SPC, through its Forests and Trees team in the Land Resources Division (LRD), has organised a two-day regional workshop in Nadi, Fiji, on forest carbon rights in Melanesia.

The workshop specifically aims to explain what forest carbon rights are and how they relate to REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation).

The 37 participants and resource consultants will share legal research about who owns the carbon rights in the forests, and discuss how each country can clarify the ownership and management of forest carbon rights in their national REDD+ framework.

Speaking at the opening of the workshop yesterday, Acting Director of LRD Mr Inoke Ratukalou said that, for REDD+ to be successful, a critical issue is that of carbon ownership or the right to benefit from sequestered carbon and reduced emissions.

'A clear definition needs to be formulated of forest carbon stocks, linked to the rights associated with the resources that store the carbon and the land where those resources reside.

'It was for this reason that we, with the support of GIZ, commissioned national studies in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to look at this issue and suggest how it could be effectively handled under the appropriate legal reforms,' Mr Ratukalou said.

Land in the Melanesian countries is mostly owned and managed by customary landowners. In Papua New Guinea, for example, it is estimated that 95% of the total land area is customary owned. Under its land tenure system, the forest that grows on it is owned by clans and tribal groups. In order to carry out any forest related operations, such as harvesting timber, extensive consultation must take place between state agencies and the landowners.

About 90% of Fiji's forested land is communally owned. The iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) administers the land on behalf of the landowning group or mataqali. In Solomon Islands, an estimated 87% of the land is under customary ownership and the national constitution guarantees the customary owners rights over these lands and their forests. In Vanuatu, all land is traditionally owned by communities.

'Given the complexities of land and forest tenure in the region, the way carbon rights are interpreted will have significant implications for many stakeholders involved in the implementation of the REDD+ programme.

'We recognise the need for policy reform at national level, the central role of the communities and resource owners, and the need to engage them. Countries may need to consider having their own legislation for defining carbon rights, depending on their existing legal frameworks for natural resources and properties,' Inoke Ratukalou added.

Ms Loata Vakacegu, deputy secretary for the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs,welcomed the participants on behalf of the host country (Fiji) and said that it is vital to relay the right message to resource owners and have them involved in decisions that affect their resources and their livelihood. 'Communication must be transparent and easily understood, leaving no room for manipulation.'

'The shared experiences of our Melanesian counterparts at the workshop, together with the analysis provided by specialists on carbon rights, are going to be critically important for the iTaukei community,' Ms Vakacegu said.

'Government officials will be greatly challenged with the key task of providing advice to the resource owners, who are predominantly iTaukei, so they can make informed decisions on matter pertaining to carbon rights and trading,' she added.

The workshop was organized by SPC and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) with funding from the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Environment Ministry.