The U.N.’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD) program may be faltering in Panama due to its failure to build capacity for indigenous people who should play a central role in the initiative, argue researchers writing in the journal Nature.
Conceptually, REDD+ aims to create a financial mechanism for rewarding tropical countries for protecting their forests. Funds generated under REDD+ would go towards programs that conserve forests, support alternative livelihoods that shift practices away from deforestation, and improve forest monitoring. In practice however, getting REDD+ off the ground has been a complex endeavor, requiring large amounts of upfront investment to build capacity, implement forestry sector reforms, and establish baselines for measuring progress. That’s where UN-REDD enters the picture, providing funds for “readiness” activities and pilot projects.
But UN-REDD in Panama has recently experienced some setbacks, especially in regard to the participation of indigenous peoples, who represent about 5 percent of the Central American country’s population but occupy about 31 percent of its land area. In March, Panama’s National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples (COONAPIP), an association that includes 7 indigenous groups, announced it was pulling out of UN-REDD following a series of disagreements. In June, the Guna General Congress, a major indigenous authority, blocked a REDD+ project and forbade NGOs from engaging in REDD+ activities in territories amounting to 7 percent of Panama’s old-growth forests.
In a letter published in Nature, Catherine Potvin of McGill University and Javier Mateo-Vega of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) say the problems stem from “a failure to build REDD+ capacity for indigenous people at all levels.”
“It is time to pay more than lip service to their full and effective participation in REDD+,” they write, noting that while “REDD+ started well in Panama”, it has since gone off-track.
The country put the rights of indigenous peoples on the agenda of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and REDD+ project promoters complied with consent procedures of the Guna General Congress. Panama’s National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples (COONAPIP) drafted a plan in 2011 for comprehensive REDD+ capacity-building efforts in each indigenous territory. This would have stimulated debates about fears that REDD+ might threaten traditional land uses and rights, as well as possible ways forward. Knowledge transfer is the best antidote for the fear of REDD+.
The plan failed to receive UN funding. COONAPIP withdrew from the UN-REDD programme in February and called on indigenous peoples globally to proceed cautiously on REDD-related matters.
Potvin and Mateo-Vega conclude by warning that if indigenous peoples’ fear of participation spreads beyond Guna Yala, UN-REDD could be jeopardized in countries well beyond Panama.
Given that Panama has strong governance and capacity relative to many of its peers, any failure of UN-REDD to advance in Panama could cast doubt on its likelihood of success elsewhere.
Kapok tree in Panama
CITATION: Catherine Potvin and Javier Mateo-Vega. Panama: Curb indigenous fears of REDD+. NATURE | VOL 500 | 22 AUGUST 2013
(06/25/2013) This week in Lombok, Indonesia, the Policy Board of the United Nations climate change program known as UNREDD is addressing the first major test of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations, which recognizes the right of Indigenous People to stop projects in their territories that could endanger their traditions and livelihoods. The National Coordinating Body of the Indigenous People of Panama pulled out of UNREDD’s national program in February and have called on the United Nations to close the program.
(03/19/2013) The National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) has announced it is withdrawing from the United Nation’s REDD+ program following a series of disagreements. The exit of COONAPIP from the negotiating table with UN officials and the Panamanian government will likely be a blow to the legitimacy of REDD+ in the central American country. REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, is a program to reduce emissions by safeguarding forests.
(08/30/2012) A dispute over the implementation of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) in Panama has pitted the United Nations (UN) against the nation’s diverse and large indigenous groups. Represented by the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP), indigenous groups charge that the UN has failed to meet several pledges related to kick-starting REDD+ with their support, including delaying a $1.79 million payment to the group to begin REDD+-related activities. The on-going dispute highlights the perils and complexities of implementing REDD+, especially concerns that the program might disenfranchise indigenous groups who have long been the stewards of their forest territories.