Laos has an estimated forest cover of 9.5 million hectares or 40.29% of the land area in 2010 based on a rapid assessment (DOF, 2011a). This is only slightly lower than the forest cover in 2002, which was 9.8 million hectares or 41.5% of the land area (DOF, 2005). However, ongoing detailed forest cover assessments are expected to provide more accurate forest cover estimates for 2010. Forest cover declined rapidly from 1992 to 2002 at the rate of 134,000 hectares per annum (~ 1.2-1.3% p.a.). Forest quality also deteriorated with dense forest declining from 29% in 1992 to 8.2% in 2002, and open forest increasing from 16% to 24.5%. Annual emissions from deforestation and degradation are estimated to be around 51 million tonnes of CO2 (DOF, 2010). The main drivers of deforestation and degradation in Laos include conversion to plantations and cash crops by commercial companies and smallholders, hydropower, mining, infrastructure development, illegal logging and shifting cultivation. The economy is pre-dominantly agrarian and subsistence based, but Laos aims to achieve annual economic growth of at least 8%, reduce poverty (and inequality), and move out of the “least developed country” list by 2020 (MPI, 2010). Hydropower, mining and agro-industries are high priority investment areas at present.
Laos has been participating in the international REDD negotiation process under the UNFCCC since 2007 and recently started using multilateral negotiating blocks such as the ASEAN, G-77 and China, and LDC to support and push for an agreement on REDD (DOF, 2011b). Laos’ Climate Change Strategy, National Socio-Economic Development Plan 2011-15, the Agricultural Development Strategy 2011-20 and the Agricultural Master Plan 2011-15 all indicate Laos’ interest in carbon market mechanisms and REDD+. The forestry and land use sector has been identified as the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in Laos and also holds the largest mitigation potential while promising environmental and socio-economic benefits at the same time (DOE, 2010). The government’s goal is to increase forest cover to 70 percent by 2020 (MAF, 2005) and use REDD+ and other mechanisms to achieve that goal. Laos aims to use fund-based mechanisms in the short-term and allow participation in the voluntary market, but will use compliance markets in the longer term when international protocols have been agreed. (DOF, 2010).
Laos is actively preparing itself for REDD+ implementation with support from the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), the Forest Investment Program (FIP), other bilateral and multilateral donor projects and INGO initiatives. Laos became one of the first 14 member countries of the FCPF in July 2008 and its REDD Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) was completed and accepted by the FCPF Secretariat in late 2011. FCPF will start implementation activities in 2012. The FIP has selected Lao PDR as a pilot country and the FIP investment plan was approved by the FIP sub-committee at its meeting on 31 October 2011 with some minor comments to be addressed. The Department of Forestry, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation will coordinate FIP implementation. Further funding will be provided under the FIP Dedicated Grant Mechanism to support indigenous and community participation in FIP programs.
Various other bilateral and multilateral donor programs provide substantial financial and technical support to Lao PDR’s REDD+ readiness development. Major programs include the Climate Protection through Avoided Deforestation (CliPAD) Program, three programs supported by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Sustainable Forestry and Rural Development (SUFORD) Project and the regional Lowering Emission in Asia’s Forests (LEAF) program. There are also numerous sub-national activities which include one afforestation-reforestation project in the CDM pipeline and numerous REDD+ feasibility studies and pilots initiated by donor projects, INGOs and the private sector at project, village and provincial levels.
Management and coordination
A multi-sectoral REDD Task Force (TF) chaired by the Director-General of the Department of Forestry (DOF) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) currently coordinates REDD+ readiness activities (MAF, 2011). High-level cross-sector coordination and policy guidance is to be provided by the National Environment Committee (NEC) comprised of ministers and vice-ministers (DOF, 2010). The TF is to be supported by a new REDD+ Office that will be responsible for implementation, coordination and monitoring of national REDD-Readiness activities. The REDD+ Office will be empowered to establish a number of technical working groups for developing RELs, MRV, stakeholder consultation, land-use planning, benefit-sharing and other issues as required. The REDD+ Office will also support the establishment of a similar structure at the provincial level in those provinces where REDD+ activities are taking place or are planned for the Readiness phase.
There is also wider institutional restructuring ongoing in Lao PDR at present. A new Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment (MONRE) was created in July 2011 with responsibility over environmental, natural resource and land management issues (Yaphichit, 2011; FSSWG Meeting Announcement, Dr. Silavanh, DG, DOF). This Ministry was created by merging the Water Resource and Environment Administration (WREA) with some departments of the National Land Management Authority (NLMA) and Geology Department, and the Forest Conservation and Protection divisions from MAF. The location of the REDD+ office and REDD+ roles and responsibilities following institutional restructuring remain to be clarified.
