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The Transition Movement, climate change, commons and REDD

The Secure and the Dispossessed“What if the world’s leaders have decided not to tackle climate change? What if they’ve decided it’s easier to deal with the impacts rather than tackle the underlying causes?”

Nick Buxton started to think about these questions back in 2009 at the UN climate meeting in Copenhagen. “It became quite clear that actually there was a determination by every country not to act,” he says. “They were all looking for excuses not to act.” Buxton started to wonder what actions governments were planning to take when climate change and extreme weather starts to affect us all.

Buxton is co-editor, along with Ben Hayes, of a book called “The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the military and corporations are shaping a climate-changed world”. Buxton points out that the U.S. military has long term plans for dealing with the impacts of climate change: social unrest; migration crises; food and water shortages; how to maintain stability allowing corporations to continue to operate; and how the wealthy can keep their wealth.

A key question is whether we want to leave our future in the hands of corporations and the military or do we want to want to put the future back in our hands? “What we see throughout the book is that there are many inspiring examples of communities who are not just resisting this paradigm of security but are actually putting forward alternatives,” Buxton says.

One of the chapters in the book, written by Thomas Henfrey and Justin Kenrick looks at the Transition Movement in a global context.

The aim of the Tranistion Movement is to design strategies for local independence from fossil fuels. It started in the English town of Totnes in 2006. Today there are more than 1100 transition initiatives in more than 40 countries.


Henfrey and Kenrick look at the Transition Movement through the lens of commons. They define commons as “flexible and evolving institutional structures, often informal and/or customary in nature, through which the co-users of a shared resource participate in, recognise and allocate rights and responsibilities.”

They contrast the Transition Movement and other commons-based approaches with corporate and government responses to climate change:

Mainstream responses to climate change that perpetuate capitalism’s onslaught against both specific commons and the global cultural commons systematically undermine our capacity as a species to respond in more constructive and effective ways.

Their chapter includes a section on REDD. They write that,

The neoliberal appropriation of climate change has created new threats to these commons, including the enclosure of community forests under the UN’s Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism.

Henfrey and Kenrick’s chapter is available in full here. You can order the book, “The Secure and the Dispossessed” here. And here is the section from Henfrey and Kenrick’s chapter about REDD:

Community ownership or REDD? Contrasting commons and commodity solutions to deforestation

Another clear example of the contrasts between attempts to solve global problems that seek to protect/extend commons and those that seek to enclose them is evident in approaches to protecting the forests of the Global South. A commons approach would protect forests through ensuring protection of the rights of local communities, hence protecting their management practices and their stake in the forest as not just a resource but also as home. The politically dominant approach, however, is based on the assumption that the best way to reduce rates of deforestation is through putting forests under the control of large conservation bodies, corporations and governments – for example through REDD projects that seek to make the carbon in those forests a tradable commodity.
The quantitative evidence points to the efficacy of a commons-based approach. A comparison of 40 protected areas and 33 community-managed forests in 16 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia showed average annual deforestation rates in protected areas were six times higher than in forests managed by local communities.[31] Research for the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group found that, “In Latin America, where indigenous areas can be identified, they are found to have extremely large impacts on reducing deforestation.”[32] For example, Brazil has a large network of indigenous territories representing 20 per cent of the legal Amazon. Only 1.3 per cent of total deforestation in the Amazon occurs inside these territories, which are 98.4 per cent preserved. In contrast, government ownership of forests is associated with unsustainable forest use. This is because when local users perceive insecurity in their rights (because the central government owns the forest land), they seek to maximise short-term livelihood benefits due to fear they will lose these benefits to others.
Part of the reason why REDD was thought to be a cheap option in the fight against climate chaos, was because it was seen as – in effect – being about controlling poor people’s behaviour. If the drivers of deforestation are recognised as being the large players, that implies a very different economics. Swedish research has shown that payments for abstaining from converting forests to – for example – oil palm plantations simply cannot reach a level that would make this alternative more profitable than the plantation.
Depending on how it is implemented, REDD+ therefore presents a real danger of promoting a ‘fortress conservation’ approach that further destroys commons by excluding and marginalising forest peoples, although it could potentially provide opportunities for the recognition of rights, and securing of community forests, through international scrutiny and national tenure reform.
Marginal peoples have not been passive in the face of these threats. Wapichan people in southern Guyana, awarded title to only part of their claimed land area, recently released a comprehensive survey of their use of the area, reasserting their original claim on the grounds of forest stewardship and UN recognition of people’s right self-determination.[33]

[31] Accessed October 15 2012.
[32] Nelson A, Chomitz KM (2011) Effectiveness of Strict vs. Multiple Use Protected Areas in Reducing Tropical Forest Fires: A Global Analysis Using Matching Methods. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22722. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022722. Accessed October 15 2012.
[33] Henfrey, T., 1999. Land conflicts and cultural change in Southern Guyana. Pp. 328-333 in Grenand, P. & F. Grenand (eds.), 1999. Les peuples des Forêts Tropicales Aujord’hui. Volume IV: Volume Regional Caraibes. Brussels: EC DG8.


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