The answer is a jurisdictional, or territory-wide, approach to REDD+ and low-emission rural development (LED-R), according to a new report by Earth Innovation Institute and multiple partner organizations.
In some cases, REDD+ has already benefitted indigenous peoples and traditional communities, but these success stories are few and far between.
“Jurisdictional REDD+ provides an opportunity to address the systemic challenges that are faced by indigenous and traditional peoples as their forest homes come under increasing threat”, Earth Innovation Institute executive director Dan Nepstad said in a statement.
To meet the target of limiting global warming to 2-degrees-Celsius established in the Paris Climate Agreement, it is crucial to curb tropical deforestation and encourage the reforestation of tropical forests that have already been cut down. Not only is tropical deforestation and forest degradation the source of 10 to 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but tropical forests are an invaluable carbon sink that play a huge role in regulating the global climate.
It’s been noted many times before that indigenous peoples and other forest communities who act as guardians of the forest are important partners and allies in the world’s efforts to slow climate change. Empowering Indigenous and forest communities as official stewards of their territorial lands has great climate potential: indigenous peoples and traditional communities own or have designated use rights to about 18 percent of the world’s tropical forests, comprising more than 350 million hectares (about 865 million acres) in 30 tropical nations. Indigenous territories alone account for more than 20 percent of tropical forest carbon stocks.
Nearly 200 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement in December, which enshrined the UN’s program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, more commonly known as REDD+, as a standalone article. But according to a new report, despite hopes that REDD+ would be a source of direct funding to recognize and reward the forest stewardship practiced by indigenous and traditional communities, it remains difficult for them to receive direct payments under the current system.
The report is the result of two years of research by Earth Innovation Institute and multiple partner organizations, including Instituto Del Bien Comun, Inobu, Prisma, and ProNatura Sur. The authors note that “Indigenous and other forest-dependent communities in many regions have successfully inhibited deforestation through relatively lower intensity land uses or through active protection of boundaries and other legal restrictions on natural resource exploitation by outsiders.”
But indigenous and traditional communities all too rarely enjoy clear title to their territorial lands, hampering their ability to contribute to the climate mitigation agenda: “Insufficient clarity over land tenure, overlapping claims, violent conflict and historical inequities present barriers in recognizing [indigenous peoples] and [traditional communities’] role in forest conservation,” the report states.
The report strives to answer the question, “How can indigenous peoples and traditional communities be better integrated into climate change mitigation strategies, receive more benefits for their role in climate change mitigation, and have more control over those benefits to meet their needs and aspirations?”
The answer is a jurisdictional, or territory-wide, approach to REDD+ and low-emission rural development (LED-R), according to the report. In a jurisdictional approach to REDD+ and LED-R, as opposed to a project-based approach, all stakeholders in a region — including municipal, state, and provincial governments as well as indigenous peoples and traditional communities — come together to create sustainability plans for the management of the lands under their control. This helps ensure that financial benefits from foreign governments or carbon credit sales are shared equitably amongst all actors.
“Jurisdictional REDD+ provides an opportunity to address the systemic challenges that are faced by indigenous and traditional peoples as their forest homes come under increasing threat,” Earth Innovation Institute executive director Dan Nepstad said in a statement.
In some cases, REDD+ has already benefitted indigenous peoples and traditional communities, the report notes. The Pater-Suruí REDD+ project in Rondônia, Brazil established the first indigenous carbon fund, for example, which has in turn helped support community infrastructure projects like new schools and clinics, in addition to other community benefits.
In broader terms, REDD+ dialogues have helped to raise awareness of land rights and tenure issues. In Panama, for instance, “the arrival of UN-REDD resulted in a national dialogue around, and eventual delineation of, territorial rights,” the report states. And as nations and sub-national jurisdictions develop their own REDD+ strategies, environmental and social safeguards are becoming more prominent features of conservation programs.
These success stories are relatively few compared to the number of REDD+ programs that are being created, however. The benefits doled out by many REDD+ programs are tied to performance metrics under so-called “payments for ecosystem services” or “pay-for-performance” models that only compensate communities for verifiable emissions reductions. Because these performance metrics are often linked to historical deforestation rates, many indigenous and traditional communities are essentially penalized as “low performers” in terms of reducing emissions.
Meanwhile, many REDD+ projects have failed to respect indigenous and local forest communities’ rights, haven’t implemented Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), or haven’t established environmental and social safeguards. Some even fail to address the roots causes of deforestation, which are often intertwined with threats to indigenous and traditional communities, such as mining, colonization, and agricultural development.
There are a host of other reasons why REDD+ programs have failed to benefit indigenous and traditional communities, such as fundamental disagreements about the commodification of nature, language and other logistical barriers, and expectations in terms of the financial benefits estimated at the outset of a REDD+ program not being met.
Indigenous groups are increasingly using the growing recognition of their role as superior stewards of the forest as leverage in developing and presenting their own proposals, however. The Mesoamerican Territorial Fund, for instance, aims to tap a variety of public and private sources to fund conservation efforts within indigenous territories that have been designed and implemented via territorial alliances. And an Amazon Indigenous REDD+ program is currenty in a pilot phase after having been developed by COICA, the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin.
“These proposals reduce dependence on project-level pay for performance models, maximize autonomy, yet allow [indigenous peoples] to benefit from, and be rewarded for, climate mitigation efforts,” according to the report.
“For forest conservation initiatives to be sustainable over time they must establish direct relationships with those protecting the forests,” Cándido Mezua, Secretary of International Relations of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, said in a statement.
“This can help to have greater impacts and more benefits, not just for forests but also for people. It is indigenous peoples and local communities who have fought to protect tropical forests in Mesoamerica, the Amazon and other regions of the world and therefore there must be a formal integration of our proposals into diverse forest conservation initiatives.”