With the current climate change talks taking place through December 7th, governments at this 18th COP in Doha, Qatar, will likely set the path toward creating a market for carbon credits from forests. Otherwise known as REDD+, this mechanism aims to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation by offering financial incentives to developing countries to protect their forests. This includes the expanded focus of conservation, sustainable forest management and restoration. Organizations such as the Indigenous Environmental Network on the other hand associate the term REDD with reaping profit from evictions, land grabs and deforestation, and associate the + with industrial plantations and exclusive protected areas. This notes the hotly contested nature of the mechanism to protect the worldʼs remaining forests. The potential success of REDD+ depends on the extent to which Indigenous peoples rights are included as an essential part of REDD+.
Forest destruction and degradation accounts for 20% of global carbon emissions. While huge and seemingly offering a solution, REDD and the newest REDD+ have been hotly contested by Indigenous peoples. In particular, REDD+ poses significant risks for Indigenous peoples livelihood and rights. A large part of remaining forests is on Indigenous land and REDD payments are already encouraging land grabs and takeover of these lands. Complaints by Indigenous people commonly include the fact that REDD+ projects and management plans are being developed without the consent or involvement of Indigenous owners, or consent from a few individual Indigenous people are being used to provide an appearance of general tribal consent. In some countries, Indigenous peoples are being forcibly evicted from their land to make way for REDD projects. Many indigenous peoples around the world often have no official title to their land and their land is vulnerable to takeover usually by the government of the country in which their land is situated.
Indigenous peoples territories include a substantial portion of the earthʼs remaining intact ecosystems and forest lands--lands which they have stewarded--and 80% of the worldʼs biodiversity is on Indigenous land. Indigenous forest management in Mexico, Central and South America has been shown to be at least two times more effective than any other means of protection. The protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples to their lands, territories, environment and “natural resources” (despite a common dislike of the term that denudes the living earth to a resource for use) is essential and a critical strategy for preventing deforestation and should be a central goal of REDD+.
The protection of the rights of Indigenous people needs to be seen not only as a way of mitigating the potential damage of REDD+ programs, but as a central strategy. The UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP) is the international legal standard for protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and contains many articles that are directly pertinent to the implementation of climate change programs, particularly REDD+ initiatives. Article 3 declares that Indigenous peoples have the right to self determination, which includes the ability to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Article 18 affirms Indigenous peoplesʼ rights to to participate in decision making matters that affect their rights. Article 26 and 29 recognize Indigenous peoplesʼ right to land and resources and Article 32 provides that Indigenous peoples have the right to determine how to use or develop their lands and resources.
Indigenous peoples have been strong in asserting their position of skepticism on REDD+. As the implementation of REDD programs develop, it is essential these voices remain strong and that the legal community continually demand and check that free prior and informed consent and other rights outlined in the UN DRIP are being properly respected and incorporated into the structure of REDD+ programs. These rights must be promoted as essential to the effective implementation of such programs.
Written for SIEL by:
Karen Swift, 2L