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Two conflicting views of REDD at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples

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Indigenous Peoples presented conflicting points out view about REDD during the 12th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, currently taking place in New York.

Part of the difference focussed on a recent Permanent Forum report on REDD. Following a decision at the 10th session of the Permanent Forum, Paul Kanyinke Sena, Myrna Cunningham and Bertie Xavier, three members of the Permanent Forum, carried out a survey of indigenous people’s rights and safeguards in REDD projects. The report was completed in February 2013, and can be downloaded here (pdf file, 93 kB).

The report summarises “the current status of activities under the REDD-plus mechanism” and “their possible impact on the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples”. While the report acknowledges that there are risks associated with REDD, it argues that recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights and effective safeguards will ensure that the impact of REDD will be positive.

During the Permanent Forum meeting in New York, Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, described the report as “overly optimistic”. Goldtooth’s statement, which was supported by three other organisations, is available here (pdf file, 41.4 kB).

“Overly optimistic” is a polite description of the UN Permanent Forum’s report. It relies on assumptions about REDD that simply do not stand up. For example, early on in the report comes the following extraordinary statement:

REDD-plus is a way to “buy time” by reducing in the short term the rate of average global temperature increases, thereby allowing the complex structural changes that will facilitate the switch to low-carbon economies to be implemented before dangerous thresholds are reached.

Nothing in this statement stands up to scrutiny:

  • REDD is a way to buy time: REDD was initially proposed in 2005. Eight years later we are still a long way from any UN agreement on a REDD mechanism. The report acknowledges that REDD “is unlikely to be fully operational before 2020”. How is this buying time? And for whom, apart from perhaps the oil industry, the coal industry and the shale gas industry?
  • reducing the rate of global temperature increases: If REDD is a carbon trading mechanism (and it is referred to as such several times in the report), then it will not reduce overall emissions. Reductions in one place will be traded off against continued emissions somewhere else. There is no possible way that this can reduce the rate of temperature increase.
  • allowing complex structural changes: REDD is a diversion from complex structural changes. The only sure way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to find a way of leaving fossil fuels in the ground. REDD plays no role whatsoever in stopping tar sands extraction in Canada, oil exploration in the Artic, or the continued destruction of Ogoni lands in Nigeria.
  • before dangerous thresholds are reached: It’s difficult to know what threshold the authors are referring to here. Earlier this year we passed CO2 levels of 400ppm. Last year, more than 31 million people had to flee their homes because of disasters related to climate change. Climate change is here.

The report provides an overview of safeguards at the UNFCCC level and in various REDD initiatives: UN-REDD; the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and Forest Investment Programme; and Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative. And it looks at the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards. But it provides no criticism of any of these safeguards.

The report classifies indigenous peoples’ views on REDD into two categories:

(a) Organizations radically oppose REDD-plus owing mainly to insecurity as to the rights of indigenous peoples, the weakness of existing national legal frameworks to protect those rights and the uncertainties of the Framework Convention negotiations on REDD-plus. Those organizations are strongly opposed to the carbon market;

(b) Organizations consider the REDD-plus model as opportunities for indigenous peoples. Although they share reservations about the risks that this model offers if indigenous peoples’ rights are not fully recognized and strong safeguards are not in place, some organizations are open to the voluntary carbon market.[7] Some indigenous peoples’ organizations, such as the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon Basin (COICA) and some of its associates, are defining and proposing a model of indigenous peoples’ REDD-plus. Several indigenous peoples’ organizations have developed capacity over the issue through training on different aspects, including measurement, reporting and verification, community mapping and advocacy.


[7] Under a global partnership led by Tebtebba Foundation and with funding provided by the Climate and Land Use Alliance and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, indigenous peoples’ organizations are working at the grass-roots level in education and early warning on topics related to REDD-plus, building capacity in such a way that some are called to be members of the official delegations of Governments to the sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention. Some of those organizations include the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (www.nefin.org.np), Centro para la Autonomía y Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (www.cadpi.org), the Mainyoito Pastoralists Integrated Development Organization (www.mpido.org) and Chirapaq (www.chirapaq.org.pe).

In his statement at the Permanent Forum, Tom Goldtooth explains that “our opposition to REDD+ is not ‘radical,'” but is based on an insistence that all REDD activities must adhere to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He referred to an important meeting of indigenous peoples four years ago, at which indigenous peoples rejected carbon trading:

We recall that the opposition to market based REDD+ was not radical in 2009, when Indigenous Peoples gathered in Anchorage, Alaska, at the Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change, rejected market based mechanisms such as carbon trading the Clean Development Mechanism and forest offsets, as a false solutions to climate change. But now, it appears that REDD+ is and will be market based, and that United Nations and World Bank programs are designed to lead us to that end. And now, in the eyes of some who also attended the Global Summit and joined in the consensus, opposition to carbon markets is now “radical.”

Goldtooth ended his statement with the recommendation that the Permanent Forum should “conduct a further study of REDD+” based not on “hopes but on harsh realities”. The study must include “a survey of current voluntary REDD projects and listing of human rights abuses of these projects”.

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