A new report published by The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) looks at free, prior and informed consent in REDD+. The report is, according to the Introduction, “targeted at people concerned with the design and implementation of REDD+ projects or programs.”
RECOFTC and GIZ’s report can be downloaded here: “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in REDD+: Principles and Approaches for Policy and Project Development” (1.4 MB).[*]
In 2005, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues endorsed a summary of FPIC:
Elements of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent
- Free should imply no coercion, intimidation or manipulation;
- Prior should imply consent has been sought sufficiently in advance of any authorization or commencement of activities and respect of time requirements of indigenous consultation/consensus processes;
- Informed – should imply that information is provided that covers (at least) the following aspects:
a. The nature, size, pace, reversibility and scope of any proposed project or activity;
b. The reason/s or purpose of the project and/or activity;
c. The duration of the above;
d. The locality of areas that will be affected;
e. A preliminary assessment of the likely economic, social, cultural and environmental impact, including potential risks and fair and equitable benefit sharing in a context that respects the precautionary principle;
f. Personnel likely to be involved in the execution of the proposed project (including indigenous peoples, private sector staff, research institutions, government employees, and others); and
g. Procedures that the project may entail.
Consultation and participation are crucial components of a consent process. Consultation should be undertaken in good faith. The parties should establish a dialogue allowing them to find appropriate solutions in an atmosphere of mutual respect in good faith, and full and equitable participation. Consultation requires time and an effective system for communicating among interest holders. Indigenous peoples should be able to participate through their own freely chosen representatives and customary or other institutions. The inclusion of a gender perspective and the participation of indigenous women are essential, as well as participation of children and youth as appropriate. This process may include the option of withholding consent. Consent to any agreement should be interpreted as indigenous peoples having reasonably understood it.
The GIZ and RECOFTC report consists of three sections:
- REDD+ and the importance of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC):
- A reference section that summarises key information and describes a process that respects FPIC; and
- A guidelines section including 12 aspects of a generic process to respect the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to FPIC.
The report provides a very good overview of why FPIC is important for REDD. It also notes some of the potential and actual problems for indigenous peoples. For example, if indigenous peoples are to benefit from payments through REDD, that will involve changes to the way that indigenous peoples and local communities manage their forests (otherwise there will be no difference from business as usual, or the “baseline for current greenhouse gas emissions from degradation/deforestation,” as it is described in the report):
These changes may affect traditional practices such as swidden farming; controlled burning to aid hunting and grazing; and the use of timber and other forest products for subsistence or sale. REDD+ policy developments, pilot projects, and demonstration areas may therefore have significant direct impacts on hundreds of millions of forest-dependent people in the Asia-Pacific region. It has the potential to affect not just their livelihoods, welfare, and income, but also their social order, identity, and culture. It is thus vital that the needs, rights, and interests of these peoples are recognized and addressed in the design and implementation of REDD+ projects.
The report notes that governments are also interested in benefiting from REDD, raising crucial questions about whose forest it is (and who owns the carbon stored in the forest – which may not be the same as who owns the forest):
As governments attempt to take advantage of the potential financial value of standing forest through REDD+, it is not clear how they will act. Will they attempt to resolve these disputes by recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, as required by international instruments and law? Or will they try to assert state control over the land and the carbon stored on and in it? In the latter case, loss of access to forests and a denial of the right to a share of REDD+ benefits could have dire, long-term effects on the welfare and resilience of these communities.
The report lists the potential serious risks for indigenous peoples and local communities associated with REDD projects and policies:
- Violations of customary land rights and harsh enforcement measures. This can lead to loss of access to forests for subsistence and income generation needs, land use conflicts, and physical displacement from forests.
- Marginalization by new land-use zoning exercises. Governments might undertake such exercises to capitalize on forest carbon revenues for the state, stalling or reversing the recent trends of decentralizing forest ownership and management responsibilities to communities.
- Decoupling forest carbon rights from forest management or ownership rights, thereby blocking communities’ legal right to financially benefit from new forest carbon projects.
- Inability to participate in Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes, including REDD+, due to a lack of property rights (to forests or forest carbon), information, and high implementation and transaction costs.
- Exploitative carbon contracts. These could lead communities to unknowingly accept terms that sign away land use rights, assume liability for forest loss, or accept payments that undervalue the opportunity costs of foregone land use.
- Capture by elites (from within or outside the community) of intended REDD+ benefits due to inadequate forest governance systems.
- Decreased production of food locally, creating food security risks and deepening poverty.
FPIC, the report hopes, can help address or avoid at least some of these issues. “Part of the motivation for ensuring FPIC is respected as a requirement for REDD+ mechanisms is to give rights holders the power to veto REDD+ activities or policies on the basis of ‘unreasonable claims.'”
Respecting the right to FPIC cannot be reduced to a process with boxes that can be ‘ticked’ as they are completed. The right of indigenous peoples to give or withhold their consent to developments that affect their territory is part of their collective right to self determination, which includes the right to determine what type of process of consultation and decision making is appropriate for them. Hence, one of the first stages of respecting the right to FPIC is agreement with the relevant community on the process itself. As indigenous peoples and local communities vary greatly in their histories, institutions, and approaches to resource management, the processes that they agree to undertake will be varied.
FPIC is a right. It is not a linear process that ends with the signing of an agreement by the community. By recognizing the right of indigenous peoples and local communities to be treated as the owners and managers of their customary territory, FPIC guarantees them a decisive voice at every stage of development planning and implementation for projects that affect them. FPIC needs to be understood as a right that requires the project developer to undertake an ongoing process of communication, with consent sought at key stages in the process.
Full disclosure: My wife works for GIZ, which was one of the organisations that published this report.