Reducing Emission from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD+) is a cross-sectoral undertaking the process of which is nested in forest as well as in a number of other, non-forest segments of the economy. As a result REDD+ functionality and effectiveness depends on the presence and efficient execution of prudently constructed, relevant and realizable policies and legal frameworks governing sectoral (forestry) and cross sectoral issues. Among others, land tenure, energy, land use policies, agriculture development programs are some of the most relevant legal frameworks beside the forest policy itself.
REDD+ Ethiopia has to deal with both the national and the global REDD+ agenda taking into consideration current policy and legal frameworks in light of what is required of REDD+ to achieve at national and global levels and indicate gaps in content and harmonization of sectoral laws. Efficient and effective implementation of REDD+ requires revision and customization of existing sectoral and non-sectoral policies, laws and regulations. Revisions of laws may be considered in areas of land use, property rights and permission issuance system for logging (agricultural investment).
Public, Private and Community participation
To the advantage of REDD+ objectives, the country is now widely embracing PFM (Participatory Forest Management) as the main management approach which can play a dual role: protect and use the forest in sustainable ways, introduce good forest governance that guards community rights and use local knowledge. The ideas of community forest and participatory forest managements need to enter the legal book. The law shall provide communities with sufficient autonomy and protect them from bureaucratic entanglement and allows them to fully exercise their rights.
Private investors, parastatals, public and religious institutions, youth and women organizations should be encouraged and supported to start their own forests. Enabling legal environment should be created such as: land grant, long-term interest-free loan, tax grace during the first two harvests, and technical and administrative support, etc.
Forest tenure: Rights over forest and carbon
Land tenure and carbon rights are vital issues to achieve emission reductions, ensuring transparent benefit sharing and influencing non-compliance accountability in the context of REDD+ strategies. Therefore, REDD+ performance would be effective, if, and only if, the forest resources in the country are established on fair and stable forest property rights regimes. Such questions should be clearly answered, who owns, manages, and uses forests resources, and how is the rule governing rights and responsibilities enforced. Currently, for instance, private forest holdings are not certified as “forest property”, but as farm lands. Claimants over forests and trees of Ethiopia include: the state, community, private individuals, and Churches. It is important that the forest law recognizes and certify such holdings and promulgate regulations that help to regulate their management and utilization.
Benefit sharing (Who has the right to carbon?)
The existing forest law falls short of addressing the issue of carbon rights and benefit distribution among stakeholders. In the Ethiopian context, millions of people are dependent on forests around them; they are de-facto custodian of forests, and without their participation, implementation of REDD+ objectives is unthinkable.
Understanding of “rights” in its legal sense has led to the argument that, as the forest is owned by the state, any benefit from it (forest) shall first go to its owner (the state), or the latter shall receive the lion share. The simplification of the term “rights” is not advisable. In the context of countries like Ethiopia the term “rights” needs to consider the social as well as the ethical meaning of the term, not only the legal connotation.
The forest law and the associated regulation need to put together clear direction by taking into account particularly the issue of direct benefits from carbon sequestration from forests owned by the state and also those forests under PFM. The forest regulation should set criterion by which carbon stakeholders can be identified, categorized and receive benefits. The law must also be clear and specific on the rights of private individuals to benefit from carbon gained from forests established by them.
Enforcement of environmental laws
Policy and law enforcement of forests and other related environmental regulations has remained difficult barrier for achieving the objectives of programs and projects in the sector. Thus the most formidable problem for REDD+ performance originates, not from policy/law deficiency, but from lack of effective enforcement. The difficulty arises from the nature of the forest resource itself (expansive, and not cost-effective to guard); weakly constructed forest property rights, where the de-jure claim by the state, has been constantly challenged by de-facto community use; lack of strong administrative and political support by local government; possibly, from rent-seeking behavior by some local authorities.
Addressing these problems requires interventions such as awareness creation, capacity building to law enforcement bodies, increased public participation and putting in place a transparent system among others.