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“Even at a conceptual stage indigenous peoples should be involved”: Interview with Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Even at a conceptual stage indigenous peoples should be involvedInterview with Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and Executive Director of Tebtebba.
December 2008, Poznan

REDD-Monitor: You’re on the Participants Committee of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. Could you explain your role and why you decided to get involved with this process.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: The Participants Committee was meant to include people not only from governments, who are the FCPF partners, but also from relevant UN bodies and civil society, to provide advice to the World Bank. I was invited as an indigenous person and I decided to accept this because I believe that it provides me the opportunity to know more about what they are doing and to contribute my views on how indigenous peoples’ rights can be respected in the FCPF process. It also allows me to play my role as the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues which is a body mandated to give advice to governments and intergovernmental organisations like the World Bank, I am there as an observer, without voting rights. My role is to share with the other members the concerns of indigenous peoples and to make proposals on how governments should respect the rights of indigenous peoples as contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as they design and implement REDD. I believe that the UNDRIP should be the overarching framework which should underpin any decision, design and implementation of REDD which involves indigenous peoples’ territories.

REDD-Monitor: How do you see the FCPF process going so far?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: The only meeting which I attended was the first meeting in Paris where decisions were made as to which of the submitted Readiness Project Information Note (R-PINs) will be accepted. While integrating indigenous peoples’ concerns was identified as a criteria in selecting the best R-PINs, I think the way this was done was inadequate. The Bank took in a few indigenous persons to be members of the Technical Advisory Groups to assess the R-PINs and some of them told me that several of their suggestions have not been integrated in the final papers. This is not a good way to start. I reminded the governments present that in the next stage, which is the preparation of the Readiness Plans, they have to do better in terms of ensuring the participation of indigenous peoples in the preparation of the plans. I said that unless there are sincere and genuine efforts to bring in indigenous peoples, especially those whose forests are covered, the Governments and the Bank will be facing a lot of resistance and opposition to the FCPF projects.

REDD-Monitor: You were on the panel at a side event last Thursday, along with Benoit Bosquet of the World Bank. He said that consultation with indigenous peoples was never intended to be part of the R-PINs, completely in breach of the principle of free, prior and informed consent. What capacity is there for you to make a formal complaint about that kind of thing within the Bank when they are designing things up not to include consultation?

There are two parts to this. First: Do you see this as part of your role?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: Yes definitely, that’s my role.

REDD-Monitor: And second: What can you actually do?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: We can communicate to them that that’s not the right way to do this and not involving indigenous peoples is not acceptable. They have to make sure that even at a conceptual stage indigenous peoples should be involved. Everything begins with the concept. Not involving indigenous peoples from the very start, even when the R-PINs are formulated sends out the wrong signal. Besides they have to adhere to their own Operational Policy on Indigenous Peoples (O.P./B.P. 4.10). This policy says that indigenous peoples should be involved in the preparation of projects affecting them. I interpret this to mean even at the R-PIN stage.

When I first met the Bank’s lawyer in 2007 at a meeting with Multilateral Financial Institutions (MFIs) in Rome, I asked him if the World Bank Operational Policy on Indigenous Peoples will apply to FCPF. He said it will apply only at the project implementation stage. I said that I disagree with him because I understand that the policy applies in all stages as long as the Bank-supported project affects indigenous peoples directly. At the Bali Conference of Parties, I had an informal meeting with the FCPF personnel including the same lawyer and this time, they said the Indigenous Peoples’ Policy does apply to FCPF at all stages of the project. Of course, we still have to see how this is done in practice.

I think that the World Bank has to understand that indigenous peoples are much more aware and empowered than they have been 20 or 10 years ago. There are stronger indigenous peoples movements at the local and national level. The global indigenous peoples’ movement has also evolved into a force which cannot be ignored. There is strong networking amongst us and it is easy to exchange and share information. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has been in existence for almost 8 years now. There is a Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People. Then, under the Human Rights Council an Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples Rights has been established. On top of all these there is now a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which we will use in any way we can. In addition more countries have ratified ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

REDD-Monitor: Are you involved in the UN-REDD process?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: Not in a formal sense. The UN-REDD is composed of the FAO, UNEP and UNDP. So I am not officially involved. However, since the the Permanent Forum’s mandate is to provide advice to UN bodies, agencies, funds and programmes, as a member and Chair of the Forum I have to provide them advice. The FAO, UNEP and UNDP are members of the Inter-agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues which is a body working closely with the Permanent Forum.

