By Chris Lang
Interview with Tom Younger, Peru Programme Coordinator and Policy Advisor at Forest Peoples Programme. The interview was conducted online in May 2021. It’s a long interview, divided into four sections – here are the previous three parts:
REDD-Monitor: Can you talk about how REDD has impacted Indigenous Peoples in Peru, and how it has affected Forest Peoples Programme’s work in the country?
Tom Younger: How has REDD impacted Indigenous Peoples? I can only really give a partial answer, in so far as it affects some of the communities that we work with directly.
What I would say is that REDD is obviously part of a whole series of international climate programmes and funding, which have been secured by Peru over the past decade or so. Indigenous Peoples, to different extents, have engaged with these programmes as spaces to articulate their demands in terms of their territorial rights.
Forest Peoples Programme did quite a lot of investigative work in the earlier years of REDD. That work looked at REDD and the broader question of climate finance in Peru and the impact on Indigenous Peoples.
I think an important point to make is that REDD hasn’t contributed to any of the much-needed structural reforms that would improve the recognition and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
There are cases that I am more familiar with where REDD has basically latched on to the pre-existing forms of exclusionary conservation which obviously have much deeper roots in Peru. There are cases where REDD projects have been created on top of already existing exclusionary protected areas, such as the Cordillera Azul National Park. The impacts of REDD there are perhaps not as visible or not as directly noticeable for the local communities.
The local communities are very much aware of the protected area because it’s restricting their use and access to their land. When you tell them that in addition to that, it’s not just the park guards, it’s not just the park authority officials, there are actually people internationally who are both selling and buying carbon credits, invariably for the communities that we work with that comes as news. They had no information about that.
In that sense it’s not that different to other extractivist projects which are imposed in a top down way on Indigenous communities. In a way these carbon credits are just cementing the exclusionary practices that are harming Indigenous communities.
But they can also be harder to confront because it’s difficult find accessible information about these projects and the different actors involved. And to actually hold them to account is another added layer of difficulty.
REDD-Monitor: The reports on the Verra website – project development documents, verification and monitoring reports and so on – are extremely difficult to read. They are often at least 100 pages long. Even with an MSc in Forestry and several years of battling through these reports, they are not easy to understand.
Tom Younger: If you consider the position of community members many of whom, in terms of formal education won’t necessarily have studied beyond secondary school, to make sense of what is going on, which actors are involved, what their role is, it is very challenging.
In the absence of that information, it’s difficult for communities to respond.
REDD-Monitor: The International Database on REDD+ Projects is an independent database monitoring where there are REDD projects and programmes. That database shows that REDD projects are now covering a smaller area in Peru than in 2011 when the AIDESEP and Forest Peoples Programme report came out.
There’s only one REDD project that started in Peru since 2013. Part of the reason for the slowdown is that REDD was at first advertised as a bonanza, and selling carbon credits was going to make everyone running conservation projects incredibly rich. REDD was supposed to stop deforestation. Address Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Stop climate change. And it was going to do all this overnight.
Obviously, all those promises didn’t actually come to fruition.
But I think the other thing that’s happened is that there’s a move generally towards jurisdictional REDD. Have you come across that much in the case of Peru?
Tom Younger: On the ground, no. However, it is something that Indigenous organisations which we work with are aware and wary of. Particularly with the announcement of the new LEAF Initiative (Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance), which has been developed by the US, Norway, and the UK and with the involvement of a lot of major tech, agribusiness, and pharma companies. It’s surprising that the governments and companies haven’t moved on more in all these years.
The Indigenous organisations that we work with in Peru and the national Amazonian Indigenous organisation AIDESEP weren’t informed about the LEAF initiative. It remains to be seen, the extent to which Peruvian jurisdictions are going to try to be part of it. Given that it’s very much centred on the participation of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as beneficiaries, it would be hoped that if it does materialise that that would be the case.
As I say, the Indigenous organisations that we work with really have been made aware of it by ourselves and other colleagues.
