Saving Ghana’s forest and reducing emissions: Is REDD+ the solution?
Every crack of dawn, while most people are coiled in warm or cold beds, Sitsofe, a charcoal burner, wakes at 4 a.m. to get ready for the nearest farm to cut down trees needed for her business.
It comes with risks, including scorpion bites, but she has learnt to overcome all those fears for the sake of her children. They must eat, they must live, no wild animal or insect will tame her resolve to provide for her family.
For a month, the line of trees growing by the river has been her target. Trees grow naturally, nobody owns them, she told herself.
Two weeks after she cleared all the trees by the riverside, the water body began to dry up and fingers were being pointed at her for being the cause—a charge she has denied vehemently.
Charcoal burning is causing harm to the environment in Ghana, yet as a source of income for many communities, it is hard to stop.
It is 3 a.m. in the Chipa Forest Reserve in the Dangme West District of the Greater Accra Region, a group of young men whisper as they trudge around the canopy of trees with chainsaw in hand.
They illegally cut down cassia, neem, mahogany and acasia trees which become a source of firewood for many chop bars and building materials for others.
Sitsofe and the gang of chainsaw- wielders pose a great threat to the environment, one that increases emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
According to the International Institute for Environment and Development, beyond its destructive impacts on biodiversity and the livelihoods of forest-dependent people, deforestation is a major driver of climate change and accounts for roughly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In Ghana, the main drivers of emissions include mining, logging, agriculture, wildfire, firewood/charcoal and settlements. The bulk of carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation.
What is REDD+?
It is these greenhouse gas emissions – from energy use in global supply chains and transportation systems to electricity generation in our cities and towns – REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation + Conservation of Forests, Sustainable Forest Management and Enhancement of Carbon Stocks) mechanism was designed to offer governments in developing countries an opportunity to contribute towards global efforts aimed at mitigating climate change by maintaining their forests.
The plus side of the acronym caters for conservation, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks which is vital to ensuring that even when forest products are used, the venture does not deplete the forest but ensures its continuous existence.
REDD+ projects work with communities to restructure local economies towards sustainable land use and forest conservation.
The sale of resultant verified emission reductions helps finance low-carbon, sustainable development activities. REDD+ projects are independently validated and verified to ensure both the emissions reductions and the community and environmental benefits are transparent and accountable.
Currently, the Forestry Commission, according to its Assistant Manager, REDD+ Safeguards and Gender Desk, Ms Roselyn Adjei-Zuta, is to introduce improved technology in charcoal production as part of measures to save the country’s forests.
In places like Kenya’s Mwingi region, the locals are helping to conserve their indigenous forests by using them to farm silk worms and honey, instead of chopping down the trees for charcoal and farmland.
Traditionally, these trees were used as fire wood and charcoal. But in an effort to conserve the forest ICIPE - an African-based institute for insect research and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are helping the local population benefit from the Acacia thorn trees.
In Ghana, about 65 per cent of the rural population depends on the forest for fuel needs, according to Ministry of Energy figures.
The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources records also indicates that at the turn of the 20th century, the country’s forest cover stood at 8.2 million hectares but this had reduced to about 1.6 million hectares.
The country is also said to lose about 65,000 hectares of forest cover annually to illegal chainsaw operations.
To arrest the increasing trend, Ms Adjei-Zuta said the Commission’s initiative would also see the establishment of community wood lots to take pressure off the forests for charcoal production which is major source of cooking fuel for many households in Ghana.
“We will introduce technologies that would ensure efficient charcoal production at a lesser cost to the environment,” she told the Daily Graphic in an interview.
There are concerns, too, about the negative impact REDD+ payments might have on forest-dependent communities, primarily through further weakening of their land and resource rights. There are also potential and complex links with agriculture. Limiting the expansion of agriculture could have impacts on the supply of food and other agricultural products.
Land tenure and forest governance are also key factors that will determine the success or failure of any REDD+ initiative and the mechanisms by which payments and benefits are shared will be critical.
According to the Chairperson of the REDD+ Gender Sub-Working Group, Mrs Patience Opoku, women’s role as major forest stakeholders and contributors to forest conservation and management had traditionally been ignored and this had created a disconnect between the fields of gender equality and forest governance.
She observed that because of traditional gender inequalities, women’s perspectives and circumstances were rarely taken into account in forest governance.
To ensure the success of the new forest initiatives, she said there was an urgent need for action that recognised that forest governance had two different dimensions: that of women and that of men.
So what has been the success story of the Climate Change Unit (CCU) of the Forestry Commission with respect to REDD+
According to Mr Kwame Agyei, Assistant Manager, MRV/ Registry, the Climate Change Unit which also serves as the National REDD+ Secretariat has been able to enhance buy-in, understanding and commitment among stakeholders on the importance of sustainable forest management and the need for the conservation of our forest resources.
“The Secretariat is also developing a system based on remote sensing technology for transparent, real-time and cost effective monitoring of deforestation and forest degradation in Ghana.” he said.
Additionally, the Forestry Commission has developed REDD+Communication Strategy whose implementation started with a REDD+ Roadshow for creating public awareness in 2014.
Perhaps the icing on the cake is the fact that the country has been given the go-ahead by the Carbon Fund of the World Bank to develop a REDD+ emission programme which implementation would enable the country to receive a performance-based payment for REDD+ implementation on the ground.
Notwithstanding the progress made, there have been some gaps and challenges which include lack of a national fund management arrangement for the receipt and disbursement of REDD+ and testing of arrangements for non-carbon benefits, benefit sharing, carbon rights and tenure issues.
There is also a problem with the lack of a functional national Land Use Plan which presents difficulties in spatial modelling and forest monitoring.
Benefits and Safeguards
The benefits of REDD+ go well beyond emissions reductions to include forest conservation, sustainable economic development, and biodiversity preservation.
By recognising the economic value of ecosystem services that standing forests provide, REDD+ helps realign economic incentives with environmental integrity. This not only stops deforestation, but also gives indigenous and forest communities the opportunity to develop in a more sustainable way.
REDD+ can have enormous benefits for the environment and indigenous people alike if and when it is implemented correctly. For this reason, safeguards are needed to ensure the environmental and social integrity of any REDD+ activity.
*The deforestation rate in the country stands 135,000 hectares annually culminating in the country’s forest reduction to 1.6 million hectares from 8.2 million at the turn of the century.
* World Bank research estimates that the degradation of agricultural soils, forests and Savannah woodlands, coastal fisheries, wildlife resources, and Lake Volta's environment, cost Ghana at least $520 million annually.