However, just before this Poznan Conference of Parties, Tebtebba (my own organization) was involved in co-organising a South-East Asia Consultation held back to back with a Global Consultation on REDD and Indigenous Peoples with the UN-REDD, the UN University (UNU) and the Secretariat of the CBD. These consultations were attended by indigenous representatives from South East Asia and from Latin America, Africa and the rest of Asia. Many recommendations on REDD and Forests emerged from these and the results can be found in the website of Tebtebba which is

The UN Development Group (UNDG), a body of which the UN-REDD members are part of, also came up with UN Development Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples Issues which clearly stated that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has to be implemented by them. So it is important to ensure that the UN-REDD will adhere to their own guidelines and to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 42 of the UNDRIP says that the UN bodies at the international and national levels, including the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues have to ensure the effective implementation of the Declaration.

REDD-Monitor: Moving outside the UN process on REDD, there’s also a voluntary carbon market, which amounted to US$60 billion last year, 36 per cent of which is from forestry projects. Meanwhile, the UN discussions are incredibly slow and frustrating to watch. Do you think that there’s a danger that they might just become completely irrelevant because the private sector is going ahead so fast?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: Well I hope not! If the voluntary carbon market plays the dominant role in forestry projects, especially REDD, then it will not be far-fetched to imagine that emissions trading will end up in the same way as the financial crisis we are witnessing now. The fact that financial investment banks and other financial instruments like derivatives, hedge funds, etc. were unregulated led to this financial crisis. I am afraid that if voluntary carbon markets, which are unregulated, become the main vehicle for mitigation from the forest sector, then we can end up with even bigger disasters not only in the economic realm but also for the environment. Besides, several of these voluntary carbon markets are scams. I have come across reports on how unscrupulous persons and NGOs set up their own carbon trading bodies and they end up getting most of the money earned from emissions trading while the people who plant trees to sequester carbon get almost nothing. And to add insult to injury it cannot be shown that these projects really reduced carbon emissions.

If emissions trading of forest carbon is inevitable then this has to be done in a very regulated way. This links with the debate whether REDD should be funded through a Fund Mechanism or a market mechanism or a combination of both. But that is another story.

I hope that the UN is not going to become irrelevant in the face of this. In spite of all the limitations that the UN has, it is still the only intergovernmental mechanism we have which looks not only at climate change but all other issues related to development, peace and human rights. It is the body which can developed international standards to regulate the way States behave and can help the States to regulate the market. This is why I believe that we, indigenous peoples, should be able to use the UN in a very effective way so that we can get our perspectives and rights integrated in all the initiatives done by the UN.

REDD-Monitor: Do you have a position on carbon trading, particularly referring to carbon from forests?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: At this point I cannot categorically say I am for or against carbon trading. What is clear with me is that the Annex 1 Countries should, first and foremost, comply with their targets set for reducing carbon emissions by changing their production and consumption patterns at home. They cannot rely mainly on emissions trading as the path for meeting their obligations. These Annex 1 countries have to show that they are exerting all efforts to reduce their emissions within the country before they resort to emissions trading. They have to operationalise the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, which means as countries which have mainly caused climate change they have to bear the heavier burden of mitigation.

I do understand that the objective of the UNFCCC is not just to reduce emissions but also to bring about sustainable development. This is where carbon trading can play a role. Developing countries which have low emissions can trade with the Annex 1 countries to earn money which can be used for their own sustainable development. Such revenues can be used by these countries to develop a low-carbon development path. However, if the forests being considered for carbon trading are indigenous peoples’ forests, then indigenous peoples should equitably benefit from revenues earned. States should include indigenous peoples in making decisions on the development path they take.

As far as carbon from forests is concerned, this is more complicated. The danger of reducing forests to just one function, carbon sequestration, is what carbon trading does. Thus, the multiple functions of forests can be ignored which can lead to the same problems indigenous peoples faced when States promoted monoculture forest plantations. We, indigenous peoples, regard the forests as part of our ancestral territories which are the sources of our identities and cultures. I come from a forest region and so I understand this very well. We fear that if the forests are just reduced to be carbon forests, then indigenous peoples of the forests can be displaced from using and living in their own forests.

Other related issues to the trading of forest carbon are the ways by which permanence of carbon stored in the forest is ensured and how to measure this carbon. Will the monitoring process involve the traditional knowledge and practice of indigenous peoples? As it is right now the discussion of measuring carbon are done in a very technical manner to a point where indigenous peoples knowledge and contributions are marginalised. Discussions on how to ensure permanence and prevent leakage pose the risk of excluding indigenous peoples from their forests.

