Authors: Lestrelin, G; Trockenbrodt, M; Phanvilay, K; Thongmanivong, S; Vongvisouk, T; Pham, TT; Castella, JC
This report explores the drivers (both direct and indirect) of deforestation and forest degradation and discusses the political, economic and social opportunities and constraints that will influence the design and implementation of REDD+ in Laos. The government of Laos has long sought to curb deforestation and forest degradation, and the country is receiving considerable international attention and support to implement REDD+. However, agricultural expansion, the development of industrial tree plantations, and large hydropower, mining and infrastructure projects continue to result in deforestation, with shifting cultivation and selective logging (legal and illegal) largely blamed for forest degradation. At the same time, indirect drivers of deforestation and forest degradation are rooted in a national agenda of economic growth, characterized by incentives for foreign and domestic investment in forest management and timber harvesting. As a result, Laos is becoming an important resource frontier for transnational capital and large-scale land and natural resource investments. The consequent intensification of competition for resources poses a challenge not only for forest governance, but also for the development of REDD+ policies and initiatives. In an examination of the institutions and policies defining Laos’ forestry sector and REDD+, the report reflects on lessons to be learned from past forestry and economic development policies. The government of Laos has demonstrated strong political interest in REDD+, but REDD+ implementation faces major obstacles, particularly unclear carbon rights and weak governance, with the latter attributable to poor local capacity, weak coordination among stakeholders, and minimal involvement by local communities and civil society. The report makes several recommendations for achieving effective, efficient and equitable outcomes of REDD+ in Laos: capacity building of administrative and technical staff, especially at the subnational level; clarification and harmonization of land-use planning and land allocation processes; and stronger monitoring and law enforcement in areas under high threat of deforestation and forest degradation. Furthermore, an accountable and transparent mechanism for sharing the benefits of REDD+ across levels and fully accountable consultation processes must be implemented, with the participation of not only elite and powerful actors such as domestic and foreign businesses but also local groups and civil society.