Policies designed to counter deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries must account for the needs of indigenous communities that depend on forest resources.

A new report released today by the World Resources Institute (WRI) examines how Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) – a plan being developed here at the United Nations annual climate conference – could affect local communities in Africa’s Congo Basin.

“The forests of the Congo Basin are a world treasure that store enormous amounts of carbon. While they provide crucial services to forest-dependent communities, they are facing increasing threats from population growth, small-holder activities, and selective logging,” said Dr. Fred Stolle, a WRI senior associate and co-author of Voices from the Congo Basin. “REDD policy can help keep these forests intact, but it can go further by contributing to the needs and concerns of local communities for the first time ever in a global climate pact.”

In 2008 and 2009, WRI and its partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo (CODELT) and Cameroon (NESDA) held a series of consultations on REDD-related measures with local communities in remote forested areas of the Congo Basin and with parliamentarians in the capitals of Cameroon and the DRC.

The report collects stories from these different groups and identifies key concerns of local communities and Congo Basin officials. Some of the major concerns highlighted are that REDD could amplify threats to customary tenure, lead to inequitable revenue distribution, reduce opportunities for development, and exacerbate lack of participation in the forest-management process for local and indigenous communities.

Many of these issues have been recognized as challenges to forest management for years. However, the increased focus on forest-related causes of climate change has brought along with it a newfound attention on the region’s socioeconomic needs and governance challenges for improving forest management. REDD may therefore provide an opportunity to resolve these long-standing challenges.