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Joan Carling on REDD: NGOs are “imposing their ideological views” on indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples have the right to a process of free, prior and informed consent before they decide whether or not a REDD project should be implemented on their territory. This principle is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But if REDD is a carbon trading mechanism, the emissions avoided in the forest will be transferred to the Global North, where an equivalent amount of emissions will continue. The right to free, prior and informed consent must therefore also apply to indigenous communities facing continued pollution of their environments from oil and gas extraction, oil refineries, coal-fired power plants and oil spills.

At a press conference at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York this week, Joan Carling of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact explained her view of REDD and how indigenous peoples should decide themselves their views about REDD. Her view is biased both in favour of forest dependent indigenous peoples and in favour of carbon trading.

Carling believes that when indigenous peoples oppose REDD it’s the result of NGOs “imposing their ideology”, yet where indigenous peoples support REDD, no NGOs and no ideology are involved.

Her comment was a response to a question by Matthew Russell Lee, a journalist with Inner City Press. A video of the press conference is available here – Lee’s question comes at 11:41.

In his question, Lee explained that he’d heard a lot of complaints about REDD from people during the forum, because it doesn’t include the principle of free, prior and informed consent. He added that in Panama and other countries indigenous peoples are actually opposing REDD.

Carling’s response to the question is posted here in full:

First of all let me just introduce, state that I’ve been engaged with the international negotiations particularly of REDD+ and we acknowledge the support of the Mexican government, where the Cancun Agreement on REDD was adopted, which includes safeguards, social and environmental safeguards, and this is consistent with what the indigenous peoples have demanded as part of REDD.

I am aware of the controversies of REDD as viewed by different indigenous organisations and we, my organisation, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, respect the position of different indigenous peoples.

However, I want to state that the position should be made clearly by forest dependent indigenous communities and not other groups making the decision for them. Because we also notice that a lot of NGOs are also working, so called working, closely with indigenous peoples but are imposing their ideological views. And yet at the end of the day, what happens to the forests will affect the lives of indigenous peoples.

Now let me cite an example of how this is being regarded on the ground. In the case of Cambodia, where the forest is being given away to economic land concessions left and right, and so the indigenous leaders had asked, “If REDD is going to stop the concessions, the government from giving away our land to concessionaires, or to rubber plantations, then we’d rather go for REDD, than anything else, because with REDD, if REDD will assure that our forests will remain standing and that we will be able to do our livelihoods, then that is the way for us to go.”

So that demonstrates the kind of view on the ground of quite a number of indigenous communities, where what matters is that their rights, their sustainable livelihoods, their dignity, their welfare, are protected with REDD, or any other projects that come into the territories of indigenous people.

I think that the basic framework where we are operating and where we respect the views of those who are against it because it does not serve their interests or it violates their rights or those who are for REDD because it protects their rights and that is determined by the circumstances they are in.

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  1. Chris this is despicable. You have completely twisted Joan’s words to serve your own ideology therefore, ironically, proving her point exactly. I have watched the video and even your own transcript of her response shows exactly what she said, and what her intent was in the statement:

    What she was clearly indicating was that IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE people are concerned that NGOs with an ideological agenda may be interfering. You have tried to shamefully distort her statement in order to discredit her perspective by making it sound that she uses this as an excuse to dismiss all IPs that oppose REDD.

    What she actually said was:
    “we respect the views of those who are against it because it does not serve their interests or it violates their rights or those who are for REDD because it protects their rights and that is determined by the circumstances they are in.”

    Therefore she understands, respects and supports the rights of IPs to oppose REDD when they independently oppose it. And indeed they should and must if it affects their rights.

    This is surely a new low, even for you. These are people who have put their lives on the line to fight for the rights of their communities and you flippantly do this sitting from your position of privilege.

    I encourage people to listen to the words of Joan Carling herself and not a white man sitting in city, living off his wife’s REDD wages, who misinterprets indigenous peoples’ words to conveniently fit his own world view and agenda.

