A rare species of Tapir found in trap camera in Tanintharyi Reserved Forests.(Photo credit: TNRP)
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In its simplest form, REDD+ is all about reducing the destruction and loss of forests – in other words, preserving forests. The difficulty comes, of course, in working out how best to preserve forests.
The Forest Department has a long-standing goal to increase the area of Reserve Forests (as well as Protected Public Forests) to 30% of the land area of Myanmar. This goal was first stated in the 1995 Forest Policy and has since been repeated in other policy documents such as the National Forestry Master Plan 2001-02 to 2030-31, and Myanmar’s “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” to the UNFCCC (now the NDC).
So, is this policy goal key to implementation of REDD+ in Myanmar? In a word, no. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, drawing a line on a map and declaring that the land inside the lie is now a Reserve Forest does not, in itself, change anything that is occurring on the ground. Whatever the process causing forest destruction, be it the expansion of agribusiness concessions or over-harvesting of fuelwood, is not affected by a declaration of the establishment of a Forest Reserve, and those involved in forest destruction may not even be aware of the change in status.
Putao Forests in kachin State. Photo Credit: kaung Htet (Myanmar Times)
Also, because the Forest Department’s mandate includes all forests in the country, the argument that establishing a Reserve Forests brings greater protection implies that the Department is ignoring its responsibility outside Reserve Forests (and Protected Public Forests).
Secondly, recall that REDD+ is not just about preserving forests, it is about preserving forests while respecting the Cancun Safeguards, which include the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. Certainly, in the past – and the fear continues to the present day – establishment of Reserve Forests ignored these rights and so, unless future Reserve Forests are established only where the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the affected communities has been clearly provided (which is likely to be an unusual situation), expanding Reserve Forests risks violating the Cancun Safeguards.
The initial draft of the National REDD+ Strategy included the long-standing Reserve Forests policy goal in order to be consistent with other policy documents. However, consultations with stakeholders on the draft revealed an enormous amount of opposition to this goal and so, following a consultation workshop on the topic, the goal was dropped from the National REDD+ Strategy and replaced with a goal to maintain forest cover through whatever mechanisms enjoy the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of affected communities – most likely Community Forests and Indigenous and Local Community Conservation Areas.
This does not mean that the Reserve Forest goal has been dropped by the Forest Department – it is still quoted frequently by senior Department officials – but it does mean that the goal is irrelevant to, and possibly contradictory with the objectives of the National REDD+ Strategy.