The Solomon Islands stretches over an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands and atolls, covering a total land area of 2.8 million ha. Nearly 80% of the total land area is forested (2.2 million ha) of which half is classified as primary forest. The majority of the land (87%) and nearly all of the country’s forestland (90%) is under customary ownership. Deforestation rates are relatively low at 0.25 % per year. However, forest degradation is among the most severe in the region due to heavy over exploitation of timber resources. The main driver of deforestation and forest degradation is unsustainable commercial logging. Another increasingly important cause of deforestation is expansion of industrial plantations, mainly for oil palm. Mining and infrastructure developments are also causing deforestation.
Earlier forest resource assessments predicted that all commercially viable stocks would be exhausted by 2015 if unsustainable practices continued, causing a collapse to the logging industry. However, this was revised in 2011 when a new forest resource assessment was carried out. The updated assessment concluded that more than half of the primary commercial forest resources have already been logged and that approximately 30% (604,000 ha) is left for extraction.
The logging industry contributes significantly to government revenue and economic growth, even if a large part goes unaccounted for due to illegal logging. In 2011 the logging industry accounted for 46% of export earnings, contributed to approximately 17% of total government revenue, and was related to 4.5% of growth in the economy (GDP). Estimates vary about the importance of the sector in terms of employment, but nearly half of the workforce is thought to be directly or indirectly associated with the forestry sector and for many landowners it is an important source of income.
This socio-economic dependency on the logging industry appears to have “locked-in” the economy on a path of resource depletion. Years of uncontrolled logging and a “race to the bottom” attitude within the industry is now being felt as stocks are becoming increasingly scarce and the sector has started to decline. In order to reverse this trend the government is seeking to embark on a more sustainable development pathway through REDD+ and by developing a framework for climate change adaptation and green growth.
As a small island developing State the Solomon Islands is particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events. In order to reduce costs and increase regional cooperation the Solomon Islands, along with other countries in the Pacific, are approaching climate change from both a national and a regional perspective. The national framework for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction includes a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) and a National Climate Change Policy 2012-2017. A framework for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) is in the process of being developed.
Forestry is seen as an important sector for achieving joint adaptation and mitigation goals for which REDD+ is a key strategy. For example, the National Climate Change Policy 2012-2017 promotes REDD+ and other forest carbon alternatives, and at the regional level the Regional Policy Framework for REDD+ (2012) provides additional guidance for the national REDD+ process. The Solomon Islands has also announced its plans to develop a Green Growth Development Framework (GGDF), in order to promote green growth in the forestry sector and address the current imbalance of economic dependency on timber extraction. REDD+ is one of the strategies promoted to achieve this goal.
At the international level the Solomon Islands is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and has ratified the Kyoto protocol. In the UNFCCC negotiations on REDD+ it supports the position of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations together with neighbouring countries Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu amongst others. In 2010 the Solomon Islands joined the UN REDD Programme as a partner country and in in November the same year the government received a US$ 550,000 grant from the UN-REDD Programme Fund to develop a national REDD+ programme. The programme was meant to begin in 2011, but started behind schedule in July 2012 when the Programme Management Unit was established. By the middle of 2014 the UN REDD programme is expected to be completed.
Solomon Islands is adopting a national approach to REDD+, with national level carbon accounting. However, pending the development of its national REDD+ strategy Solomon Islands is supporting the development of projects at the subnational level, which will be integrated into the national REDD+ framework at a later date. In February 2014 draft versions of the National REDD+ Roadmap, Guidelines for Developing Stakeholder Engagement for REDD+, and Guidelines on the Development of REDD+ Safeguards had been developed. These will inform the development of the national REDD+ strategy once they have received approval by the Cabinet or formal endorsement by the Solomon Islands Government.
At the subnational level the Choisul province has been selected as a pilot province for REDD+ activities. Here logging has been much less excessive and landowners are organised under a single landownership association, the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Communities (LLCTC), which under a strong leadership has successfully managed to limit logging activities and instead promote conservation. NGOs the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and NGO Live and Learn Environmental Education (LLEE) are both working in Choisul to develop REDD+ activities.
The Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM) is the focal point for the national UN-REDD Programme. It is also the national focal point for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). The MECDM is working with the Ministry of Forests and Research (MoFR) to implement national REDD+ readiness activities. UN-REDD agencies the FAO and UNDP provide support to the two ministries as part of the UN-REDD Programme.