Stakeholder engagement and participation
REDD Task Force meetings have also included other stakeholders such as NGOs, consultants, private sector and donors who have been invited to participate. One of the goals of the JICA-funded Forestry Sector Capacity Development Project (FSCAP) project is to promote stakeholder coordination among government agencies as well as development partners and initiatives (DOF & JICA, 2010). Formulation of the R-PP under the FCPF program, the FIP investment plan, the CliPAD and LEAF program designs have involved (or are to involve) stakeholder consultations at the national level and from selected provinces and districts where the REDD+ activities are targeted. As per the R-PP, a Stakeholder Participation and Consultation Plan (SCP) technical working group is to be appointed under the REDD+ office and a system of consultation developed for all stakeholder groups from national to local levels.
In the last year, Lao PDR hosted a series of consultation workshops including the Asian regional meeting to support indigenous and community participation in FIP programs (FIP, 2011a), private sector engagement in REDD+ in Lao PDR (Chokkalingam, 2011), and on revising the forestry legal framework for implementing REDD+ (FCA, 2011a). On the ground, donor and NGO-supported projects are conducting stakeholder engagement and awareness and capacity building efforts as part of their REDD+ activities. The CliPAD program in league with DOF and the Lao Biodiversity Association (LBA) is piloting a Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process in its demonstration sites (Goetze, 2011). The SUFORD project developed participatory management guidelines for Production Forest Areas (DOF, 2006a, 2006b) and has implemented it in 1.2 million hectares of production forests so far. Part of the FIP investment plan is to scale up such participatory sustainable forest management in all three state forest categories (DOF, 2011c). SNV Netherlands Development Organization will work through local capacity builders (NGOs and businesses) and government to build capacity and implement its REDD programs.
Rights and tenure
In Lao PDR, natural forest and forestland is the property of the national community but the State can allocate tenure and use rights in specific areas to organisations and individuals (National Assembly 2007). There are three main categories of forestland – Production, Protection and Conservation Forest Areas at national, provincial, district and village levels. Communities have customary use rights in specific areas. State-administered national, provincial and district-level forest areas are to be managed through participatory approaches. The Agricultural Master Plan (2011-15) specifies supporting and piloting community-based forest management in designated village forests, and assessing the merits of issuing ecosystem restoration licenses as in Indonesia for natural forest restoration and management. Degraded and barren forestlands can be allocated to individuals, households and organisations for natural regeneration or planting trees and non-timber forest products (National Assembly 2007). Trees planted on allocated lands become the property of the tenure holders but the law is silent on ownership of naturally-regenerated trees.
Large areas are yet to be delineated and zoned as forestlands and efforts are constrained by low funding availability. Participatory land use planning (PLUP) and delineation of village forests is pending in much of the country. Land concessions given out without effective zoning and PLUP led to land pressures and conflicts (GIZ, 2011). Effective land use planning, allocation and titling are high on the agenda of the National Assembly at present to secure the environment and local livelihoods, while creating a favourable investment climate. The first attempts at communal titling of village forests have been made at project sites supported by SNV (Sayalath, 2011) and the GIZ Land Management and Registration Project (LMRP) (GIZ, 2011). There is not much forest land in individual or household hands at present pending completion of PLUP.
Forest carbon ownership is not yet formally regulated within Lao PDR. Under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) - Water Resources and Environment Administration (WREA) regulation on CDM approval procedures, ownership of Carbon Emission Reductions (CERs) vests in project participants, with fees and service charges payable to the government (Chokkalingam, 2010). Both Article 5 of the Forestry Law and the 2010 PM’s Decree on Protection Forest state that the State encourages the utilisation of forest for, inter alia, carbon offsets. Full regulation of forest carbon ownership is currently being discussed in the context of the review of the Forestry Law.
Compliance (incentives and enforcement)
Numerous government regulations attempt to protect the environment and control forest and forestland use such as only allowing customary use by communities in state-administered forest areas and banning export of logs. A new institution, the Department of Forestry Inspection DOFI (under MAF) was created for more independent enforcement of forest-related laws which will likely cover upcoming REDD+ and FLEGT requirements. DOFI capacity and activities are severely constrained by limited funding available from annual government budgets (Ratanalangsy et al., 2009). Existing bilateral projects are providing some support to strengthening forest law enforcement through activities such as workshops and training opportunities. Enforcement of land laws and contracts lie with NLMA’s Inspection Department.