It’s an interesting point about there being an explosion of REDD initiatives, and then it slowed down a lot. Now, with the context of many high emitter governments and corporations making net zero climate plans, there’s obviously a real risk that this is going to increase the pressure on Indigenous territories and could potentially in a country like Peru where exclusionary conservation is still very much the norm give a boost and strengthen that model.
But then again, maybe the thunder won’t come to as much as they’d have us believe.
REDD-Monitor: We’re definitely seeing a second wave of REDD. The first wave fizzled out because nobody really wanted to buy the carbon credits.
But then the aviation industry set up its carbon trading scheme, the World Bank basically just kept chugging along, without any signs of success anywhere, Norway has continued funding REDD throughout, and the oil industry and big tech has jumped on board with net zero and nature based solutions, so REDD is back in business.
Can we talk a bit more about Cordillera Azul National Park?
Tom Younger: Cordillera Azul National Park was set up in 2001; the REDD+ project that goes by the same name came later, in 2008. That happened without the consent of the Indigenous Peoples and local communities whose territories it covers. This includes a number of Kichwa communities in San Martin. They have contacted us over a number of years.
The communities living on the edges of the park, whose territories extend within the park itself, generally don’t have knowledge of the REDD project. Nor did they know that carbon credits have been sold from the project for over a decade.
REDD-Monitor: So they’re not seeing any benefits from the sale of carbon credits?
Tom Younger: The Kichwa communities that we work with, no. Certainly not monetary benefits. The conservation NGO that administrates the park held a couple of workshops in some communities and that’s it.
I think the key thing to say is that the Kichwa remain determined to get their collective land titled in the areas immediately surrounding Cordillera Azul. The security situation for communities is worsening considerably, there’s a renewed expansion of land invasions, illegal logging, and narcotics production, which has also been contributing to a rise in violence against community members. When they denounce this, they are being told that basically the police don’t have the resources to intervene.
This is happening right next to the Cordillera Azul National Park. So on the one hand there are land invasions, and on the other there’s this greener form of dispossession but which is over time gradually weakening communities’ relationships with their land, particularly for communities that live nearer to where the park guards are stationed. Their access is much more restricted.
The park’s been there for 20 years. A whole generation has grown up not being able to access and use their lands in ways that the generations before them did. How can that be a sustainable way forwards?
These communities have inhabited these lands since before the Spanish conquest. So they will continue to remain on their lands. I don’t doubt that.
REDD-Monitor: Big Tech companies in the US are getting very involved in REDD, not only buying carbon credits to offset their polluting operations, but also the mapping and monitoring side. A worrying side to this is that high tech monitoring could pick up Indigenous Peoples clearing forest for their traditional farming operations, in the same way it could pick up illegal logging or land invasions. It could be a double-edged sword that could easily be misused in the context of exclusionary conservation.
Tom Younger: Forest Peoples Programme works with a tech organisation called Digital Democracy. Together, we’ve developed a toolkit for monitoring and mapping which is specially designed for use by forest communities and which enables them to control and decide over how to use their own data. They can use it pretty much wholly offline with nothing uploaded by a Silicon Valley tech company. So it’s really respecting Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination in the design of these tools, because monitoring is really important and it’s absolutely valued by communities themselves, but when it is in the service of them protecting their lands, rather than potentially providing avenues for companies to exert control or profit off them.
It’s something that’s really valued by the communities that we work with. Unfortunately, in some contexts it is too dangerous to be able to do this monitoring work, particularly where you have armed groups who have moved into their territory.
 After this interview took place, the Kichwa community of Puerto Franco held a press conference about the fact that it is taking the Peruvian Government and the Cordillera Azul National Park to court. The Kichwa community is challenging the Peruvian State’s failure to title their traditional lands, as well as the imposition of exclusionary conservation and a REDD carbon trading scheme on their lands – without their consent.
This post is part of a series of posts on REDD-Monitor looking at REDD and environmental injustice in the Andes Amazon.