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Land tenure and fast-tracking REDD+: time to reframe the debate?

This paper argues that legal reform of land tenure will not take place fast enough to enable developing countries to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation through REDD+. It highlights that a global agreement on REDD+ is needed by 2020, if the mechanism is to have a significant impact on mitigating climate change. However, legally defensible and enforceable land tenure rights, while a key enabling condition for effective and equitable REDD+, will not be achieved in most forest countries before this date. By drawing on examples from Nepal and Papua New Guinea, the paper demonstrates that limited enforcement and high cost can undermine the effectiveness of legal tenure reform, while forest-owning communities with weak legal rights may in practice exercise a high level of control over forest land. The paper concludes that policymakers should look to alternative policy options that can also create enabling conditions for REDD+, under existing legal frameworks. These include mapping national laws and policies across sectors to identify perverse incentives, loopholes and conflicting priorities that exacerbate the drivers of deforestation, and engaging civil society networks with national forestry initiatives.