in Brazil, Colombia, Laos, Peru

REDD: The world’s largest top-down tool in development cooperation

The aim of reducing the emissions from forest destruction and degradation caused by industrial agriculture, logging, mining for fossil resources, etc. is today decisive to the survival of humankind and our planet. However, when the tool to achieve this aim is the trading of emission credits (offsets), we arrive at the wrong solutions.

That’s Roberto Espinoza of the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP), writing in a new brochure published by Climate Alliance and Action Solidarité Tiers Monde (ASTM).

Espinoza continues:

The basic idea behind REDD+ of assigning the carbon dioxide stored in forests a monetary value does not lead to climate-friendly development. Instead, the necessary fundamental change by civilisation fails to materialise and indigenous peoples are deprived of control over their forests. For these tools place responsibility for the forests in the hands of investors.

The brochure is titled, “UNREDDY: A critical look at REDD+ and indigenous strategies for comprehensive forest protection”. The brochure is also available in German.

Featuring contributions from NGOs and indigenous organisations and indigenous people, the brochure doesn’t only criticise REDD, but also puts forward an alternative to REDD as a carbon trading mechanism: REDD+ Indígena Amazónico (RIA), or Indigenous REDD+.

AIDESEP developed the idea of Indigenous REDD+ in 2010, in Peru. Since 2011, Indigenous REDD+ has been supported by the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

REDD does not address the drivers of deforestation

Like REDD, Indigenous REDD+ aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, but without emissions trading.

In her contribution to the brochure, Jutta Kill of the World Rainforest Movement quotes a report by CIFOR on REDD in Laos.

“[T]he approaches taken in REDD so far have tended to view smallholder livelihoods in relative isolation from the larger drivers of deforestation and degradation in which they are enmeshed.
While most projects identified at least one of the “other” major drivers – industrial tree plantations, infrastructure development, timber extraction, mining and hydropower – as important to their particular landscape of intervention, shifting cultivation and non-industrial (i.e. small-scale) agricultural expansion are almost exclusively the drivers with which projects choose to engage.”

Indigenous REDD+ specifically targets the drivers of deforestation. “Curbing the uncontrolled extractivism, which is the real driver of deforestation, means climate protection,” Spinoza writes.


Kill outlines an ethical problem at the heart of REDD. Under REDD, the focus is on restricting the livelihood activities indigenous peoples and local communities. These are among the poorest communities in the world, with very low-carbon livelihoods.

While the poor generate REDD offsets, the rich buy them. Rather than facing up to their historical responsibility for climate change the rich buy offsets, allowing them to continue their high-carbon lifestyles.

Dependence on consulting firms and larger NGOs

Thomas Fatheuer lived and worked in Brazil for 18 years from 1992. He’s worked for the German Development Service and the German aid agency, GIZ. He was head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Brazil. He currently lives in Berlin and works as a consultant and author. Fathuer writes that,

Thomas Fatheuer[F]or the indigenous peoples and traditional communities, inclusion in the REDD logic has one further serious implication: support is now linked to a quantifiable and verifiable reduction in CO2. In the language of international cooperation, this is known as being “results based”. The starting point is not the rights of indigenous peoples, but rather the intended project outcomes. To achieve this, a complex project concept must be developed: a baseline determined, “business-as-usual” scenario conceived, the CO2 measured. Such projects can only be developed and implemented by consulting firms or larger NGOs. The consequence: indigenous peoples are now becoming dependent on them.

In contrast, in Indigenous REDD+ self-determination of indigenous peoples forms the central basis. Instead of REDD providing the template for how communities develop, the community’s plan de vida of Life Plan takes priority.

Liliana Muelas, a leader of the indigenous Misak people in Colombia, explains the importance of her community’s Life Plan, in a film produced by LifeMosaic:

“We don’t want a development plan. What we want is a life plan. And what is life for us? It is territory, our languages, our own customs, our oral traditions. The state brings its development plan model with its specific projects and we say, ‘No Mr. State. That is your model. Our model is the life plan. That comes from our autonomy and puts forward our vision of education, our vision of health care, our vision of how we want to live and be.’”

Rejecting REDD

Thomas Brose of Climate Alliance interviewed Teresita Antazu López from the province of Oxapampa in the central Peruvian Amazon region. She’s a leader of the Yánesha indigenous people and sits on AIDESEP’s board. She told Brose that,

Teresita Antazu LópezAt the start, hopes were high that REDD would also yield economic benefits for the indigenous peoples. This hope was fomented by the countless advisors, who informed us of REDD. The further the discussion advanced, the more the concerns regarding the instrument grew. Only the advantages were discussed; there was little mention of the problems. Some Asháninkas began to select a few areas for the REDD approach. When they were then told that they would no longer be able to pursue their traditional activities such as hunting and farming in these areas, the approval and interest waned. They said: “If we are no longer able to plant anything and only receive alms in return, then we do not wish to be involved.”

Fatheuer’s contribution to the brochure is titled, “REDD: The great disillusionment”. The REDD cash flow has failed to materialise. REDD does not provide an economic alternative to clearing forest for palm oil or soya plantations. It hasn’t stopped deforestation. REDD demotes indigenous peoples’ rights to “non-carbon benefits”.

In terms of its logic, REDD is not a bottom-up approach. Indigenous peoples have a long history of battles and demands. It is not known that reducing CO2 emissions was ever among these. REDD is perhaps the world’s largest top-down tool in development cooperation.


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