A book entitled ‘Climate Solutions from Community Forests – Learning from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ published in June this year by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment (NMCE) provides powerful insight into the role that local communities and indigenous people play in managing their local forest areas in the face of climate change. The book discusses 22 case studies from 18 countries including Nigeria, Honduras, Madagascar, Peru, Togo and Laos – detailing initiatives that indigenous people have implemented to more sustainably use, protect and restore local forest areas. These initiatives have delivered numerous local benefits including job creation, economic gains, increased social cohesion, political and social self-reliance and ecosystem restoration. Throughout the book one strong message is repeated – local communities and indigenous people play a vital part in managing the impacts of global climate change on forest areas.

the effects of climate change present one of the biggest challenges humanity faces

Community-based forest management encompassing forest protection, restoration and sustainable activities can reduce deforestation rates, restore degraded forests and allow local people to better adapt to climate change. Knowledge sharing of community-based forest management can increase the likelihood of successful global climate change adaptation, as the effects of climate change present one of the biggest challenges humanity faces going forward.

The UNDP/NMCE publication is centred around four key themes:

1. Sustainable forest livelihoods

  • Community-based forest management can be effective over large areas and in situations where forests are under pressure from development
  • The desire for sustained economic benefits is an important motivating factor for community forest management
  • Secure, enforceable community land rights increase the chances for successful community based forest management

2. Forest-friendly agriculture

  • Small landholder agriculture is critical to local food security however it can also exert pressure on local forest areas
  • Intensifying agriculture, agroforestry and the adoption of alternative crops can increase the productivity of local agriculture and integrate farming into the forest landscape
  • Locally adapted training programs, demonstration sites and community education efforts are essential to building capacity and willingness to change local agricultural practices

3. Forest restoration

  • Communities undertake forest restoration to support local livelihood goals or regain water regulation or coastal storm protection
  • Restoration has global mitigation potential because it is widespread, tailored to local forests and sustainable due to local community buy- in
  • Restoration is a powerful adaptation tool that rebuilds climate resilience and restores important functions such as flood control, erosion prevention and buffering tidal inundation in coastal areas

4. Forest protection

  • Community protected forests reflect the local culture and express local conservation values
  • Because these forests are part of the local culture, community compliance with any restricted uses is very high
  • Community protected forests can be a strong complement to state or regional designated protected areas, increasing connectivity across conservation zones and wildlife corridors. Linking these areas can magnify local benefits

The main findings presented in the ‘Climate Solutions from Community Forests – Learning from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ book are as follows:

  • The scope of climate benefits from community-based forest management is significant – the benefits are significant in area, quality and in terms of their sustainability
  • To generate global climate benefits, community-based forest initiatives must deliver on local development priorities – local benefits motivate communities more than global climate goals, and recognising this is crucial to realising the climate benefits associated with community-based forest initiatives
  • Empowerment of local communities begins with secure land rights – secure land rights are critical to the success of community-based forest management
  • An integrated landscape approach maximises the potential of local forest management – an integrated approach is the best way to maximise local forest benefits
  • Partnerships between local communities and others are vital – partnerships can provide a range of technical and business support services. Supporting partnerships with communities is one way donors, Governments, NGOs and the private sector can encourage the expansion of local forest initiatives

While the focus of the book is community-based forest management, the authors also point out the important role that the international community and Governments can play in facilitating forest management from three main perspectives:

1. Acknowledging the contribution and potential of community-based forest initiatives. As a first step, the international community and Governments need to acknowledge the achievements and contributions that local communities and indigenous people make to forest management

2. Endorsing the expansion of indigenous territories and community land rights. Tenure reform can capitalise on technological improvements in mapping, demarcation and land titling that have started to decrease the cost of the legal recognition of indigenous and community land

3. Providing an enabling environment for policies and support. Such an environment can facilitate local empowerment, develop local governance and business capacities, provide financial and capacity support when needed, and remove regulatory obstacles to enterprise growth

Read the ‘Climate Solutions from Community Forests- Learning from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ book here

The UNDP/NMCE publication shines a light on what community-based forest management is and the range of motivations local communities have for managing their local forest areas. The case studies demonstrate how much each forest area means to the respective local communities and indigenous people from cultural, environmental and economic perspectives. Each of these factors critically influence the way a community manages its local forest and ensures that it adapts to the challenges of climate change going forward. These factors are also strongly linked together – if there are cultural ties to a local forest area, the community will also be motivated to continue to manage the associated environmental issues to ensure the level of employment associated with it continue and increase where appropriate.

managing the impacts of global climate change on forest areas

Moving from a local perspective to an international one, ‘Climate Solutions from Community Forests – Learning from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ also illustrates the valuable contribution that the knowledge and experience of local communities and indigenous people can make to global climate change mitigation efforts. It also highlights the important role that regional and national Governments play in enabling local communities and indigenous people to make that contribution. Governments must realise that while they have the power to enact legislation that can facilitate climate change adaptation, they must understand that local communities and indigenous people play a vital part in managing the impacts of global climate change on forest areas, and that the success of any efforts to manage climate change impacts is enhanced by listening to and taking note of the experiences and successes of these people.  

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