The national programme is managed by a Programme Management Unit (PMU) and a national REDD+ Taskforce, which were established in July and November 2012. The REDD+ Taskforce is co-chaired by the two ministries and supported by three Technical Working Groups (TWGs). The institutional arrangements for REDD+ are still being settled, but it is anticipated that additional structures will be set up for a National REDD+ Committee, which will comprise multi-stakeholder government and non-governmental representatives; a National REDD+ Implementation Unit within the Ministry of Forestry and Research to lead REDD+ activities; and a National REDD+ Focal Point to be established within MECDM to lead REDD+ activities in Solomon Islands and support the Ministry with cross-cutting activities (draft National REDD+ Roadmap in Ogle, 2014).
As the UN REDD Programme is coming to an end in 2014 it has been proposed that the national REDD+ Taskforce should be formalised as the National REDD+ Committee. This will occur through a cabinet decision which is due in June/July 2014.
The REDD+ Taskforce is a multi-stakeholder working group comprising stakeholders from the various ministries, private sector, and non-governmental organisations. The role of the REDD+ Taskforce is to coordinate the preparation of the national REDD+ readiness Roadmap, with support from the TWGs. The PMU is responsible for the day to day management of the national REDD+ Programme. This includes the preparation of work plans, reports, and financial and programme reports. The TWGs provides technical expertise on three focus areas: drivers and strategies (WG1), stakeholder engagement and safeguards (WG2), and establishing the national forest monitoring system (WG3).
The first joint meetings between the Taskforce and the Working Groups were held in November 2012 and February 2013. One of the issues that have been raised by the Taskforce and Working Groups is that the government needs to take greater ownership and political commitment to the national REDD+ process to enable cross sector coordination between the ministries. The Taskforce and the TWGs have also proposed the establishment of an official mechanism to coordinate and guide the sustainable development of voluntary carbon activities. This is to prevent the rapid development of an unregulated carbon market in the country, which could be harmful to both local stakeholders and the National REDD+ process.
Stakeholder engagement and participation
Solomon Islands have started the process of stakeholder engagement and in 2014 draft guidelines were developed to guide the national stakeholder engagement process for REDD+. The first stakeholder engagement event was the inception workshop for the UN-REDD programme held in June 2011, and this has been followed by a number of capacity building events throughout 2012. For example, in May 2012 stakeholders reviewed preliminary findings on the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and discussed ideas and potential strategies for developing a national safeguard information system. In October 2012 two provincial awareness raising and consultation events were undertaken in Choiseul and Western province, and in November the same year a stakeholder engagement and safeguards workshop was conducted. The purpose of the workshop was to review preliminary stakeholder mapping and to create awareness about Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
During 2013 these initial engagements have been followed up by a number of awareness raising, capacity building, consultation and training activities at the national level. These have included government officials, NGOs, private sector and traditional authorities and have covered key issues in REDD+ development including safeguards, stakeholder engagement, drivers of deforestation and MRV / REL.
Non-governmental stakeholders are actively taking part in the national REDD+ development process as members on the Programme Executive Board (PEB) and the REDD+ Taskforce.
The PEB now includes three non-governmental organisations: Live and Learn Environmental Education (LLEE), Laura Land Conference of Tribal Community (LLCTC) and Kolombangara Indigenous Community Conservation Association (KIBCA). The National REDD+ Taskforce also includes a number of environmental NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership (SICCP), private sector representatives from financial institutions and plantation companies, and women’s groups such as the National Council of Women. These organisations are likely to be contributing to the development of the REDD+ Roadmap.
Land tenure arrangments and carbon rights
There are two main types of tenure: customary land and alienated land. Nearly 86% of land in Solomon Islands is under customary landownership, which also contains 90% of forestland (Corrin, 2012; GoSI, 2010). Forests on customary land are treated as an integral part of the land, however, ownership and land use rights are determined by customary laws. The remaining 14% is alienated land, which is land that was transferred from customary owners to the Crown (Solomon Islands was a British protectorate until 1978) during the colonial period. It consists of 4 subcategories: public land, perpetual estate, fixed term estate and leasehold.
The Land and Titles Act [Cap 133] is the governing law for the allocation, acquisition and registration of land tenure.
Although customary rights to land and resources are recognised in statutory law, in practice it is the traditional decision making systems and customary laws that govern customary land. These are largely un-written and vary from place to place. Because customary land is communally held by groups of landowners, and as the majority of landownership is unregistered, it is the customary laws that distinguish the multiple levels of interests that may exist in that land (Corrin, 2012). These rights may be clear within the landowning unit and according to the customary laws, but to outsiders it may not be as clear and this often causes problems, especially when separate property rights are to be established on top of existing land ownership rights. For example, before a timber rights agreement between a logging company and customary landowners can be agreed it needs to be established who the owners of the timber rights on customary land are in order to transfer the use of these rights to the company during the contract period.
The Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act [Cap 40] (1969) provides for a process to establish timber rights on customary land. This involves a meeting, held by the Provincial Executive, where it is identified which of the landowners in a group holds the right to grant timber rights to a concessionaire. Although this process has facilitated the development of the logging industry in the Solomon Islands, this part of the Forest Resource and Utilisation Act [Cap 40] is widely seen as problematic. Not only has it been known to cause conflict amongst landowners and with companies, but it fundamentally undermines the collective right of customary landowners to both the land and the forest, as it allocates the customary right to control the forest resource to only a few (Corrin, 2012). Those who are identified as timber rights owners, and therefore eligible to sign and transfer rights agreements, are also the ones likely to get paid timber royalties (about 15% of the total log value for local landowners). In rural areas where income opportunities are scarce timber royalties represent a significant cash income – disproportionate to any other potential sources of income. Unfair distribution of timber benefits, largely blamed on the unequal timber rights process, has been known to cause internal conflict and has lead to increased inequality within rural landowner groups (Corrin, 2012; Wairu and Nanau, 2011).
Clarifying tenure and resource rights is a process that is long overdue in the Solomon Islands. REDD+ might help move this process forwards. REDD+ will require clarification on who owns not just the forest but also the carbon rights, which according to the current legal framework is likely to be whoever owns the land (Corrin, 2012). However, as can be seen with timber rights identifying who the owners are is a bit more complex. One solution could be to register titles and landowning groups, as has been done in neighbouring country Fiji where nearly all customary titles and landowners are registered. The Customary Land Records Act (1994) provides for the recording of customary land boundaries and names of land-holding groups and their representatives. Although this Act has not been implemented, draft regulations were developed (but were not approved by the Cabinet or gazetted) and it is proposed that these should be trialed. The proposal for the land recording process is that it should record both primary land rights and secondary user rights in one process during which a management committee should be established with representation based on these rights. A similar system could be used to record resource rights, such as carbon and timber.
Most importantly what is needed is a coherent legal framework to deal with how rights are established. At the moment timber rights are established in a separate process to land ownership, which causes significant problems when rights established in one court conflicts rights established in another. Similar contradictions could arise for carbon and timber rights unless a coherent legal framework is in place.
The Ministry of Forests and Research (MoFR) is responsible for the overall management of forestry resources in the Solomon Islands. Protected area management falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM) who is responsible for implementing the Protected Area Act (2010) and the Protected Area Regulations, both which came into force in 2012.The legal framework for the forestry sector is provided in the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act [Cap 40] (1969) and the Code of Logging Practice (1996 revised in 2002). The Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act classify forestland into two management types: State Forests and Forest Reserves. State Forests are located on State land and can be leased and used for production purposes, whereas Forest Reserves are managed for preservation and protection purposes and can be declared on any type of land as long as it is in the public interest.
The Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act focus on extraction and production and do not provide a framework to support sustainable forest management. For example, the law does not support the participation of local communities in decision making processes concerning logging activities taking place on their land once timber rights have been issued, or promote community forest management involving local landowners. In many aspects the Act is out of date and is no longer appropriate to govern the challenges faced by the sector today. Over the years there has been a dramatic expansion in the number of logging operators and scale of extraction which now far exceeds the capacity of the MoFR to maintain oversight and enforcement. In 1977 an amendment was made to the Act that introduced direct dealings between loggers and landholders, facilitating the logging of forests on customary land. This amendment allowed for the distinction between landowners and timber rights owners, which has become very problematic. It was followed by a sharp increase in logging which has continued until today. Several efforts have been made to reflect challenges posed by increased pressure from logging in the law through reforms of the Act, once in 1999 and again in 2004. The 1999 Act was passed by the Parliament but was repealed in 2000 because it was never gazetted. The 2004 Bill failed to pass through the legislature. The latest Forest Bill (2012) was due to be presented to the Parliament in June 2013 but remains in draft awaiting further amendments. Considering the history of forestry reform so far it remains to be seen whether this Bill will finally replace the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act of 1969.
Although the MoFR has the mandate to manage the forestry resources of the country, because of the way land and forest ownership is allocated (87% of forest resources are under customary ownership), customary landowners are de facto in control of the majority of forestland. While the government preserves the right to interfere with land matters and acquire land for public purposes, for example to declare forest reserves, this rarely happens for two main reasons. First, acquisition of land requires the government to pay affected landowners compensation and to subsequently manage the area, actions that are extremely difficult within a heavily resource constrained government. Second, customary rights are strongly upheld by traditional landowners. Any interference on behalf of the government is seen as an infringement on the rights of private ownership and is widely resisted by the affected landowners and in public opinion.
