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  • Sri Lanka lacks forest data for REDD+ funds

[COLOMBO] Lack of reliable data on forest resources could prevent Sri Lanka from immediately accessing UN funds pledged to help the island nation reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, a new study said.

Sri Lanka was last month (25 March) promised initial funding worth US$ 4 million from the UN-managed, multi-partner trust fund to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

Under REDD, developing nations are offered financial incentives to combat forest degradation and deforestation. Potential annual revenues for Sri Lanka from REDD+ could reach US$ 400 million, according to the study published on 21 February in the Journal of Environmental Management.

The study, by the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology and Linköping University, Sweden, showed that though the country had large forest reserves it lacked reliable data on its forest resources, or rates of forest loss to establish benchmark levels for carbon emissions.

Sri Lanka has to identify the factors that drove deforestation, and formulate a range of policies and measures relevant to REDD+, it said.

The process, however, could take several years. "This depends on the overall pace within the UN Climate Change negotiations to set the overall policy for REDD+, especially how REDD+ should be financed," Eskil Mattsson, earth scientist with the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and principal author of the study, said.

"I think we will have to wait until 2020 at least before a formal REDD+ is in place," Mattsson said.

Anura Sathurusinghe, conservator of forests at Sri Lanka’s forest department, told SciDev.Net that a part of the funding, expected later this year, would go towards creating benchmark data and formulating a comprehensive national REDD+ programme.

The study also indicated Sri Lanka could face many hurdles in checking deforestation. Currently, over 85 per cent of forest clearing is for small-scale, rain-fed farming.

"Nearly 80 per cent of people living in these areas depend on this type of agriculture for subsistence," Mattson told SciDev.Net. As a result, a major share of potential emission reductions will come at the expense of small and seasonal farmers, raising livelihood concerns, he observed.

The sheer diversity of forest types and the impact of human activities also complicate accurate estimation of Sri Lanka’s carbon stocks.

Detailed investigations are needed to determine the actual levels of annual vegetation loss, said Sarath Premalal Nissanka, co-author of the study and senior lecturer, department of crop science, University of Peradeniya.   

Link to abstract in Journal of Environmental Management: