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Saving Kenyan forests and addressing climate change through REDD+

COMMENTARY
By Jackson Bambo | June 22nd 2016

NAIROBI, KENYA: At only 6.99 per cent of its territory, Kenya has a relatively low forest cover. Article 69 of Kenya's Constitution establishes that, "the State shall work to achieve and maintain a tree cover of at least 10 percent of the land area of Kenya.” Kenya releases about 14 million tons of Carbon dioxide per year mainly from deforestation and forest degradation activities of about 50,000 hectares per year. Healthy forests absorb tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide, which we all need in order to survive. When trees fall, usually due to illegal logging or converting land for agricultural use, the forests become sources of harmful greenhouse gases instead of serving as important carbon “sinks.” But there’s hope in the form of an emerging international initiative aimed at keeping trees standing: REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). REDD+ offers financial incentives to developing countries that create and implement strategies to manage and use their forests responsibly. More than 50 countries are developing these strategies, which include many activities that have been in the conservation world for years: creating networks of protected areas, expanding the use of responsible forest management practices, preventing illegal logging, developing management practices that keep agricultural production away from forests, and more. In Kenya, there are four distinguishing priority areas of focus for instance reducing pressure to clear forests for agriculture, settlements and other land uses, promoting sustainable utilization of forests by promoting efficiency and energy utilization, improving governance in the forest sector by strengthening national capacity for Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG), advocacy and awareness and the enhancement of carbon stocks through afforestation and reforestation addressing the fire problems Since REDD+ was introduced nearly 10 years ago at the global climate negotiations, most of the funding has come from governments in the developed world. There is movement now to also support REDD+ with money from the private sector and market forces. We are at a critical point in time with REDD+. Over the past two years in Kenya, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS), with the support of Conservation International and the U.S. Department of State, have implemented activities to widen the engagement of informed stakeholders in REDD+ in Kenya.
Why Widening Informed Stakeholders Engagement on REDD+ matters? Kenya’s forest resources are of immense importance for the environmental and ecosystem services they provide, for their contribution to economic development, for their contribution to rural livelihoods. The contribution of forests in water catchments is critical to Kenya’s rural and urban water supplies, and approximately 70 per cent of power is hydro generated. Most immediate threats to Kenya's forests are linked to the rapidly increasing population numbers, agricultural expansion, unsustainable wood utilization levels, high energy demand, and over-grazing. Much of Kenya’s biodiversity and wildlife resources depend on forests, woodlands and dryland forest, being a major factor in attracting foreign tourism. A large rural population depends on forest resources to provide firewood, charcoal and other forest products which are critical to rural livelihoods. The plantation resources make a substantial contribution to economic development in Kenya and are an important source of raw materials for economic development in the wider region. In 2007, the forest sector was estimated to contribute about 1 per cent to GDP (Sh 16.4 billion), and that more than 10 per cent of households living within 5 kilometres from forest reserves depend on them for subsistence resources. Advancing strategies In Kenya, IUCN and EAWLS through the Kenya Forest Service and National REDD+ Focal Point have enhanced realisation of REDD+ strategies and funding in Kenya that has helped bring the strategies to life. The process has sensitised communities, indigenous peoples, private sector, the civil society, county and national governments on REDD+ process and issues in Kenya. This initiative has helped in identifying stakeholders and related engagement platforms to be used for consultation on REDD+ including Indigenous People, multi-sectoral groups, and government , identifying capacity needs/issues for capacity building of the key stakeholder groups on specific REDD+ issues including REDD+, governance, gender and benefit sharing and also ongoing documentation of the lessons learnt from the stakeholder consultation process.
IUCN and EAWLS have sensitized and widen stakeholders’ engagement to help curb national drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, such as the conversion of forest land to agricultural land, charcoal burning and unplanned settlement, among others. Constitution of Kenya 2010 stipulates how natural resources, including forests, are supposed to be managed. In particular, governance over natural resources was devolved to county-level governments and it was declared that the State shall, "encourage public participation in the management, protection and conservation of the environment" (Article 69). IUCN and EAWLS have been working to influence the application of this constitutional requirement, as well as global standards and safeguards with respect to public participation, in REDD+ implementation in the country, and in the revisions to the Forestry Act 2005. The work also forms an important contribution to the realization of the country’s National Climate Change Response Strategy.
The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

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