REDD And Indigenous People

REDD And Indigenous Peoples

Why Is It Important For Indigenous Peoples To Know About REDD?

REDD is being implemented in developing countries in the tropics and sub-tropics. These forests have been inhabited by indigenous peoples since hundreds if not thousands of years. They have used, managed and shaped these forests in different ways. Rather than destroying these forests, traditional land use and management practices have lead to a more diverse landscape, and thus to an increase in biodiversity. REDD aims at supporting forest conservation, and enormous amounts of money will be made available for that in industrialized countries. Even though we may agree that forest conservation is in the interest of everybody, and certainly in the interest of indigenous communities who depend on forests for their livelihood, we can expect, as we will see below, that these programs can also have a severe negative impact on indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples all over the world have become increasingly concerned about REDD since their experiences in the past have shown that governments and the private companies often refuse to recognize their rights and interests in forest policies and programs. But there may also be new opportunities that may benefit indigenous communities. The positions on of indigenous organizations on REDD differ. Some groups vehemently oppose the idea of treating forests mainly as a carbon storage, and they reject any form of forest carbon trading. Others accept that there could be benefits, and demand that indigenous peoples' positions are included in international and national processes. In any case, for indigenous communities at the local level it is important to know what REDD is all about, what the possible advantages and what the expected negative impacts are, so that they are prepared and can negotiate and defend their rights in case REDD programs are targeting their land and territories.

What Is The Expected Impact Of REDD On Indigenous Peoples?

General Problams With REDD

It has already become clear that REDD is it has so far been designed has several weaknesses, even dangers. Some problem are more technical, most however are ethical.

The Problem of Leakage: Protecting Here and Cutting There!

Leakage happens when a container has a hole. In the context of REDD it is referred to the problem of making sure that the REDD programs or projects do not have any holes, i.e. that when deforestation is prevented in one area it is not displaced to another area. For example, if a forest has been targeted to be converted into an oil palm plantation, but is protected under a REDD program which pays compensation to those who have the right to but agree not to cut the tree and plant oil palm: how can we be sure that these people (or the government in charge) does not simply establish an oil palm plantation in another area, which hasn't been targeted for plantations?

The Problem with Additionality and Perverse Incentive: Paying the wrong people and encouraging deforestation!

In order to be considered under a REDD program the respective forest owner a government, company or community has to prove that the carbon gains, this means the carbon prevented from being emitted into the atmosphere (and kept stored in trees), would not have happened without the compensation payment offered. They have to show that additional carbon is saved, to show that there is additionality. This means that if people protect a forest anyhow, for other reasons than for keeping the carbon locked in trees, they would not be entitled to compensation and thus not be included in a REDD program. Or to put it more simply: only forests that are immediately threatened to be destroyed or degraded are considered under REDD. This also means that the people who may in the end benefit from REDD are the forest destroyers like cattle ranchers or oil palm companies, and not those who have protected forests like indigenous communities. And most worrying is that REDD may actually encourage such people or companies to start destroying forests just in order to be included in a REDD program and get access to compensation money.

Since such encouragement or incentive is totally in contradiction to the declared intention of REDD it is called a perverse incentive. So there is a serious risk of increased deforestation during the present negotiation phase on REDD. For example, the government of Guyana is threatening that it could increase the rate of deforestation unless it is compensated for not doing so through REDD. Another problem is that the definition of forest used in the United Nations makes no difference between natural forests and plantations. This means that a company could replace a forest with a tree plantations, and still qualify for support under a REDD program. Once REDD programs are established, there will be a flow of enormous amounts of money from the industrialized countries to developing countries. There is a serious risk of large amounts of money being lost to corruption as money will be poured into some of the most corrupt governments of the world.

Measuring and monitoring and forgetting the people and the root causes of deforestation!

REDD schemes as they are planned now put a lot of emphasis on complex carbon measurement (how much carbon is stored in a forest?), accounting and monitoring systems (how much carbon could be saved through the REDD initiative, in comparison to what would have happened without the REDD initiative?), making new forest inventories, and on methods that help prove that emission reductions have happened. Very little attention has so far been paid to legal reforms that provide communities with titles to their land and forests and thus empower them for forest protection. And very few programs include monitoring of the impacts of REDD programs on forest communities, or monitoring of whether and how well those in charge of the program (government and donor agencies) are doing their job. In all that international agencies are focused on actions in developing countries, and they are not addressing the main drivers of forest destruction: international trade and global consumption of agricultural commodities, timber and pulp products. In the long run, forest protection will only work if there are serious actions taken to address inequalities in land tenure, discrimination against indigenous peoples, corruption, over-consumption and uncontrolled industrialization.

Trading in forest carbon: Helping polluters and not the climate!