In the past these challenges have acted as barriers to the expansion of the protected areas network by the government. However, recent changes in the legal framework, such as the Protected Area Act and Regulations, contains important provisions for community leadership and engagement in Protected Area establishment and operation, which may change the way protection is perceived compared to logging which has been the dominant forest use for so long. If effectively implemented the Protected Area Act may provide more incentives and benefits for communities to get involved with forest protection and management than any other forest related law and more investment is being channeled into this area.
Despite being an economically important sector, revenues from the logging boom have not led to a reduction in rural poverty levels or improved livelihoods. Overall forest management in the Solomon Islands has suffered due to the dominant role of the logging industry. Customary landownership should command a considerable level of bargaining power, however, in reality the benefits of the logging industry has not fallen on the majority but on a limited tribal elite, ‘big men’ and government officials. The current legal framework, weak enforcement and abuse of traditional governance structures have enabled logging companies to make deals with the tribal elite and ‘big men’ without the consent of, or subsequent benefit sharing with other rights holders or community members. This situation has been perpetuated by close ties between tribal elites, ‘big men’, logging companies and politicians which makes reform difficult to implement and has contributed to a limited focus on enforcement, with limited prosecution of companies or individuals found guilty of gross misconduct.
Although there are many challenges to be overcome in the Solomon Islands forestry sector the government is realising that an imminent change is needed. More than half of all commercially exploitable areas have already been logged and little has been done to ensure stocks are replenished. Reforestation and afforestation are therefore an economic priority for the government. A national reforestation programme is on-going and small scale forestry operations, such as village or farm based plantations, are promoted in the National Development Strategy 2011 – 2020.
In order to address the governance challenges in the forestry sector the government were looking into developing a national Forest Law Enforcement in Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan, which would support the national REDD+ process. A country mission was carried out by the EU to the Solomon Islands in 2010 to assess the potential for implementing a FLEGT action plan and Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU, however, in the end this project was not followed through. In June 2012 Solomon Islands joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), however, so far this only applies to the country’s mining sector and it remains to be seen whether this could also be extended to the forestry sector.
Components of REDD+
The national process for establishing reference levels (RL/RELs) has not yet started. However, trainings have been carried out with staff on developing a national forest monitoring system, and the establishment of reference levels and a system for measuring, reporting and verifying (MRV) forest carbon stocks and emission reductions.
The Solomon Islands is still in the process of developing a national Safeguard Information System (SIS) for REDD+. However, the process of identifying and raising awareness around safeguards for REDD+ has started. For example, in 2014 draft guidelines on the development of national REDD+ safeguards for REDD+ had been developed, as were draft guidelines for REDD+ stakeholder engagement, based on initial consultations with NGO Live and Learn and other stakeholders on the use of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
Some safeguard measures to protect local livelihoods and the environment are already embedded within existing national and international laws. At the national level the Environmental Act (1998) provides for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) to be carried out for any development projects in the Solomon Islands that are likely to have some form of environmental impact; the Land and Titles Act (1969) prohibits the transfer of customary ownership and interest in customary land to non-nationals and declares that any such contracts can be declared void. At the international level the Solomon Island is a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which both contain decisions on safeguards for REDD+ (UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.16 and CBD Decision XI/19).
The Solomon Islands is at the early stages of developing a national system for forest Measurement Reporting and Verification (MRV). In the past forest monitoring has been performed on an ad hoc basis and there is no regular system in place for measuring or monitoring forest resources. In order to address some of the capacity needs for developing a national MRV system the Solomon Islands is adopting a regional approach. Regional collaboration has its advantages in that it will significantly reduce costs of implementation and capacity building. In 2012 and 2013 discussions were held between the governments of the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the FAO, UN-REDD, the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) and the Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC), on the potential for regional collaboration.
So far the plans involve strengthening the capacity of regional training centres in Papua New Guinea and Fiji and to establish the SPC Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (SOPAC) in Fiji as a regional centre for gathering remote sensing data. The Ministry of Forests and Research has started initial trainings of forestry officers together with the FAO, however, more activities are expected once the process of recruiting a national MRV and reference levels expert has been completed.
- – National Summary
- – Institutional arrangements
- – Stakeholder engagement and participation
- – Land tenure arrangments and carbon rights
- – Forest management
- – Components of REDD+