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Indigenous peoples, REDD safeguards, and the green economy

The social impacts of REDD on indigenous peoples and local communities who are dependent on forests has been controversial since REDD was included in the Bali Road Map at COP 13 in 2007. But over the past ten years, debate over whether REDD projects are desirable has been, to some extent at least, marginalised by a focus on how to manage the risks of REDD, and how to promote benefits through REDD.

Many discussions about REDD have focused on issues such as “participation”, “land tenure”, “safeguards”, and “free, prior, and informed consent”. An article published last year in the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment asks whether these strategies have succeeded in addressing and managing the social impacts of REDD.

Written by Julia Dehm, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, University of Texas, the article is titled, “Indigenous peoples and REDD+ safeguards: rights as resistance or as disciplinary inclusion in the green economy?” It is well worth reading.

Globalised authority over forests

The article gives a history of REDD, and follows the discussions about social risks and possible benefits of REDD at the UNFCCC, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and in NGO discussions. It provides an analysis of REDD safeguards, looks at how the more radical potential of land tenure and free, prior, and informed consent have been neutralised in REDD implementation, and asks questions about the inclusion of REDD in international carbon markets.

Dehm writes,

My analysis pays attention to the way in which new forms of globalized authority over forest areas in the global South are being articulated through both exclusivist and inclusive REDD+ models. In fact, if REDD+ is understood as reconfiguring authority over forested land in the global South through the establishment of new forms of property in carbon as well as the through new contractual arrangements for the sale and purchase of ecosystem services, this reconfiguration of authority might actually be facilitated by these measures. The analysis in this article therefore pays attention to the adverse impacts REDD+ may have on forest communities through processes of expulsion and exclusion but also in how REDD+ could potentially facilitate a greater disciplinary inclusion of forest peoples into the new so-called ‘green economy’.

Critiques of REDD offsets

Dehm summarises the critiques of including REDD as a carbon offset mechanism as follows:

  • ‘green’ carbon offsets are fundamentally different from ‘brown’ carbon, leading to problems of commensurability for essentially different metabolic interactions;
  • ensuring the ‘permanence’ of forest carbon sequestration is impossible given persistent risks of forest fires, climate-induced ecosystem impacts and illegal logging;
  • the counterfactual assumptions that ‘additionality’ is based upon are problematic (and as Larry Lohmann points out, describing additionality as “problematic” is an understatement!);
  • preventing ‘leakage’ is impossible if carbon mitigation does not have universal coverage and no demand-side measures are taken;
  • REDD fails to address the key drivers of deforestation, including agribusiness, pulp and paper plantations, palm oil development and mining, and that REDD+ fails to provide the structural incentives to address extensive unsustainable forest and land use;
  • carbon markets, and particularly the use of offsets, operate as a ‘dangerous distraction’ from urgently necessary structural changes in energy production use and distribution, thereby facilitating ‘carbon lock-in’.

Politically expedient safeguards

Dehm notes that safeguards are politically expedient for project developers and REDD proponents, as a means to manage social risks in order to ensure the feasibility of the REDD project itself. Rights of local communities have to recognised and respected for REDD projects to “work”.

Dehm writes,

[Safeguard] policies are also key sites of intersection between REDD+ and other World Bank ‘developmental’ interventions such as ‘good governance’ promotion and land tenure formalization that have long and contentious histories. The promotion of safeguards has therefore in many ways also operated to expand the sphere of authorized intervention by international financial institutions (IFIs) and other bilateral and multilateral bodies into the lives of those who live in and around forested areas.

The Eliasch Report, for example, states that ensuring procedural rights means that REDD is “more likely to succeed and benefit the poor”. Dehm highlights a 2011 report about FPIC and REDD, published by RECOFTC. The report emphasises that forest-dependent communities are “essential to the success of REDD+”, and that FPIC can help implementing REDD projects:

Communities approached respectfully by REDD+ project proponents, including the offer to fully involve them in project design, and the proponent’s agreement to respect their right to FPIC, are likely to be open to becoming involved.

Dehm found a similar approach to land tenure from REDD proponents. The Stern Review states that “defining property rights to forestland … and determining the rights and responsibilities of landowners, communities and loggers, is key to effective forest management”.

Anthropologist Tania Murray Li describes REDD as an intervention “to fix indigenous people on to the land, and limit them to specific land uses”.

Dehm concludes that,

the problem of the social in REDD+ is better understood as ‘fixing people in place’ and transforming forest peoples into environmental service providers of the ‘green economy’. Such intensive integration in the globalized ‘green economy’ carries with it significant risks, especially given massive price fluctuation in international carbon markets, and the fact that through REDD+ former livelihood activities or subsistence practices become prohibited.


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