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Jesse Ribot on REDD: “It is time to be angry about the abuses of rural communities”

Jesse Ribot is a Professor of Geography at the University of Illinois. In December 2017, Ribot wrote the foreword to a new book, “Global Forest Governance and Climate Change” edited by Emmanuel O. Nuesiri. Ribot’s contribution to the book is a blistering critique of REDD.

Ribot starts with his work in the 1990s studying democratic decentralisation in Senegal’s forest sector. Participation in forest management was supposed to empower local people and get them to “own” the projects. Local people would shape the projects to meet their needs and goals.

The reality was that projects used participation in order to implement the project developers’ ideas about how the forest should be managed. “Participation was a means of facipulation – facilitated manipulation,” Ribot writes.

Participation looked more like forced labor or corvée than voluntary engagement in a beneficial set of desired and locally relevant activities.

Carbon sequestration “does not justify fascism”

Ribot moves on to REDD and its expanding aims of storing carbon in forests. Ribot notes that,

Carbon sequestration is important, but will never be worth the facipulated subordination of forest-dependent people. It does not justify imposition. It does not justify fascism — carbon fascism or any other kind.

The international community requires Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as social protections under REDD. “This volume demonstrates the inadequacies and flaws in such ‘protections’,” Ribot writes.

We can only hope that this book is one of the last nails in the coffin of fictive social protections—those performed as spectacle rather than as substantive safeguards against domination and abuse.

In December 2012, David Takacs, an Associate Law Professor at the University of California, visited the Oddar Meanchey project in Cambodia. Takacs concluded that,

It’s almost impossible to provide timely, full information in REDD+ schemes. Increasingly demanding guidelines and safeguards don’t change the fact that genuine, sustained FPIC may be impossible.

The World Bank only requires consultation, not consent

Ribot notes that FPIC cannot be considered a progressive protection since the World Bank replaced the word “Consent” with “Consultation” in its safeguard policies.

In 2012, REDD-Monitor interviewed the World Bank in Indonesia, and asked about the difference between “Consent” and “Consultation”. The Bank replied that,

World Bank projects that affect Indigenous Peoples will not be approved unless it is found that there has been free, prior and informed consultation of the Indigenous Peoples leading to their broad community support.

As Ribot points out this is woefully inadequate:

If consent by the community as a whole is not required then there is no protection. If people cannot say no to interventions, they have no bargaining position from which to reformulate them to their likings and needs. Rather than emancipation, they get ‘included’ to make the project look good and legitimate or just as labor — whether they like it or not.

Back in 2012, the World Bank told REDD-Monitor that FPIC “does not yet have a universally accepted definition”. As Ribot notes, five years later that is still the case.

Some questions about FPIC

Ribot poses a series of questions and observations about FPIC:

  • Free: Do communities have the freedom: to engage or not engage; to question their governments, or the forest service; to choose, and challenge, their leaders; to choose alternative lives and livelihoods? Are communities free from threats, violence, or retribution? Do they have the right to say “no”?
  • Prior: In Mozambique “prior” can mean as little as two days. “This is a scandal”, Ribot writes. It is far too short a time for a community to fully understand the problems and potentials of forestry and conservation programmes. “A reasonably long time is needed”, Ribot notes, and adds that perhaps the community should determine how long is needed.
  • Informed: “In FPIC and participatory processes people are ‘informed’ of all the wonderful benefits REDD+ programs will bring,” Ribot writes. “They do not inform them of how much profit carbon vending entrepreneurs are making, they do not inform them of the incomes of development agents, and they often fail to inform them of the nature and distribution of risks — risks that usually fall on the community.”
  • Consent: “Consent is the big-ticket item,” Ribot writes and asks more questions. Who consents? Who represents the the community? Who can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on behalf of citizens — on behalf of the forest-dependent populations whose lives and livelihoods and historical uses and claims are usually ‘at stake’. Whither democracy?

Ribot is concerned that REDD circumvents elected local governments, because “democracy is too slow or local government is corrupt”. Ribot notes that,

It is neocolonial hubris when international agencies circumvent government because it does not serve their objectives. This is not acceptable. This is not acceptable.

Time to be angry

Ribot writes that development agencies and practitioners, policy makers and representatives must read this book. He concludes that,

It is time to be angry about the abuses of rural communities, the structural violences that take place in the name of environmental protection, climate adaptation and mitigation, or development. This volume gives us some of the fodder for that anger. It helps us to sketch the outlines of a system that has gone awry, a system filled with well-intended operators whose intentions are still paving that age-old road. It is they who need training programs. Training in the actors, powers and accountability relations needed to support substantive democratic interventions. It is the intervening agencies that need to learn what democracy is and how to support it.


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