Unless the indigenous peoples are effectively included in these discussions and negotiations on the issue of how to use forest carbon, it will be difficult to just say I am for or against carbon trading. I think this is a decision that affected indigenous peoples should make. A fundamental right of indigenous peoples is the right to self-determination. Thus, the ones who will have to make this decision are those whose forests are the subject of negotiations. If they would like to engage in carbon trading, that is their decision. What we can do is to help increase their awareness about the nature of carbon trading, show what are the possible pros and cons and share the relevant tools and instruments and ways in which they can increase the possibilities of having their rights respected and protected. All these should be done to ensure that if, in the end, they decide to engage in carbon trading they will be able to equitably share in the benefits and provide substantial contributions from the forests in mitigating carbon emissions.

REDD-Monitor: At the closing plenary of the Forest Day on Saturday, Yvo de Boer made a short speech. He said that “There is a little group of marginalised Indigenous Peoples wandering around who are not really making an input to the negotiations.” By that, I understood he meant that they are trying to get their message across but that it’s not being reflected in the negotiations. I thought it was interesting that the executive secretary of the UNFCCC is aware that these issues are not reflected in the negotiations.

What impact do you think that the indigenous peoples here are having on the negotiations? Do you think that the message is getting through?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: That characterisation does not reflect the reality. There is actually a group of indigenous peoples who are engaged with the process and are trying to develop drafts which the negotiators can consider. There are indigenous persons who are mainly here to learn about the process, so you don’t expect them to be very active in the negotiations. There are those who are just here to talk to the press, to talk to the general public about the questions that they have around climate change. So we have all sorts of indigenous peoples here and they all have their own agenda and objectives. I think it is good that there is a diversity of indigenous peoples’ groups doing different things. As we say, indigenous peoples are very diverse and this is reflected here in Poznan. What is common amongst all of us is that we are keen to see that our basic rights as indigenous peoples, as contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, are being respected in the process and outcomes of the UNFCCC. I think it is important that these indigenous peoples are here expressing their views and messages on the issue of climate change and on how the negotiations are going. It is clear that the issues that we are very much concerned about are not being dealt with in a satisfactory manner. This is a challenge which we have to address. How do we bring our messages more effectively to the negotiators so that these can be considered when they negotiate?

Thus, I would really like to see more representatives of indigenous peoples actively engaging in the negotiation processes. This allows us to learn more about the issues around climate change and become more effective in influencing the end results of the various UNFCCC processes. By engaging we will have the opportunity to discuss with the government delegates, from our own country and other countries, our positions and views on the issues being negotiated. When we go back home we will have better chances of reaching out to the government to influence the way they are implementing the Climate Change Convention at the national and local level. This is why my advice to indigenous peoples’ representatives attending the UNFCCC processes is for them not to just go to these and make statements or participate in side-events. If we want to be taken seriously we need to understand better the issues being negotiated, prepare some suggested texts to be lobbied with governments and be present at the meetings where negotiations are taking place, as long as these are open for our participation.

REDD-Monitor: Do you see a positive side to REDD? Do you think that something good can come out of this?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: I think there are several positive aspects of REDD. First of all reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, in itself, is a good thing. If we are able to contribute to mitigating climate change by preventing deforestation and forest degradation then we are helping solve the problem and contributing to environmental sustainability. Secondly, the renewed focus on forests because of REDD is an opportunity for indigenous peoples to push governments to respect our rights to our forests and forest resources. We should acknowledge that the visibility of indigenous peoples’ issues within the climate change negotiations increased since the Bali COP because of the REDD discussions. The reference to indigenous peoples entered the COP decision on REDD. Here in Poznan, it is the first time for many negotiators to know that there is such a thing called the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which is relevant to the discussions of REDD.

Indigenous peoples went through many bad experiences related to existing state forest policies and practices. The REDD discussions are opportunities for us to push for the much needed reforms of state policies which allowed for the expropriation of our forests in favor of governments and the forest industry sector. We should relentlessly fight for the recognition of our rights to own, control and manage the forests which are part of our ancestral domains. This is where the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples comes in. A more decentralised, inclusive and democratic governance (which includes respect of the rights of indigenous peoples) of the forests should be put into place.

Since REDD is still being designed, indigenous peoples should endeavour to contribute to the design to ensure that their customary laws and practices on forest governance and management and their traditional knowledge in forest management are integrated as part of REDD. Today, many of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests are found in indigenous peoples’ territories. The reason for this is that our ancestors practised, and we have continued, our traditional sustainable forest management practices and maintained sustainable lifestyles. We were able to do this in spite of the efforts of the colonisers and the state to destroy and erode this knowledge and these practices. Since many governments in countries with tropical rainforests are interested to receive support to do REDD then it is our chance to challenge these governments to respect our rights to our forests and to involve us in designing and implementing REDD programs.

