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REDD at COP17: Where is the critical perspective?

Published December 9, 2011

by iris_author

On Wednesday morning, Indigenous Peoples from Bolivia, Mexico, Kenya, US, and Canada voiced their concerns against UN's climate-change program that is going to convert their forests into carbon credits.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries has received lots of attention at COP17. The REDD initiative was first proposed at COP11 as a program that will transfer money to conserve forests in developing countries and prevent the release of about 20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are said to be caused by deforestation and forest degradation in the Global South. In official negotiations, REDD has become the win-win program as it would reward 'forest stewardship' in developing countries, and it would allow developed countries to bank-in carbon credits. A number of climate finance programs have been established to push forward the development and application of REDD. Some of these initiatives include: the World Bank's Forest Investment Program (FIP), World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF), Norway's Amazon Fund, Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF), and Australia's International Forest Carbon Initiative (IFCI). These funds conveniently serve the role of transferring the money that has been promised in various UNFCCC protocols and accords to help developing countries introduce climate change measures. Additionally, this money helps in the continued development of the much-praised carbon economy, which will supposedly introduce cost-effectiveness to climate change mitigation efforts while at the same time allow private and public institutions to profit via carbon capitalism.

REDD and REDD+ works by converting a piece of forest into carbon credits that could then be used by 'developed' countries to either offset their GHG emissions or sell these carbon credits for profit. The REDD+ initiative is supposed to incorporate sustainable forest management initiatives into REDD projects. A number of REDD and REDD+ projects have resulted in Indigenous and rural people being robbed of their land and their livelihoods. As noted by the Nepali Indigenous Peoples, there are a number of problems in local communities that may arise from REDD projects such as "shifting, displacement, landlessness and poverty". When a piece of land is registered as a REDD project, legal restrictions are placed on how that land may be used; this may block Indigenous Peoples' access to their land and their livelihood. The problem is that there are no specific procedures that can guarantee on a project-by-project basis that Indigenous Peoples' rights will be respected. Inside the Durban Exhibition Centre at COP17, there is a number of booths where Indigenous People support the REDD program as a way to bring money into their communities. Their support, however, is conditional on full participation of Indigenous Peoples in the development and implementation of REDD projects on their lands.

A number of COP17 side-events have focused on improving the technicalities of the REDD initiative in order to introduce more transparency and consistency in forest commodification. COP17 is said to be the place where more guidelines will be introduced to improve REDD. That said, I have not seen any side-events that provided a critical perspective on the implications of commodifying forests in the Global South. Additionally, I was not able to find an Indigenous Peoples’ booth in the Durban Exhibition Centre that openly opposes the REDD initiative. As noted by Tom Goldtooth from the Indigenous Environmental Network, "there is marginalization of Indigenous Peoples that oppose the REDD program". The UNFCCC needs to maintain a spotless public campaign of Indigenous Peoples' support for REDD initiatives. However, there are some well-funded NGOs, such as Greenpeace International, that have openly opposed carbon capitalism.

As voiced in the protest outside the official COP17 negotiations, there are many Indigenous Peoples that oppose the conversion of their lands for private profit. The issue here is the application of carbon capitalism to Indigenous Peoples’ land as well as natural ecosystems. Carbon capitalism is a system where capitalists can utilize climate change as an opportunity to make profit. At the Wednesday's protest, Indigenous Peoples made a strong statement that they will not allow their forests to be converted into a money-making business. Their message to the national delegates at COP 17 is "Respect the Indigenous Peoples; Respect their rights; Respect their lands". What is interesting here is that while forests in the developing world have become the centre-piece of cost-effective climate change action, little attention is paid to the economic pressure that is placed on developing countries to cut down their forests.  What if we were to limit consumerism in industrialized countries?  What if we  were to look at what is currently happening in the forested lands of the ‘developed’ world? Industrialized countries such as Canada should focus on re-evaluating their (clear-cut) logging practices and monoculture reforestation programs. Thus, the question is once again, why is it that in COP17 the emphasis remains on limiting the ability of developing countries to pursue economic development while developed countries, responsible for today’s climate crises, can continue with business-as-usual?

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