In calling for the restoration of more ‘natural’ forest to improve carbon sequestration (see Nature 568, 25–28; 2019), Simon Lewis and colleagues should pay greater heed to the millions of people living in forest landscapes — many of whom are not Indigenous peoples. The needs, rights and governance arrangements of all these residents should be taken into account when drawing up such reforestation plans.
Tropical land can be cheap, as Lewis et al. note, often because the rights of its inhabitants are not properly recognized. In our view, rural populations need to be adequately represented to avoid the risk of harmful policies being introduced. The authors recommend that richer countries pay for more tropical forest (as happens already under the United Nations’ REDD+ programme of forest management and conservation), but they should bear in mind the many problems associated with such payments (J. Börner et al. World Dev. 96, 359–374; 2017).
We need a better understanding of how human use and governance arrangements of forests can affect biodiversity and carbon storage. Involving local people in landscape management could help them to achieve positive social and ecological outcomes (see, for example, J. A. Oldekop et al. Nature Sustain. 2, 421–428; 2019).
We do not need more ‘natural’ forests, as Lewis and colleagues define them. We need more ‘social’ forests, regenerated through the support and participation of their residents.
Nature 569, 630 (2019)
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