In established Production Forest Areas, villagers are to benefit from employment opportunities, village development grants and part of the timber revenue (Chokkalingam, 2010). Participatory mechanisms and incentives have not yet been established in most conservation and protection forest areas. Provision of incentives is restricted by limited funding available and Laos aims to mobilize new climate related finance mechanisms including REDD+. Use rights such as for carbon markets and tourism are specified in the Forestry Law but it is not clear where and who can pursue these options. The country recently initiated a revision process of the forestry legal framework for REDD+ implementation, which is to include clarifying carbon tenure and benefit-sharing possibilities in different forest areas (FCA, 2011a).
Lao PDR has opted for the nested approach whereby projects and sub-national activities are nested within a national accounting framework (DOF, 2010). A nested approach requires a national reference emission level (REL), defined sub-national reference regions and nested projects whose reference emission levels add up to the reference region and hence the national REL. The R-PP estimated a preliminary national REL using historical rates of change and inventory data and factoring in national development objectives. However, consistent recent assessments of forest cover change that can be used for establishing a credible REL are still lacking. The Forest Information Management (FIM) Program is now working on a nationwide forest cover basemap and carrying out field surveys for information on species and other parameters. The Program also includes an extensive infrastructure and capacity building component.
The R-PP provides an estimated budget and activities to supplement existing projects. A REL technical working group is to be established under the national REDD+ office. The LEAF Program conducted a regional training workshop for national REL development in August 2011 (FCA 2011b). A final national REL determination will however have to await SBSTA decisions on parameters to be used. Pilot activities on the ground are developing project-level RELs based on historic analysis, some for certification to voluntary carbon standards. Some ongoing projects (such as LEAF, CliPAD and SUFORD) are looking at supporting the development of RELs and carbon accounting at provincial levels.
Also, the JICA-supported Program for Forest Information Management (FIMP) will prepare a nation-wide forest base-map for 2010 using ALOS (Advanced Land Observation Satellite), SPOT-5 and Rapideye imagery. It is not clear yet whether this will lead to the development of a forest cover change assessment which could be used to establish a forest reference scenario. The R-PP also states that extensive aerial mapping has started along with negotiations with Japan for the provision of an integrated, multi-purpose, GIS-based information system for forests.
Lao PDR does not yet have a common or formal system for addressing safeguards at the national or state level but is committed to developing social, environmental and other safeguards for REDD+ implementation with stakeholder consultation and participation (DOF, 2010). This will include the application of World Bank safeguards and other, incorporating them into an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) framework for REDD+ projects and building capacity to implement the safeguards. The FCPF will support safeguard development with regard to benefit-sharing following on from SUFORD’s work in production forests, and also strategic social and environmental assessment for REDD+ in Laos across issues such as governance, benefit-sharing and MRV (Personal communication, Khamlar Phonsavat, World Bank, Laos). FIP will include environmental and social impact assessments (ESIA) and other safeguard measures such as for indigenous peoples and women and avoided conversion of natural forests to tree plantations (DOF, 2011c). WREA (now part of MONRE) is responsible for ESIAs of development projects and possibly REDD+ safeguards incorporated into ESIAs in the future.
REDD-relevant safeguard provisions existing in Laos include the “Sustainable Development Criteria for Proposed CDM Projects in Lao PDR” (CDM Decree Annex 1), the Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment 2010, log export bans and other protective measures in forest-related regulations, and World Bank safeguards implemented in production forest areas. Mining and hydropower utilities are bound by Concession Agreements that include environmental safeguards but these are not enforced at present (DOF, 2010). Laos is in the pre-negotiation phase of a FLEGT voluntary partnership agreement to establish a credible timber legality assurance system in line with likely EU regulations requiring demonstration of legality of all wood and wood products sold in the EU as of early 2013 (FLEGT, 2011). Some 80,000 hectares of Production Forest Areas have achieved Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which also requires protection of High Conservation Value Forests, community engagement and other safeguards. There are plans to expand the certified area depending on fund availability and increased demand for certified wood with establishment of chain of custody regulations.
Lao PDR also intends to combine the draft framework for core governance parameters for REDD+ developed by the May 2010 Chatham House workshop on monitoring and assessing governance for REDD+, organised by the UN REDD Programme and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in order to implement the safeguards agreed in Copenhagen and adopted in Cancun. GIZ has been commissioned by GOL to develop national guidelines on Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). The guidelines are currently in the final testing phase and it is expected that they will become compulsory for project developers and others implementing REDD+ activities.
REDD+ pilots in Lao PDR applying for certification to voluntary forest carbon (such as VCS) and related social and environmental standards (such as CCBS) will have to meet the safeguards set by those standards. SNV will include social safeguards when piloting low emission development plans. The CliPAD project is conducting FPIC processes in its pilot sites.
