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Opening remarks of the 2010 RRI Asia Dialogue on Community Forests and Property Rights in the Context of Climate Change
The opening remarks of the 2010 RRI Asia Dialogue on Community Forests and Property Rights in the Context of Climate Change were delivered by H.E. Dr Thomas Gass, Ambassador of Switzerland to Nepal on 11 August 2010 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
As Delivered by Ambassador Gass:
Asia Dialogue on Community forests and property rights in the context of climate change
Opening words by H.E. Dr Thomas Gass, Ambassador of Switzerland to Nepal
Distinguished Chairperson of FECOFUN
Distinguished participants and guests
Over 500 years ago the German theologian and reformer Martin Luther said “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree”. Planting trees is an expression of hope. It is an investment into the future - the establishment of a legacy for future generations.
Today, we have the greatest difficulty believing anyone who proclaims that the world will be destroyed tomorrow. Not so much because we cannot face the facts, but because we do not want to envisage the consequences for our own policies and behavior.
The threat of climate change to humanity is widely recognized. Models have been established. Scenarios have been tested. But are we really ready to discuss and draw consequences?
The arguments in favor of forests and more sustainable forest management are well known, including the role of forests in the mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
The current floods in Pakistan send us a message of seriousness and urgency – a wake up call! Of course the cause of these floods can not be found in deforestation alone, and yet, to quote the Pakistani Environment Minister Hamid Ullah Afridi – with approx 27,000 hectares of forest cut down every year - Pakistan is one of the leading countries in the world in deforestation. What a heavy price to pay.
The coincidence with the floods in Pakistan and the Landslides in China, makes this dialogue very timely in a sad kind of way. These recent events urge us to move beyond the analysis of the phenomena and the academic description of the environmental, economic and social effects.
This dialogue, Ladies and Gentlemen, will only be timely if it shows the way to politicians and decision makers.
The quote by Martin Luther is singularly relevant to today’s discussion. He doesn’t speak of planting just any tree. He speaks of planting his own tree. The issue of property seems to enter into the picture 500 years ago. At a time when very few Princes owned the land, which the subjects had to work and cultivate as servants. Those of you who have read Luther will know that he is not the kind of person who wants to plant a tree and then keep the fruit, or the shade, or the wood for himself. He would plant his own tree because the hope needed to plant a tree, the hope needed to make that investment for future generations, has something to do with ownership, with responsibility and with access to benefits.
Of course the debate about mitigation and adaptation to climate change has to arrive at the question of who must do what so that the measures taken can be most effective. What must the state do? What must individuals do? And…. In Switzerland the debate frequently stops there… because we lost the notion of true common ownership and responsibility, when we delegated all the public goods to the state. Recently, we are reversing this trend by charging individuals with increasingly participating in the reduction of pollution and the maintenance of the common good – making use of legal provisions to force individuals to recycle their waste, to reduce their garbage, to reduce their CO2 emissions. As my colleague Dr Töpperwien who is chairing the next session, could explain, we have de-centralized the state so that the entity responsible for providing the common good is as close as possible to the individuals concerned by these services.
Nepal may not need to go so far, if it recognizes the social assets it already has, namely the existence of communities that are more than just administrative entities.
Following Elinor Ostroms’s recognition and the award of the Nobel Prize recently in the area of economics, the importance of community rights and collective action of communities has received new attention from politicians, academics and practitioners. What was frowned at as a primitive system by a world claiming to be modern, has been shown to have merit and value.
Dr Ostrom challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, forests, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concluded that the outcomes are, more often, better than predicted by standard theories. She observed that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest, and she characterized the rules that promote successful outcomes.
Switzerland has been cooperating closely with Nepal in the area of forestry for the past 25 years and our own experience confirms that of Dr Ostrom, namely that Nepali communities, if given legitimate rights and responsibilities to protect and manage forests can take full responsibility to fight against the threat of climate change without compromising the livelihoods of the forest dependents.
Now just because community forestry is partly based on traditional structures, it does not mean that it should not adapt to new challenges - on the contrary.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD+ ) is still a new concept and will be a daunting task as it aims to increase forest area, increase forest density, reduce the rate of deforestation and manage forest sustainably. All these actions need communities’ active engagement and ownership in the process. To succeed, REDD+ will need to find ways to obtain active participation of local communities and demonstrate how its benefits can accrue to the larger society while at the same time benefiting poor and vulnerable people. This requires a better understanding of the drivers of deforestation and finding factors and drivers that actually reverse deforestation.
So when it comes to the effectiveness of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures related to forests, we can safely posit that property right regimes matter – making the theme of this workshop very relevant, and your task, dear participants very delicate and important.
I said the theme of the workshop is delicate because, of course, the benefits of the forest cannot only accrue to the communities managing them. There is a bigger society – a nation – even a global village that needs to be beneficiary of the services forest managers provide. This cannot only be regulated or directed from top to bottom, in the name of national or international interest – it needs to be negotiated with those who have a sense of ownership, because that ownership has been recognized by society and by the state.
Luther’s main message when he spoke of planting his tree, even if he knew the world would fall apart, was about having hope in the face of discouraging facts. It takes hope to plant a tree. In a certain way foresters have a responsibility to plant hope into a sometimes dry and eroded environment. Transposed to our time and maybe to this dialogue – let us take it as a mandate to chart the way forward towards and make concrete proposals for Cancun.
Thank you for your attention.
Posted By Lopaka Purdy at 11:38am on August 16, 2010
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