Indigenous Rights Crucial To Reducing Carbon Emissions from Deforestation

bali indigenous activist protest photo.jpg
Photo: Indigenous activists protesting lack of representation in UNFCCC at last year's climate talks in Bali (AP/Ed Wray)

On an intuitive level, we all know that the change has effective staying power only when all the parties involved are included in the discussion. That's definitely the case with recent plans to use forest conservation as a way to mitigate carbon emissions. For policy makers, environmental organizations and indigenous groups in Oslo attending this week's conference on financial schemes to reward forest-conserving, carbon-cutting countries, the fear is that these proposals will fail unless they are able to address the rights of indigenous forest communities as well.

Unveiled at Bali's talks last year, the planned mechanisms for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) would financially reward countries for reducing emissions caused by deforestation — which altogether total one fifth of global emissions.

But even though it may look good on paper, indigenous communities say from experience that such schemes could prompt more land grabbing and evictions by outside parties who would profit most from such carbon payments. "There are growing conflicts between indigenous peoples and both forestry companies and conservation organizations," says 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."

But advocates of "forest carbon" schemes claim that if designed well, these proposals can go a long way in achieving social, economic and environmental sustainability, especially if they invest in local forest communities.

"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."

To ensure that indigenous rights are not overlooked, participants at the conference recommended the creation of independent advisory bodies that will monitor next year's UN Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"In the next fifteen months, the world will have to make a choice," says 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."

Related Links on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)
World Bank Plan Aims to Reduce Deforestation and Forest Degradation
Boreal Forests Found to be Net GHG Emitters
Logging, Palm Oil and Human Rights in Borneo: Malaysian Government Pushes Ahead By Ousting Indigenous Leaders
Responding to Bali
Related Links on Deforestation
Forest Ethics' "Naughty and Nice" List of Treekillers

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