REDD+ And Gender Equality

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As CDM project development continues to languish due to a surplus of CER credits flooding the EU ETS, many eyes have turned towards the possibility for the inclusion of REDD+ projects for offset credit generation.

New markets, including the recently activated California market, see REDD+ as an appealing possibility for integrating international offset credits. The appeal of REDD+ projects lies in the fact that they place a value on standing forests, thereby incentivizing their protection and sustainable management.

Given that around 18 percent of the world’s anthropogenic carbon emissions are currently caused by deforestation and forest degradation, accounting for more carbon emissions than the entire global transportation sector, changing the perception of the value of standing forests is crucial to the effort to curtail the impacts of global climate change.

By placing a monetary value on the carbon stored in trees, and thereby providing a financial incentive for the protection of the forests, developing nations are encouraged to pursue “low-carbon paths” toward sustainable development.

These projects, however, face challenges.

Concerns related to their implementation range from fear of government land grabs to the disenfranchisement of indigenous and marginalized groups. Furthermore, in countries where the decentralization of land ownership has only recently begun to be achieved, there are concerns that the government will attempt to re-centralize land ownership in order to profit from REDD+ project development, thus sharply restricting property rights and land usage.

Debate has also raged over how best to measure and monitor forest carbon to accurately assess the reductions achieved through REDD+ projects. One major question is whether the reductions ought to be measured on a national or sub-national level, leaving the issues of accounting and monitoring unresolved.

Further concerns relate to the possible infringement on national sovereignty by non-governmental entities working at a sub-national level to develop REDD+ projects in local communities.

Despite these questions, the potential benefits of REDD+ are manifold. Beyond the obvious positives for the forestry sector, additional benefits for gender equality might be achievable through REDD+ projects as well.

Women account for about seventy percent of the world’s population living in poverty, and provide close to ninety percent of the food supply within forest dependent communities. Despite this, many women do not possess any ownership rights over the land they use.

Rather, men are the landowners and women only have the right to access and utilize the land for food, fuel, and the other forest resources. Thus, women are generally excluded from the decision-making processes related to forest management and dispensation, despite relying heavily on the forest’s resources.

By involving women in the decision-making process, and vesting them with control over parts of the forests involved, their role within their communities could be changed and improved.

Taking a page from the success of micro-finance schemes, where women were given access to farm animals, capital, and/or land—and were able to utilize those materials to turn a profit and provide for their families—those promoting the inclusion of women in REDD projects hope to see a similar positive, and productive results from the inclusion of women in the forestry sector.

One means for achieving this goal is through the provision of educational opportunities. In Nepal and Indonesia forestry courses have been established to educate women about sustainable forest management practices. These women, in turn, are able to return to their communities and share what they have learned in order to further promote sustainable agricultural and forestry practices. As the saying goes, “if you educate a woman you educate a community.”

The challenges are great, though.

One issue is oversight: how can measures providing for the inclusion of women in REDD+ projects be enforced in a meaningful way? As of now, there is no overarching international legal framework dictating how REDD+ projects ought to be implemented, or providing guidelines for the inclusion of marginalized groups, or ensuring that any safeguards that might be built into a specific REDD+ project would be enforced.

Furthermore, achieving the changes that many proponents of women in REDD+ advocate would require a major shift in perspective and tradition for many of these communities, a shift that some might oppose.

Utilizing REDD+ projects to further improve gender equality in developing nations is an admirable goal, but determining how to do so effectively will be crucial to the success of REDD+ on both an environmental and social level.

About the Author Caroline Baker

Caroline Baker is a graduate of the University of Colorado Law School. She has worked with a number of grass roots environmental institutions in the Northern Rocky Mountain Region of the United States, including the Montana Wilderness Association, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and the Grand Teton National Park Foundation. She is currently based in Sydney, Australia where she is working as a Market and Policy Research Analyst with Carbon Training International. Caroline is passionate about the role that Governments and business can play in promoting environmental and climate policy issues.

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