Trading carbon stored in forests would allow heavy polluters in industrialized countries to continue with greenhouse gas emissions to continue. It is very likely that if trading in forest carbon is allowed it would lead to a massive increase in carbon credits available on the carbon market and therefore to a crash in the price of carbon. Therefore, trading forest carbon would not help in addressing climate change we need to find ways to stop burning fossil fuels, not create massive new loopholes to allow the pollution to continue.

Direct Negative Impacts On Indigenous Communities

Ignoring indigenous peoples' rights: Relocation and land grabbing!

Many fear that with REDD all the gains that have been made over the past years in getting recognition of and support for community-based conservation and collaborative management of forest (when communities, NGOs, governments and companies are jointly managing and protecting a forest) will be lost when REDD does not take the concerns and rights of indigenous and other forest communities into account. It is feared that governments could again favor a “fences and fines” approach, which does not only mean that strict rules on forest conservation are imposed on local people, but that it may also mean the eviction of indigenous and other poor communities from such carbon protected areas. Experiences in the past have shown that such an approach has failed to prevent the destruction of forests or the loss of biodiversity. The non-recognition of the rights of indigenous and other forest communities prevents their empowerment for conservation and encourages encroachment by others. Instead, it is expected that under REDD there will be an increase of zoning of forests by governments, companies and conservation NGOs, that there will be an increase of demarcation of protected areas, forest reserves or sustainable forest management zones (for certified logging) in order to receive REDD payments. The majority of already existing forest zoning and land classification programs throughout the world ignore the customary rights of indigenous peoples to their land and territories. As the value of forests increases under REDD it cannot be expected that governments will be interested in addressing the long-standing demands of indigenous communities for the recognition of their rights to their land and territories. The compensation payments for forest conservation may also lead to increased land speculation in forest areas, and unless REDD schemes take measures to secure and recognise customary collective lands for communities, there is a serious risk that more forests are being taken over by migrant settlers and private companies.

Competing over benefits: The danger of increased inequality and social conflict!

It is not just the expected increase of encroachment of outsiders on indigenous peoples' forests which may lead to more conflicts. The increased value of forests and the anticipated benefits from REDD schemes will undoubtedly generate more conflicts over boundaries between communities or among local landholders and forest owners. Once compensation payments under REDD begin to flow, there is also the risk that without careful measures to make sure that the different communities in the respective areas and the households within these communities equally benefit from these payments, there will be more and new conflicts between and within communities.

Targeting indigenous peoples land use practices: Banning a way of life!

Fire has been an important tool in land use and forest management of many indigenous people, not just those living in the forests of the tropics and sub-tropics. In the savannas of Africa, for example, pastoralists and hunters-gatherers have used fire to maintain the productivity of the ecosystem for livestock and game since thousands of years. In North America as well, before the arrival of the white colonists, indigenous peoples used to burn parts of the ecosystems in which they lived to promote a diversity of habitats which gave them greater security and stability. Their use of fire differed greatly from European settlers who burnt to create greater uniformity in ecosystems. The Gagadju in Australia's Northwestern Territory, like other Aborigines, have developed and even today pass on to younger generations a detailed knowledge on the use of fire as a tool to manage diverse ecosystems.

Fire is also the key technology in agricultural systems commonly called shifting or swidden cultivation, a farming method practiced by an estimated 300 to 500 million people worldwide, many of them indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples' use of fire, just like many other aspects of their resource management systems have however often not been properly understood by outsiders, above all not by foresters, park rangers and other state agents in charge of the management and conservation of biodiversity and natural resources. As a result, such practices have been discouraged, or, in most cases, declared illegal. In the age of global climate change resource use and management practices that rely on the use of fire are coming under increased pressure. This is particularly the case with shifting cultivation. In the name of forest conservation governments all over the world and particularly in Asia have since long sought to eradicate this form of land use. The climate change discourse provides additional arguments in support of such drastic policies.

The UK based Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and FERN have studied nine concepts for government programs on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Eight of these identify traditional agriculture or shifting cultivation as a major cause of forest loss (Griffiths 2008 20). Over the past few decades tropical and subtropical forests have been destroyed on a massive scale. Even though it is now generally recognized that the main causes of forest destruction and degradation are unsustainable logging, the conversion of forests to large plantations, small farms by migrant settlers, or cattle ranches, it is often shifting cultivators and thus indigenous peoples who are blamed to destroy forests Not only shifting cultivation, but also other forms of land use practiced by indigenous peoples controlled burning of forests to improve habitat diversity for game or pastures for livestock, the collection of fuel wood, cutting trees for house construction and other purposes, even the gathering of non-timber forest products are now considered a form of forest degradation under REDD programs. And since REDD aims at reducing deforestation and forest degradation, indigenous communities are and will increasingly be targeted in such programs. This will have a severe impact on the way of life and the livelihood security of the affected communities.


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