A new online tool, dubbed ForestDefender, aims to help indigenous people understand and implement their rights in regard to forests. The database, developed by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), brings together vast amounts of legal information—both national and international—on over 50 countries.
“CIEL created ForestDefender to empower indigenous peoples and other local communities to defend their rights and their forests,” Allison Silverman, a staff attorney with CIEL’s Climate and Energy Program Program, told mongabay.com, adding that, “It can also be used as a guide to understand how to hold violators of these rights accountable through the various human rights and international financial institution mechanisms.”
The website will be especially useful for indigenous groups and communities dealing with the implementation of new REDD+ policies, according to Silverman. REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, has been one of the landmark global changes to forest issues over the last decade. The budding program, developed under the United Nations, seeks to compensate developing countries for keeping forests standing as a part of the global effort to tackle carbon emissions responsible for climate change. REDD+ was finally approved last year at the annual UN Climate Summit after seven years of negotiations.
A member of the Dani tribe in Indonesian New Guinea. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
The world’s tropical forests have been lost at staggering rates over the last century due to agriculture, livestock, mining, logging, roads and other infrastructure. Yet, increasingly, experts are recognizing the important role of indigenous people and other local communities in keeping forests standing. Yet in many parts of the world’s indigenous people lack legal title to their traditional forests, leading to conflict between locals, industries, and governments.
Yet, one of the REDD+’s open questions is how it will be implemented in regard to indigenous people. REDD+ includes basic safeguards for indigenous communities, but Silverman says locals will need to remain vigilant to make sure their rights are respected.
“It is important to note that there are risks to forest rights and land rights with REDD+, especially if REDD+ is not implemented properly,” Silverman explained. “Progress on forest rights depends on how REDD+ interacts with a country’s national forest governance. For example, if REDD+ provides funding to national governments who were unable to manage forests beforehand due to a lack of resources, then with these new funds, governments may try to seize and thus centralize the forests and take forest rights away from the indigenous peoples and local communities who had been protecting these forests before money for carbon offsets were inserted into the picture.”
Currently, the ForestDefender database targets those already familiar with legal language, however CIEL is also developing another online tool for a more general audience, described by Silverman as a “community pocket guide.”
“[The guide targets] community members and leaders who would benefit more from a tool that ‘translates’ some of the technical language found in the international treaties, declarations and decisions included in ForestDefender,” said Silverman. “This guide provides community members with questions to ask their trusted allies who have a better grasp of this material and who can then use ForestDefender as guidance to respond.”
Forest rights are very different across nations and regions, but Silverman points to some countries as especially positive examples.
“The countries in Mesoamerica have made good progress in recognizing community forest rights, such that the majority of the region’s forest are either owned or managed by forest communities and indigenous peoples,” she said. “Lessons learned from these experiences should continue to be shared at the global level.”
Logging in Malaysian Borneo. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
(03/11/2014) In 2006, Mexico intensified its security strategy, forming an inhospitable environment for drug trafficking organizations (also known as DTOs) within the nation. The drug cartels responded by creating new trade routes along the border of Guatemala and Honduras. Soon shipments of cocaine from South America began to flow through the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC). This multi-national swathe of forest, encompassing several national parks and protected areas, was originally created to protect endangered species, such as Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) and jaguar (Panthera onca), as well as the world’s second largest coral reef. Today, its future hinges on the world’s drug producers and consumers.
(03/10/2014) On Monday, Greenpeace activists in Indonesia staged a dramatic protest in an area of rainforest freshly cleared for a new oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan. The demonstration came under the group’s campaign to push consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble (P&G) to strengthen its palm oil sourcing policy to include a zero deforestation commitment like those signed recently by Nestle, Neste Oil, and Kellogg’s, among others.
(03/10/2014) Mars, Inc., the maker of M&M’s, Snickers, Twix, and a variety of other food products, has committed to a zero deforestation policy for the palm oil it sources, reports Greenpeace. The policy pledges Mars to only using palm oil produced legally and without conversion of high conservation value areas, peatlands, or high carbon stock areas like tropical rainforests.
(03/10/2014) Two scientists are calling on researchers, NGOs, and governments to begin studying the impact of burning forests and peatlands in Indonesia on the already-threatened marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia. Every year, Indonesian farmers set forests, vegetation, and peatlands alight to clear them for agriculture, often palm oil, and pulp and paper plantations. Not only do these practices destroy hugely-diverse tropical forests, but the resulting haze spreads to many parts of Southeast Asia, threatening regional health and impacting economies. Now, a new paper argues that the sinister impacts of Indonesia’s burning may extend as far as the oceans.
(03/07/2014) Is it possible to equitably divide the planet’s resources between human and non-human societies? Can we ensure prosperity and rights both to people and to the ecosystems on which they rely? In the island archipelago of Indonesia, these questions become more pressing as the unique ecosystems of this global biodiversity hotspot continue to rapidly vanish in the wake of land conversion (mostly due to palm oil, poor forest management and corruption. For 22 years, Dr. Erik Meijaard has worked in Indonesia. Now, from his home office in the capitol city, Jakarta, he runs the terrestrial branch of an independent conservation consultancy, People and Nature Consulting International (PNCI).
(03/06/2014) An important reserve that contains a block of fast-dwindling lowland swamp forest in Riau Province is facing an onslaught of encroachment for illegal oil palm plantations, worsening choking haze in the region, reports Mongabay-Indonesia.
(03/06/2014) A member of the Suku Anak Dalam indigenous community was killed and five others were injured during a clash with security forces on an oil palm concession owned by PT Asiatic Persada in Sumatra, reports Mongabay-Indonesia. The incident occurred Wednesday evening in Bungku, Jambi.
(03/06/2014) A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences (PNAS) points to the homogenization of global diets over the past
fifty years. It shows that worldwide production of traditional staples
such as millet, rye, sorghum, yams and cassava have been in decline.
Instead, the world’s population increasingly relies on a relatively
small number of ‘megacrops’ like wheat, corn and soy, raising
serious concerns for global food security, human nutrition, and the
genetic diversity of crops.
(03/05/2014) A group of prominent scientists have blasted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pledge to oppose the creation of any new protected areas in Australia. The Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers or ALERT, a coalition of conservation scientists, said Abbott is sending the wrong message to the world in promoting industrial logging over protection of the country’s native forests.
(03/05/2014) Fast food companies are lagging behind other consumer products companies in efforts to establish policies that favor deforestation-free and conflict-free palm oil, finds a new assessment published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. The report, titled ‘Donuts, Deodorant, Deforestation: Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments’, looked at palm oil sourcing policies of 30 of the largest fast food, personal care, and packaged food corporations in the United States. It found leadership by a handful of firms.