Indigenous rights ignored


The Star on-line

Date of publication: 
3 February 2009

ONE event on the sidelines of the climate talks in Poland dealt with the negative effects of the proposed forestry solution to climate change called Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

Victor Hugo Vela told of the problems faced by the Chiquotano tribe in Bolivia with the controversial Noel Kempff Mercado Climate Action Project.

Into its 11th year, the project is one of the earliest carbon sequestration scheme initiated by The Nature Conservancy with the government of Bolivia . It is projected to avoid emissions of 25 to 36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over 30 years.

The buyer of the carbon credits are three United States energy companies – American Electric Power, PacifiCorp and BP Amoco. It is the largest project of its kind in the world and serves as a showcase for an innovative and cost-effective approach to abating greenhouse gas emissions.

Many indigenous people have complained of not been allowed to practise their traditional way of life because of the implementation of climate action projects.

Vela, however, said local communities were not allowed to practise their traditional way of life within the 1.5mil ha tropical forest in the Santa Cruz province, north-east of Bolivia .

Vela was responding to a transnational corporation’s (TNC) official defence that the project had benefited the indigenous people, including securing land titles for them.

“There are many problems with the project. We still have yet to see a cent though on paper we are supposed to get 20% of the fund administered by TNC,” revealed the head of the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organisations of Bolivia.

He said the 14,500 indigenous people who were affected were not consulted when the deal was signed with the previous government.

“We only found out two months ago about the contract and we tried to renegotiate the term but now we just want it to be cancelled.”

The controversial project was just one of many experiences shared by rural communities around the world that are facing increasing pressure created by the burgeoning carbon market at the 12-day meeting.

Sceptical but cautiously accommodating over the inclusion of forests as a mitigating tool for climate change, the indigenous communities were dealt a blow when their rights as forest-dependent people were not upheld at the annual climate talks. Their request for an expert group to represent their views in the meeting was ignored..

On the penultimate day of the summit, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand objected to the inclusion of recognition for indigenous rights in the official text of the REDD mechanism although most governments agreed that it is vital to avoid the anticipated problem of land-grab. These are the same countries that did not rectify the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, advocated for indigenous communities to seize the opportunity to shape the design of the REDD mechanism from the onset and appealed to negotiators to respect the UNDRIP.

“However, I believe that forests should not be used as carbon offsets for developing countries. Thus, emissions trading of forest carbon may not be the right approach. Rewards, both monetary and non-monetary, to indigenous peoples and other forest peoples for protecting the forests maybe a better track to take,” she said.