Lao PDR is working on a national MRV methodology or system for REDD+ at present. Since the 1970s, there have been numerous forest cover assessments in Lao PDR but the results are often not comparable due to differences in methods, definitions and imagery (DOF, 2010). A National Forest Inventory (NFI) was carried out from 1991 to 1999. The JICA-supported FIM Program will prepare a detailed nation-wide forest base-map for 2010 by end 2012, and conduct a nation-wide field survey for collecting information on species, diameter, height and density. FIM and SUFORD are supporting the building of capacity, infrastructure and information systems for forest monitoring. Due to past support from the SUFORD project and work done by the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI), the information base is better in Production forests than Protection or Conservation Forest Areas.
The R-PP recommends that Lao PDR conduct a nation-wide forest cover change assessment at least every 5 years and an NFI at least every 10 years in the future. A technical working group will be established for MRV system development under the REDD+ office. A new Forest Preservation Program (FPP) supported by the Government of Japan is also to provide capacity and infrastructure support. The FCPF will support MRV development as required to complement what FIM and other donor projects implement. The international I-REDD research project is working with the National University of Laos (NUOL) and NAFRI to assess land cover change and emissions from the same, as well as methods for monitoring livelihoods and governance in and around one National Protected Area. Project-level MRV is being conducted and planned by some pilot projects as part of the required project design documents to be submitted for certification to voluntary carbon standards. In 2010, Winrock conducted a technical needs assessment and conducted a capacity building workshop on GIS/RS and Forest Carbon inventory. The LEAF program will conduct forest cover change assessments and help MRV system development in Houaphan province, including approaches for Participatory Carbon Monitoring.
Laos is a sparsely populated mountainous country in mainland Southeast Asia. It is one of the most biodiverse countries in Asia with 172 mammals, 212 birds, 8286 higher plant species and many other faunal and floral species (IUCN, 2006). Using the national forest definition of >20% tree canopy cover, 9.8 million hectares or 41% of Lao PDR was forested in 2002 (DOF, 2005), and 9.5 million hectares or 40% was forested in 2010 (DOF, 2011a). Using the FAO definition of >10% canopy cover, the forested area rises to 16.4 million hectares or 69% of the total area in 2002 (FAO, 2010). Major forest types in 2002 included upper mixed deciduous (56%), upper dry evergreen (14%), and dry dipterocarp (13%) forest. Plantations were a minor component of the landscape at that time but are on the rise, much of it funded by foreign investment. Forest cover declined rapidly at the rate of 134,000 hectares per annum (roughly 1.2-1.3% p.a.) from 1992 to 2002, and at roughly 35,000 hectares per annum since then. Forest quality also deteriorated with dense forest declining from 29% in 1992 to 8.2% in 2002 and open forest increasing from 16% to 24.5%. Main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation are forest conversion to tree and agricultural plantations, shifting cultivation, illegal logging, mining, infrastructure and hydropower development (DOF, 2010).
The economy registered an average annual GDP growth of more than 7% in recent years with 8.4% in 2010 (World Bank, 2011). The agriculture-forestry sector accounted for 30.4% of the GDP in 2010 and is the largest contributor to national GHG emissions (MPI, 2010). Laos has 49 ethnic groups and a large number of sub-groups whose livelihoods range from hunting and gathering to various forms of swidden farming in the uplands and wet-rice farming in the plains (King and van de Walle, 2010).
Overarching responsibility for high-level coordination of REDD+ policy-making in Lao PDR rests with the National Environmental Committee, a committee consisting of Ministers of all Government Ministries and chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister. Direct coordination of activities rests with the REDD+ Task Force, which consists of high-level officials from a broad range of relevant Government departments-including forestry, land, finance, mining and planning-and chaired by the head of the Department of Forestry. The REDD+ Task Force is currently responsible for coordinating, facilitating and promoting all REDD+ activities in the country (MAF, 2011). The REDD+ Task Force is empowered to establish technical working groups. A National REDD+ Office is intended to be established in the near term consisting of full-time staff dedicated to direct management of REDD+ activities, but as of February 2013 is not yet in existence (FCPF, 2012). In the meantime, a provisional REDD+ Office has been established within the Department of Forestry (DOF), though this office does not have far-reaching capacities.
Lao PDR is a centrally-planned socialist republic with a relatively well-developed legal framework applicable to land and forestry, though major legislation on REDD+ has not been adopted to date (April 2013). Major REDD+ challenges include the sustainability of land concessions and land and forest governance and tenure. A major overhaul of land and forestry legislation is underway as of 2013 that should address these and other issues and introduce a basic legal framework for REDD+. This is likely to include provision for more specific legislation to be adopted thereafter. Several institutions have responsibility for REDD+, most notably the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), while coordination is provided by two inter-ministerial committees (the REDD+ Task Force and the National Environmental Committee). However, capacity constraints in MONRE have led to MAF taking on many of its functions in the short term.
