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“Realising Rights, Protecting Forests”: New report from the Accra Caucus

Realising Rights, Protecting ForestsA new report by the Accra Caucus “proposes an alternative vision for achieving the objective of reducing deforestation, arguing for policies and actions that would tackle the drivers of deforestation, rather than focusing exclusively on carbon.” Download the report here: in English; Spanish and French.

The Accra Caucus on Forests and Climate Change is a network of southern and northern NGOs representing about 100 civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organisations from 38 countries. Formed at the UNFCCC meeting in Accra, Ghana in 2008, the Accra Caucus has followed closely the UN negotiations on REDD since then.

The new report, “Realising Rights, Protecting Forests: An Alternative Vision for Reducing Deforestation”, features case studies from eight countries: Indonesia, Ecuador, Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Cameroon, Papua New, Guinea, Tanzania and Nepal. “The case studies show that respecting the rights and realities of indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities is the only way to ensure that the forests remain standing,” states the report.

The report highlights three critical components to protecting forests: full and effective participation; secured and equitable land rights; and community-based forest management.

In a press statement, Samuel Nnah Ndobe outlines the problems highlighted in the report:

“National and international REDD processes have been going too fast for rights holders and stakeholders to effectively participate, but no plan to reduce deforestation will work without indigenous peoples and local communities, genuine consultation needs political will and cannot be rushed because of imposed deadlines.”

The introduction to the report provides a concise overview of the concerns about the REDD negotiations and recommends a human-rights based approach to addressing the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and local communities in REDD:

Realising Rights, Protecting Forests: An Alternative Vision for Reducing Deforestation”, by the Accra Caucus, June 2010.
1. Introduction
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) was broadly welcomed into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), on the basis of the double urgency to halt deforestation and address climate change. In many sectors, REDD is seen as a quick, feasible, cost-effective and economically viable mechanism for tackling global warming. Developed countries have signalled their willingness to provide incentives for keeping tropical forests standing, in order to reduce emissions of carbon[1] into the atmosphere. These incentives are intended to provide sufficient income for tropical forest countries to pursue alternative models of development.
Properly managed, a programme to reduce deforestation and degradation could benefit not only the global climate but also biodiversity and the livelihoods and rights of forest-dwellers. However, there are concerns that REDD may allow polluters in the North to continue ‘business as usual’ while removing land and resource rights from forest-dependent peoples in the global South. Furthermore, depending on the definition of ‘forest’ adopted, REDD may perversely favour logging activities and tree plantations over the protection and restoration of natural forests.
Therefore REDD is a double-edged sword which could have serious negative consequences, environmentally and socially, while doing little to reduce carbon emissions. Climate negotiators must understand that in addition to the global climate, biodiversity and the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities and indigenous peoples are also at stake.
The influential Stern Review (2007) and Eliasch Review (2008) argued that forest protection is economically viable, and that it is cheaper and more cost-effective for industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through REDD payments than to transform their unsustainable fossil fuel-dependent economies and production systems.[2] The Stern Review deals briefly with the multiple functions of forests and the importance of land rights, but these messages tend to be ignored by policy-makers and market actors for whom forests are ‘carbon’ equivalents to be bought and sold.
Ultimately the UNFCCC is a climate convention, not a carbon convention. While forests play a crucial role in carbon sequestration, they also affect climate in other ways. They play an important role in regulating ground water and rainfall, and thereby influence the climate in areas far beyond the forests themselves. Forests also lessen the impact of natural disasters, for instance by functioning as physical barriers against heavy winds and landslides. Intact natural forests sequester more carbon than other forest types, and are more resilient against fires than logged forests. In order to counteract climate change and keep the forests standing in the long term, therefore, the key objective must be the protection of forests, not the preservation of carbon stocks.
Forests also provide critical resources for communities adapting to the impacts of climate change. 60 million indigenous peoples live in the rainforests of South America, South-East Asia and Central Africa, where their ancestors have been custodians of forests for thousands of years. A further 350 million people live in, or next to, dense forests and rely on them for subsistence or income.[3] To protect the forests effectively, the rights and interests of forest-dependent peoples must be ensured. When forest-dependent communities gain control over forest resources, they can protect them against destruction by others. A recent World Bank study found that the areas with the most effective protection against deforestation were those under indigenous self-governance.[4] Yet the voices and concerns of indigenous peoples and local communities have been largely absent from the climate debate. Not until recently, through mobilisation within the indigenous movement and other networks, has civil society[5] managed to raise the issues of the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and local communities in REDD. But the role of local ownership and land rights in reducing deforestation is now on the negotiating table: and this has increased the attention given to critical issues such as land tenure and territorial rights, forest governance, community management, meaningful participation, and the right of indigenous peoples to freely give or withhold their consent.
These issues need to be respected by powerful stakeholders in negotiations on forests and climate change.
A human rights-based approach provides overarching frameworks for national laws and regulations,[6] and it should be applied to all policy sectors and development planning, including agriculture, forests, and REDD. According to the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO 169) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), indigenous peoples have a collective right to the territories they depend on for their livelihoods. They also have the right, as peoples, to make their own development strategies within these areas. UNDRIP was adopted at the UN General Assembly in September 2007, with only four countries voting against.[7]
According to Article 32 of the UNDRIP, “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous Peoples concerned through their free, prior, and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of water, mineral or other resources.”
The ‘other resources’ mentioned here would also include REDD compensations. Free, prior and informed consent[8] implies a right to a good process, and provides an opportunity for real influence and equal dialogue between potential partners (see Box 1).
Three of the countries featured in this report – Brazil, Ecuador and Nepal – have ratified ILO Convention 169. The convention provides that states have an obligation to consult indigenous peoples, through their representative institutions, prior to the consideration of any legislative or administrative measures that are likely to affect them.
Indigenous peoples have a collective right to lands and territories under ILO 169, as well as to resources on their lands. Non-indigenous forest-dependent groups do not necessarily enjoy the same collective rights to land, self-determination and free, prior and informed consent[9, but their land rights can be protected directly and indirectly by a number of different national and international legal instruments, and governments have a responsibility to ensure that they participate fully in national REDD processes.
REDD comes in many shapes and forms, and national ‘REDD readiness’ plans are being developed under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the UN-REDD programme. Other REDD initiatives are implemented through bilateral agreements and – worryingly – driven by international organisations and various market actors, without adequate civil society participation, transparency or accountability. Since REDD has so far been characterised by poor consultation processes, it should come as no surprise that indigenous peoples tend to be sceptical. This may be based on a general mistrust of governments due to former negative experiences, but also on a distrust of market-based solutions to the climate problem.[10] Market-based REDD was rejected as a ‘predatory policy’ by civil society at the Bolivian World peoples summit in Cochabamba in April 2010.[11]