We cannot just stay outside of the process and continue shouting and screaming at governments and the forest industry. We should actively participate and continue to remind them of how badly they have managed the forests but at the same time contribute our views on how we see REDD should be done. If we think that trading forest carbon is not the way to go then we explain why we think this is so and suggest other options such as a fund-based mechanism or using taxes on aviation fuels, bunker fuels, etc. to pay for REDD. How REDD is going to be implemented is still very much under discussion and is still at the stage of negotiations. We should not miss the opportunity to help shape REDD in the ways we think these can be to our advantage.

We have stated clearly that if the rights of indigenous peoples in tropical forests are not respected within REDD projects the possibilities for failure are very high. The conflicts over forests which happened in the past and still continues in some regions and countries will be exacerbated. So if States, both from Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries are sincere in wanting to see REDD succeed, both in terms of mitigating climate change and achieving sustainable development, then they should seriously sit with indigenous peoples and discuss the best ways to respect indigenous peoples’ rights and to involve them in REDD projects.

Even business people are saying that it is in their interest to see less conflict and more stability in tropical forest areas if they are to invest in REDD. So if REDD is designed and done the right way, this can bring about a situation where indigenous peoples’ rights to their forests are respected, indigenous peoples are benefiting from the funds and technical assistance coming in for REDD, there is peace in the forests and there is less carbon released from the forests which contributes to climate change mitigation.

For me, the most important thing is to see indigenous peoples who are more empowered in terms of understanding more comprehensively climate change in general and REDD in particular, in terms of being better organised to influence government decisions towards the effective implementation of the UNDRIP in relation to the implementation of the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the agreements which will be reached in 2012.

REDD-Monitor: What do you think will come out of Poznan? You’ve described what you hope will come out, but what do think the reality from this meeting will be?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: I don’t think we are going to be able to get what we hoped for, in terms of getting Parties to agree on targets which take into account the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. There is still a long way to go before trust is built between the Annex 1 countries and the developing countries. Most of the Annex 1 countries have increased their greenhouse gas emissions in spite of their commitments to reduce. Negotiations, in any situation, cannot proceed well if there is a lot of bad faith on the part of negotiators.

This is the same case with REDD. There is still a long way to go before agreements can be reached. Our hope to see the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples being acknowledged in the draft decision, whether in the preamble or in the operational part is a very hard thing to get. The four countries who voted against the adoption of the Declaration at the General Assembly last year (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA) are still continuing to oppose the inclusion of this into the texts. In spite of the strong support from Bolivia and other Latin American countries and from the EU for the inclusion of the UNDRIP, consensus cannot be reached. This is very unfortunate, because even if the four countries have not voted for the UNDRIP, the fact that it was passed by the UN General Assembly already makes it a part of International Human Rights Law and all member states of the UN should implement it. The Declaration is very relevant to the REDD negotiations and so the hardline position of these four countries is uncalled for.

In spite of what happened here in Poznan, where the reference to the UNDRIP was removed in the final decision, the indigenous peoples will continue the struggle to bring this back. There are still at least three sessions where REDD will be discussed again before the Copenhagen Conference of Parties in December 2009. Indigenous peoples and the NGOs and governments supporting them should be able to work better together in these future meetings to achieve this.

However, I believe indigenous peoples should not just limit themselves to the discussions on REDD. They should endeavour to influence the negotiations around finance, technology transfer, mitigation, adaptation and even the shared vision, among others. We are going to be affected by the policies and programmes around these issues. There needs to be more training workshops on climate change for indigenous peoples at the local to the global level.

In 2009 there will be various regional summits and a global summit on indigenous peoples and climate change. The regional summits will be done in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Global Summit will take place in Anchorage, Alaska from 20-24 April 2009. These can provide additional opportunities for indigenous peoples to understand better what is happening in the UNFCCC and to discuss what their strategies will be for the future.

At the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues we will present a report on the local mitigation and adaptation measures of indigenous peoples and help consolidate the road map for indigenous peoples for Copenhagen and beyond.

So, I am not totally disheartened by the Poznan results. I see this more as a challenge for us to be able to develop a much more focused strategy so we can succeed in bringing in our own perspectives and issues into the negotiations.

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  1. As Victoria notes, “I hope that the UN is not going to become irrelevant in the face of this. In spite of all the limitations that the UN has, it is still the only intergovernmental mechanism we have which looks not only at climate change but all other issues related to development, peace and human rights.” Sadly, the Poznan gathering seems to be indicating that for indigenous peoples, this is true.