All land and forest belongs to the State, which may allocate small parcels of land to citizens for personal use, or grant leases or concessions for commercial use. Most land used by rural families and communities is not registered and so not secure; however, major land use planning and allocation programmes are underway to increase title registration. Rules on granting land use leases and concessions are at times unclear, and a moratorium on new concessions was issued in 2012 in response to concerns over their sustainability. Logging is similarly centrally-planned, though discrepancies in the legal framework and low institutional capacities have led to relatively high levels of illegal logging. Several initiatives are underway to strengthen the legal framework for logging and ensure legality of timber flows.
Plans and policies
Laos’ Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) sets out the planned activities, the schedule and estimated costs for getting ready for REDD+ implementation in Laos. The activities include organising and consulting, and developing the REDD+ strategy, REL and MRV system. The Forestry Strategy is the official document that guides development of the national forestry sector up to 2020. Forestry sector objectives and strategy are nested within and consistent with the overall National Socio-Economic Development Plan and the National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy (NGPES). The Government’s goals are to increase forest cover to 65% by 2015 and 70% by 2020.
The National Climate Change Strategy, the 7th National Socio-Economic Development Plan 2011-15, the Agricultural Development Strategy 2011-20 and the Agricultural Master Plan 2011-15 indicate Laos’ interest in carbon market mechanisms and REDD+. The Climate Change Strategy notes the high GHG contribution of the forestry and land use sector and specifies mitigation potential and options for this sector including REDD+. The National Environmental Management Strategy focuses on environmental protection needs and measures in the process of national socio-economic development. Besides the national level strategies and plans implemented at local levels, there are also provincial and district level plans related to natural resource management and use. Laos is in the pre-negotiation phase of a FLEGT voluntary partnership agreement to establish a credible timber legality assurance system (FLEGT, 2011).
There are numerous ongoing and planned national, sub-national and project level REDD+ activities in Laos. Larger programs involved in a range of REDD-readiness activities include the Forest Investment Program (FIP), the Climate Protection through Avoided Deforestation (CliPAD) Program, REDD components of the Sustainable Forestry and Rural Development Project (SUFORD), the Participatory Land and Forest Management Project (PA REDD), the Forest Information Management (FIM) Program, the Forest Preservation Program (FPP), the Forestry Sector Capacity Development Project (FSCAP), the FCPF R-PP implementation, the FAO program “Linking communities in South-East Asia to forestry-related voluntary carbon markets”, and the Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests (LEAF) program.
At the sub-national level, there is a Grassroots Capacity Building Program by RECOFTC, a project “Promoting Rights-Based, Equitable Pro-Poor REDD Strategies” by GAPE, one AR project in the CDM pipeline, and numerous REDD+ feasibility studies and pilots being initiated by various donor programs (CliPAD, PA REDD, SUFORD, LEAF and FIP), NGOs (WCS and WWF) and the private sector (New Chip Xeng Co., Vangveun Trading Co., Prime Invest Co., Stora Enso, Oji Lao Plantation Forest Co. and others). Some of the REDD+ projects plan to register under available voluntary carbon standards. SNV, CliPAD and SUFORD plan to support provincial-level emissions reductions as well. Research activities into various aspects of REDD are ongoing under the I-REDD+ project, other projects at NAFRI and NUOL, and through miscellaneous consultant and student projects.
Most of the funding for REDD+ and related forestry programs in Laos comes and will come from bilateral and multilateral sources for specific projects. Major donors and pledged amounts for REDD-related activities include multilateral development banks’ Forest Investment Program (USD 30 million), JICA (USD 16 million), Government of Japan (USD 4.75 million), BMZ-GIZ/KfW (USD 19.4 million), the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (up to USD 3.6 million), USAID (part of the regional USD 20 million), SUFORD (USD 25.3 million), FAO (USD 40,000), Norad and Government of Norway (USD 2.6 million), World Bank/IDA for new production forest project (TBD), BMU for a new project to be implemented by SNV (TBD), and the FIP Dedicated Grant Mechanism (TBD). At the national level Laos has a Forest and Forest Resource Development Fund for delineation and management of the three forest categories (Protection, Conservation and Production), law enforcement and other planned activities that contribute to reducing deforestation and forest degradation. A number of other sub-national activities by NGOs, international organizations and the private sector are funded through a variety of sources including government and private donor agencies and private investors.se