Box 1: What do we mean by free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)?
‘Free, prior and informed consent’ as stated in the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (UN 2007) can be understood as follows:

  • 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 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 employee and others);
    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 is 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 have reasonably understood it.
FPIC should be sought sufficiently in advance of commencement of authorization of activities, taking into account indigenous peoples’ own decision-making processes, in phases of assessment, planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and closure of a project.
Indigenous peoples should specify which representative institutions are entitled to express consent on behalf of the affected peoples or communities. In FPIC processes, indigenous peoples, UN Agencies and governments should ensure a gender balance and take into account the views of children and youth as relevant.
Information should be accurate and in a form that is accessible and understandable, including in a language that the indigenous peoples will fully understand. The format in which information is distributed should take into account the oral traditions of indigenous peoples and their languages.
ILO 169
Through ILO 169, indigenous peoples have the right to, “Decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural development.”
Under ILO 169, consultation should be undertaken in good faith and in a form appropriate to the circumstances, with the objective of achieving agreement or consent to the proposed measures.
Source: Excerpt from the Report of the International Workshop on Methodologies Regarding Free, Prior and Informed Consent E/C.19/2005/3, endorsed by the UNPFII at its Fourth Session in 2005.
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[1] ^^ Throughout this report the term “carbon” is used as shorthand for greenhouse gas emissions and their carbon dioxide equivalents.
[2] ^^ Stern, N (2007) The Economics of Climate Change: Stern Review. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press and Eliasch (2008) Climate Change: Financing Global Forests (Eliasch Review) UK Office of Climate Change.
[3] ^^ Mayers J, Vermeulen S (2002) Power from the Trees: How Good Forest Governance Can Help Reduce Poverty. WSSD Opinion Series. London: International Institute for Economic Development. According to World Bank estimates, forest resources directly contribute to the livelihood of about 90% of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty (see A Revised Forest Strategy for the World Bank Group; World Bank, October 2002).
[4] ^^ Nelson A, Chomitz KM (2009) Protected area effectiveness in reducing tropical deforestation. World Bank Independent Evaluation Group; Evaluation Brief.
[5] ^^ In this report “civil society” is used to include indigenous peoples, NGOs and local communities.
[6] ^^ UN (2003) The Human Rights-Based Approach to Development Cooperation.
[7] ^^ United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Australia subsequently reversed their position in 2009, and at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2010, New Zealand declared its support for UNDRIP, at the same event the United States pledged to re-examine its position.
[8] ^^ In contemporary international law, indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision making and to give or withhold their consent to activities affecting their lands, territories and resources or rights in general. Consent must be freely given, obtained prior to implementation of activities and be founded upon an understanding of the full range of issues implicated by the activity or decision in question; hence the formulation: free, prior and informed consent. From: Colchester, M. and MacKay, F. (2004) In Search of Middle Ground: Indigenous Peoples, Collective Representation and the Right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Forest Peoples Program. Pp.8-14.
[9] ^^ This is because historical precedence is not the only criterion used to identify which groups can be covered by ILO 169. Other factors to be take into consideration include the existence of cultural, social and economic conditions, and of special customary laws and traditional for their internal regulation.
[10] ^^ ICP (2010) Declaration of the Latin American Indigenous Forum on Climate Change. Indigenous Climate Portal.
[11] ^^ Final conclusion working group 14 on Forests.


Leave a Reply

  1. Fantastic report on how “real life” climate & forests policies are evolving in tropical countries! Congratulations !

  2. Last Friday 4/6/2010 The Ministry of Forestry gathered all the owner Forest Concession (forest destroyer) in Jakarta to socializing The Norway REDD+ Fund. Some of them are interested to be the REDD Developer. Hm

  3. Dear Chris Lang,

    May I save a copy of your report, and where do I access this. My email address is above,