Mechanisms that use forest conservation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are doomed to fail unless they are “based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities,” warn environmentalists and indigenous rights groups meeting in Oslo this week.
Indigenous groups fear they are being excluded from discussions on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), a proposed financial mechanism that would compensate tropical countries for reducing emissions caused by deforestation and land use. Such emissions account for a fifth of the global total, or more than the total emissions from transportation.
In particular, indigenous groups and forest communities are concerned they will not see benefits from REDD. Worse, some believe the mechanism could trigger a new wave of land grabs and evictions by parties seeking to capitalize on carbon payments. Indigenous groups and forest communities have long struggled against development interests seeking to exploit their traditional lands and resources.
But supporters of so-called “avoided deforestation” schemes say that properly-designed policy offers unprecedented opportunities to create sustainable livelihoods for forest people while safeguarding biodiversity and services provided by healthy forest ecosystems.
The meeting in Oslo seeks to discuss how to the rights of indigenous can be respected under “forest carbon” schemes.
Children in a rural community in Sulawesi, Indonesia
“Moves to finance reductions in tropical deforestation and forest degradation are necessary and welcome,” said Andy White, Coordinator of Rights and Resources Initiative, one of the two organizers of the conference. “But on their own they won’t solve the problem. Poorly devised, they could even make it worse. If such initiatives are well designed they can not only secure carbon but present a global opportunity to address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict in many developing countries.”
“To achieve long-term reductions in deforestation and forest degradation, it is absolutely necessary to respect and strengthen the rights of indigenous and other forest dependent communities,” added Lars Løvold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, co-organizer of the event. “Many of these schemes are still being developed, and major decisions on how to spend the money will be made in the next few years. For us, the question is whether this money will result in a great deal of good or a great deal of harm to the environment and forest communities.”
“There are growing conflicts between indigenous peoples and both forestry companies and conservation organizations,” said Joji Carino, Director of TEBTEBBA, the Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education. “Imposed forest management initiatives are only viable if they respect the customary rights of forest peoples and ensure they have control about what happens on their lands. Indigenous peoples must be accepted as full and fair participants in all climate negotiations.”
Peat forest cleared for an oil palm plantation bordering Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
The choice of Oslo for the meeting is notable in that the government of Norway has pledged to spend up to 3 billion Norwegian kroner ($500 million) annually to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in tropical countries. It has already offered Brazil up to $1 billion over the next 7 years for the country’s newly established “Amazon Fund” foster sustainable development in, and protect, Earth’s largest tropical rainforest.
“Indigenous peoples are rightly concerned about how these new investments could affect their access to the forests that they depend on for their livelihoods,” said Erik Solheim, Norway’s Minister of Environment and International Development. “This is precisely why we are fully supportive of a role for indigenous peoples and other forest dependent communities in the development and monitoring of climate plans and investments at the national and global level. These rights need to be respected, not just for moral reasons, although that is vital. It is also a matter of pragmatism and effectiveness.”
Along these lines, participants at the Oslo conference have proposed the formation of independent bodies to advise and monitor the UN Convention on Climate Change to ensure that the rights forest people are not neglected or abused.
Solheim agreed, saying “we believe that such advisory functions should be given serious consideration,” but also telling Reuters that Norway itself would not set pre-conditions for governments to respect indigenous peoples’ rights.
“We will do what we can to influence [governments],” Solheim told Reuters. “Dialogue is much more likely to succeed than a small nation on the outskirts of Europe … running around the world setting conditions.”
Løvold said that such dialog was critical for REDD and other climate mitigation initiatives involving forests to move forward ahead of the next major round of climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009.
“In the next fifteen months, the world will have to make a choice,” said Løvold. “We can continue to ignore the legitimate rights of forest dwellers, which will exacerbate conflict in forests and make REDD ineffective. Or we can learn from the lessons of the past, recognize the property and human rights of forest dwellers, and almost immediately start reaping the benefits.”
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