  2. The people, who’s lives we are talking about have a right to self-determination. This is a new concept, that is not well understood by the indiginous communities themselves or by the world bank and the industrial community hungry to mine the assets of the forest world.
    N G O s
    mostly have the best interests of the people in mind and sometimes have agendas of their own, just like organizations advising presidents.
    The process of self determination and independant decision making is key for the people in question.
    From the outside we are standing concerned about the fraudulant tricks that are invented whenever industrialists try to get away with pollution, like the carbon credit trading fraud. Stay vigillant. thank you.

  3. Chris,
    I completely agree that REDD is not suitable for a carbon offset mechanism. Still I wonder about how you link this to FPIC here. If the way I understand you here is correct, IPs affected by climate change have the right to say no to REDD offset projects, no matter where they are. If so, they should have just as much right to say no to any polluting project around the world. Although I very much would like that IPs from around the world would be able to stop Norwegian (and other) oil drilling in the Arctic, I think this is beyond the FPIC concept – at least how it is understood in our era. Although not being an FPIC expert, I might be wrong.

  4. @Balanced View (#1) – Thanks for this comment. If my intention were to twist Joan Carling’s words, why would I link to the video and provide a full transcript of her response?

    I am not arguing that Joan Carling “dismisses all indigenous peoples that oppose REDD”. I wrote in the article that Carling’s view is “biased both in favour of forest dependent indigenous peoples and in favour of carbon trading.”

    The point I am trying to make is the following. If REDD is a carbon trading mechanism (the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples recent report on REDD and safeguards assumes that it is), then REDD will allow continued pollution elsewhere. In some cases, this pollution is taking place on indigenous peoples’ territories. Shouldn’t these indigenous peoples also have the right to free, prior and informed consent about whether a carbon trading project elsewhere in the world allows the pollution of their environment to continue?

    My concern is that while Joan Carling focusses on the ideology of the NGOs that oppose REDD as a carbon trading mechanism, she ignores the ideology of the NGOs that promote REDD as a carbon trading mechanism.

    Let’s look at just one of these organisations: The Nature Conservancy. Ask yourself whether there’s any ideology at work here. Mark Tercek, TNC’s president, came from Goldman Sachs. TNC has at least US$22.8 million invested in the energy sector (and refused to answer Naomi Klein’s questions about divesting from fossil fuels). TNC works with (and receives money from) a long list of corporations (BP, Shell, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Cargill, Bunge, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, to name a few). The organisation’s board includes the following members:

    David Blood, Generation Investment Management – an investment management firm (including carbon trading);

    James E. Rogers, Duke Energy – the largest electric power holding company in the US;

    Joseph H. Gleberman, Goldman Sachs & Co. – great vampire squid;

    Jeremy Grantham, Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. (GMO) – one of the largest asset management funds in the world;

    Moses Tsang, AP Asset Management Group – a hedge fund;

    Craig O. McCaw, Eagle River Inc. – a venture capital firm;

    P. Roy Vagelos, Merck & Co., Inc. – one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world;

    Thomas J. Meredith, Meritage Capital – an alternative investment manager; and

    Thomas S. Middleton, Blackstone Group – one of the world’s largest private equity investment firms.

    Ideology? Surely not.

  5. Chris your words:
    “The point I am trying to make is the following. If REDD is a carbon trading mechanism (the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples recent report on REDD and safeguards assumes that it is), then REDD will allow continued pollution elsewhere.”

    These are your words and your ideological perspective. You are entitled to it.

    You also say:
    “Shouldn’t these indigenous peoples also have the right to free, prior and informed consent about whether a carbon trading project elsewhere in the world allows the pollution of their environment to continue?”

    Absolutely – and nothing that Joan Carling said in her statement is inconsistent with your point, she states:
    “we respect the views of those who are against it because it does not serve their interests or it violates their rights or those who are for REDD because it protects their rights and that is determined by the circumstances they are in.”

    There may very well be pro-REDD NGOs manipulating indigenous peoples as well, but Joan Carling was neither denying or supporting this assertion. She was responding to the question on a particular case in Panama where many indigenous peoples, including those within the country, are concerned about NGO agendas.

    The indigenous peoples in Panama and elsewhere have every right to oppose/reject REDD.

