Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Carbon, forests and the REDD paradox

  • Chris Sandbrook (a1), Fred Nelson (a2), William M. Adams (a1) and Arun Agrawal (a3)

The institutional arrangements governing forests will be a critical factor in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) as part of the global effort to mitigate climate change. A growing body of empirical research demonstrates how local forest governance can be as, if not more, effective than centralized state-based regimes. Local forest governance can secure improvements in multiple forest outcomes such as biomass and carbon storage and livelihoods contributions for the poor, and it can do so at lower cost than is possible through centralized governance. Many national governments have implicitly recognized these findings in their pursuit of decentralized forest governance and in strengthening local rights and capacities to use and manage forests. However, such reforms are often politically resisted, particularly where the value of forest resources is high and central government bodies are able to capture the majority of benefits. Ongoing negotiations related to the design and delivery of REDD policy and practice must take into account both the importance of local forest governance arrangements and the political–economic barriers to devolving secure rights over forests to local communities. These political dimensions of forest tenure and policy create a paradox for REDD: increasing the value of forest resources through global carbon markets without attending to local governance and rights will create political incentives towards centralized governance, which could lead to greater forest loss and lower forest-related benefits for the poor.

Corresponding author
*Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3EN, UK. E-mail
Hide All
Agrawal A. (2007) Forests, governance, and sustainability: common property theory and its contributions. International Journal of the Commons, 1, 111136.
Agrawal A., Chhatre A. & Hardin R. (2008) Changing governance of the world’s forests. Science, 320, 14601462.
Angelsen A. (ed.) (2008) Moving Ahead with REDD: Issues, Options and Implications. Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia.
Blomley T., Pfliegner K., Isango J., Zahabu E., Ahrends A. & Burgess N. (2008) Seeing the wood for the trees: towards an objective assessment of the impact of participatory forest management on forest condition in Tanzania. Oryx, 42, 380391.
Bond I., Grieg-Gran M., Wertz-Kanounnikoff S., Hazlewood P., Wunder S. & Angelsen A. (2009) Incentives to Sustain Forest Ecosystem Services: A Review and Lessons for REDD. International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK.
Bray D.B., Merino-Perez L. & Barry D. (2005) The Community Forests of Mexico: Managing for Sustainable Landscapes. University of Texas Press, Austin, USA.
Bray D.B., Merino-Perez L., Negreros-Castillo P., Segura-Warnholtz G., Torres-Rojo J.M. & Vester H.F.M. (2003) Mexico’s community-managed forests as a global model for sustainable landscapes. Conservation Biology, 17, 672677.
Brown D., Seymour F. & Peskett L. (2008) How do we achieve REDD co-benefits & avoid doing harm? In Moving Ahead with REDD: Issues, Options and Implications (ed. Angelsen A.), pp. 107118. CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.
Campbell A., Clark S., Coad L., Miles L., Bolt K. & Roe D. (2008) Protecting the future: carbon, forests, protected areas and local livelihoods. Biodiversity, 9, 117122.
Chhatre A. & Agrawal A. (2008) Forest commons and local enforcement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 105, 1328613291.
Chhatre A. & Agrawal A. (2009) Trade-offs and synergies between carbon storage and livelihood benefits from forest commons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 106, 1766717670.
Cotula L. & Mayers J. (2009) Tenure in REDD—Start-Point or Afterthought? International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK.
Dietz T., Ostrom E. & Stern P.C. (2003) The struggle to govern the commons. Science, 302, 19071912.
Elmqvist T., Pyykonen M., Tengo M., Rakotondrasoa F., Rabakonandrianina E. & Radimilahy C. (2007) Patterns of loss and regeneration of tropical dry forest in Madagascar: the social institutional context. PLoS One, 2, e402.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) (2005) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005: Progress Towards Sustainable Forest Management. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Griffiths T. (2007) Seeing ‘REDD’? Forests, Climate Change Mitigation and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton-in-Marsh, UK.
Hayes T.M. (2006) Parks, people, and forest protection: an institutional assessment of the effectiveness of protected areas. World Development, 34, 20642075.
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) (2007) Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Summary for Policymakers. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, Switzerland.
Nagendra H. (2007) Drivers of reforestation in human-dominated forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 104, 1521815223.
Nelson F. & Agrawal A. (2008) Patronage or participation? Community-based natural resource management reform in sub-Saharan Africa. Development and Change, 39, 557585.
Nepstad D., Schwartzman S., Bamberger B., Santilli M., Ray D., Schlesinger P. et al. . (2006) Inhibition of Amazon deforestation and fire by parks and indigenous lands. Conservation Biology, 20, 6573.
Ostrom E. (2009) A general framework for analysing sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science, 325, 419422.
Ostrom E. & Nagendra H. (2006) Insights on linking forests, trees, and people from the air, on the ground, and in the laboratory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 103, 1922419231.
Oyono P.R. (2004) One step forward, two steps back? Paradoxes of natural resources management decentralization in Cameroon. Journal of Modern African Studies, 42, 91111.
Peskett L., Huberman D., Bowen-Jones E., Edwards G. & Brown J. (2008) Making REDD Work for the Poor. Report prepared for the Poverty Environment Partnership, London, UK.
Ribot J. (2004) Waiting for Democracy: The Politics of Choice in Natural Resource Decentralisation. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, USA.
Ribot J. (2006) Choose democracy: environmentalists’ socio-political responsibility. Global Environmental Change, 16, 115119.
Ribot J., Agrawal A. & Larson A. (2006) Recentralizing while decentralizing: how national governments reappropriate forest resources. World Development, 34, 18641886.
Roe D., Nelson F. & Sandbrook C. (2009) Community Management of Natural Resources in Africa: Impacts, Experiences and Future Directions. International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK.
Rogner H., Zou D., Bradley R., Crabbe P., Edenhofer O., Hare B. et al. . (2007) Introduction. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Metz B., Davidson O.R., Bosch P.R., Dave R. & Meyer L.A.), pp. 95116. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Somanathan E., Prabhakar R. & Mehta B.S. (2009) Decentralization for cost-effective conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 106, 41434147.
Springate-Baginski O., Sarin M., Ghosh S., Dasgupta P., Bose I., Banerjee A. et al. . (2008) The Indian Forest Rights Act 2006: Commoning Enclosures? Conference paper presented at the 12th Biennial Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, Cheltenham, UK. Http:// [accessed 2 September 2009].
Stern N. (2007) The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Sunderlin W.D., Dewi S. & Puntodewo A. (2007) Poverty and Forests: Multi-Country Analysis of Spatial Association and Proposed Policy Solutions. Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia.
Tacconi L. (2007) Decentralization, forests, and livelihoods: theory and narrative. Global Environmental Change, 17, 338348.
van der Werf G.R., Morton D.C., DeFries R.S., Olivier J.G.J., Kasibhatla P.S., Jackson R.B. et al. . (2009) CO2 emissions from forest loss. Nature Geoscience, 2, 737738.
Wollenberg E., Merino L., Agrawal A. & Ostrom E. (2007) Fourteen years of monitoring community-managed forests: learning from IFRI’s experience. International Forestry Review, 9, 670684.
Wunder S. (2008) Payments for environmental services and the poor: concepts and preliminary evidence. Environment and Development Economics, 13, 279297.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0030-6053
  • EISSN: 1365-3008
  • URL: /core/journals/oryx
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 18
Total number of PDF views: 164 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 611 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.