant of forestry rights under the Act is dependent on the prior creation of a lease over the land. Consequently, it does not provide a framework for customary land ‘owners’ to exercise their forest carbon rights on un-leased customary land. In any event, this legislation does not appear to be well supported in Vanuatu as it was apparently introduced without sufficient public consultation. It does not appear to have been used since its introduction.