    All that Joan said was that “the position should be made clearly by forest dependent indigenous communities and not other groups making the decision for them.” IN REFERENCE TO THIS PARTICULAR SCENARIO WHICH IS WHAT THE ORIGINAL QUESTION WAS ABOUT.

    What you are doing is making it sound like Joan uses NGOs as a smokescreen/excuse to discredit any opposition to REDD. This is patently NOT what she said – indeed, anyone who reads her statement and sees the video will see this.

    Your statement “If my intention were to twist Joan Carling’s words, why would I link to the video and provide a full transcript of her response?” is completely disingenuous.

    In FOX News style, have already set the agenda and mis-interpreted her words in your run up article to carefully prejudice the reader against her and distort her meaning saying:
    “Carling believes that when indigenous peoples oppose REDD it’s the result of NGOs “imposing their ideology”, yet where indigenous peoples support REDD, no NGOs and no ideology are involved.”

    This is clearly not what Joan Carling said at all and doesn’t take into consideration the context of the question that she was answering.

    You have twisted her words to suit your dogmatic position. You find some elements of what she is saying not 100% consistent with your belief system so you have gone out of your way to discredit her statements in your posting. This, in my view, is completely unethical.

  6. @Balanced View (#5) – Thanks for this response. I’ll deal with your points one at a time:

    1. Could you please provide some evidence that this statement is an “ideological perspective” and not based on the nature of carbon trading:

    “If REDD is a carbon trading mechanism then REDD will allow continued pollution elsewhere.”

    You could perhaps refer to the Clean Development Mechanism, which has been around for several years and explain how that has reduced emissions. You may find it useful to refer to this graph, that clearly shows how there has been no slow down in emissions over the last decade (which coincides with the carbon trading experiment):

    2. Joan Carling’s response to the journalist’s question at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in New York makes no mention of continued pollution or the rights of indigenous peoples affected by that pollution. She is talking about only about forest dependent indigenous peoples.

    But REDD carbon offset projects affect not only indigenous peoples and local communities where the project takes place. REDD projects generate carbon credits which allow continued pollution somewhere else – some of which will take place on indigenous peoples’ territory.

    Can you show me anywhere in the UNFCCC REDD negotiation texts or in anything that Joan Carling has said in the past that includes the right of free, prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples that are subjected to continued pollution on their lands as a result of REDD offsets?

    3. You say that Carling’s answer is in reference to Panama (although the journalist referred to Panama and other countries). The indigenous peoples in Panama are well organisation, and as far as I am aware, they came to their own conclusion about withdrawing from the UN-REDD programme. Why, then, did Carling say, “NGOs are also working, so called working, closely with indigenous peoples but are imposing their ideological views”? Is she, in your opinion, talking about Panama here?

    4. Carling refers only to the NGOs who are “imposing their ideology” of opposing REDD as a carbon trading mechanism (or opposing REDD entirely). She makes no mention of the NGOs who are imposing their ideology of supporting REDD as a carbon trading mechanism. Agreed?

    5. I’m not trying to discredit what Joan Carling said because of “my dogmatic position” or trying to twist her words. I think there are two important aspects of the discussion about REDD missing from Carling’s response:

    First, the fact that REDD as a carbon trading mechanism (because of the carbon credits that REDD generates) has impacts outside the REDD project area (by allowing polluting elsewhere to continue – including on indigenous peoples’ territory). In Carling’s response to the journalist’s question, she says that “the position should be made clearly by forest dependent indigenous communities”.

    Second, the fact that many pro-REDD NGOs have a pro-market, pro-carbon trading ideological bias.

  7. 1.”First, the fact that REDD as a carbon trading mechanism (because of the carbon credits that REDD generates) has impacts outside the REDD project area (by allowing polluting elsewhere to continue – including on indigenous peoples’ territory).”

    To be frank – I think many indigenous peoples engaging in REDD don’t care about emissions trading. After years of attempts to save forests and communities flailing, and continued deforestation and displacement, the REDD debate has opened the door to dialogue on forest management in a prominent way which has allowed forest dependent communities to raise their profile and issues. They are engaging with REDD as it gives them an opportunity to lobby for their rights, fight for their communities and potentially have some leverage against the tide of forest destruction that you currently present no practical answer to. Governments are listening to the call of money and indigenous peoples have a chance to have their voices heard because of it. Governments are not listening to people like you and me.

