A huge National Park, covering 71,000 hectares, was established last week in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is one of Africa's poorest countries and still recovering from a civil war that between 1991-2002 devastated the country.
The park, in southeastern Sierra Leone near the border with Liberia, is an area of forest home to chimpanzees, a key population of pygmy hippo, and hundreds of bird species. However, the key process underlying the creation of the National Park seems to be the hopes on capitalizing on the economic value of carbon storages that can be gained under the REDD mechanism. As mongabay reports:
"Tim Stowe, RSPB's (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds) International Director, called the move a "bold and progressive" contribution.
"In a far-sighted act, this developing West African country – which is on the front line of climate change – has decided to help the world by locking up a vast carbon store as well as protecting its unique and globally-important wildlife," he said in a statement. "We hope that other nations value this contribution and build upon it."
Sierra Leone hopes it may be able to capitalize on the value of carbon stored in its forests under the REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) mechanism currently being discusses at climate talks in Durban. Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma in announcing the park expressed optimism that REDD could generate benefits for rural communities while protecting biodiversity and important ecosystem services.
"Carbon financing is a ‘win-win’ for the environment and for economic development," he said during his inauguration speech."
This whole process, in essence, should be taken as good news. However there is a tendency, in these kind of stories, to swallow all the positive impacts in a non-critical manner. Aligning the three targets of biodiversity protection, enhancement of ecosystem services and poverty alleviation is a very complex process, especially when beginning to pull at the social-ecological dynamics in place. For example, in this specific case, how can we ensure that the gazetted National Park will not disrupt local livelihoods? How can we be sure that targeting specific ecosystem services (carbon sequestration in the Sierra Leone case) will produce positive synergies with other ecosystem services?
A while ago, the Resilience Science blog had a very useful post summarizing the key challenges related to ecosystem service research, especially in the context of poverty alleviation. Its well worth a read, and really does a great job in highlighting why we should be wary of simplistic statements such as the ones made by the president of Sierra Leone above.