    The truth is there are two completely conversations here: The anti-REDD lobby who are opposed to REDD ideologically because there are serious issues with REDD that need to addressed (maybe they never will be addressed, who knows). And some indigenous peoples groups and NGOs who see it as a way to finally get some purchase against the seemingly unstoppable tsunami of plantation developments/commercially logging interests that are decimating forests with no interest in anything beyond their profits. Governments won’t listen to ethical arguments, they will listen to money, and REDD has their attention. So they are forced to listen to indigenous peoples who have a strong voice in REDD.

    This is at the heart of what Joan Carling seems to be saying, not your shameful reduction of her position to an ugly conspiracy theory to support the overlords of REDD. You should re-read and focus on her intent, as she says:

    “If REDD is going to stop the concessions, the government from giving away our land to concessionaires, or to rubber plantations, then we’d rather go for REDD, than anything else, because with REDD, if REDD will assure that our forests will remain standing and that we will be able to do our livelihoods, then that is the way for us to go.”

    The ideologists bash indigenous peoples who are pragmatists. Indigenous peoples whose communities are on the front line, suffering abuse, disenfranchisement and death, don’t have many options left to them to get the ear of decision makers. So they don’t stop to debate the intricacies of carbon trading or emission displacement. They grab the only chance they see and they engage to fight for their rights.

    2. With regards to whether indigenous people support or oppose REDD because of the influence of NGOs, this is complex. You will never be an expert on every community or understand the deep complexities on the ground in different countries – though I’m sure you will continue to speculate and highlight only the cases where things appear to support your current paradigm of belief. The best we can do is to try to speak to the communities on the ground and try to understand what they want, and empower them to make their voices heard, rather than tell them what to do based on what WE feel is best for them.

    Joan Carling is not going address every single one of the angles and issues of REDD in a 1 minute response on a panel discussion, so your criticism that she doesn’t say all the things that you as an ideologist are interested in is ridiculous.

    My original point, and only point, is that she was not saying what you aggressively laid out in your pre-amble to her statement. She was NOT trying to say that all indigenous peoples who are anti-REDD are manipulated by NGOs while the reverse is untrue. You interpreted and distorted the meaning of her statement. In fact, your statement is dogmatic anti-REDD propaganda at the expense of the credibility of an indigenous peoples’ activist.

    I get the feeling that this is a classic case of you wasting time fighting your true enemies’ enemy. The commercial interests driving deforestation must be laughing their way to the bank, after having divided and conquered groups that are essentially fighting for the same thing.

  8. Support for REDD+ forces IPs to make a faustian bargain… hardly self-determination. Long term carbon trading benefits no one.Market mechanisms are a mirage of emissions reduction . Producing reductions that cannot be monitored or verified yet are procured by forest degradation and and denial of Indigenous rights. If REDD+ were a scheme that guaranteed Indigenous peoples forest tenure rights one can understand the temptation to buy into it. The REDD scheme does not guarantee tenure let alone seem to enforce FPIC and it distracts climate change governance players away from measures that might actually reduce emissions as well as securing Indigenous self determination namely forest tenure and increased social , civil, political, cultural , economic rights as well as the Rights of Mother Earth. Such rights have yet to become mainstreamed into climate governance discourses. Instead we hear the K..ching of cash registers.

  9. @Nils Hermann Ranum (#3) – Thanks for your comment (and sorry about the delay answering!). I wasn’t arguing that FPIC should apply to all indigenous peoples facing climate change (although that may not be such a bad idea!). I was suggesting that FPIC should apply where the carbon credits are generated and where they are used.

    I’ll give a concrete example:

    Shell Canada is involved in tar sands mining in Canada. The tar sands operations affect indigenous peoples. Shell is interested in carbon trading (for example, Shell Canada provided some funding for the Rimba Raya project in Indonesia).

    If Shell buys carbon credits in order to continue or expand its tar sands mining, shouldn’t it ask for the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples in Canada who will be affected by the continued damage to the environment?