New Climate Deal Risks Impoverishing Indigenous Peoples


Global Forest Coalition (GFC)

Date of publication: 
8 October 2009

Bangkok, – If parties agree on a new climate change deal in Copenhagen in December, indigenous peoples might be the main victims of it. Environmental and human rights groups call on policymakers to explicitly recognize indigenous peoples’ rights when designing a new climate change agreement.

“Millions of people worldwide depend on forests for their survival”, says Simone Lovera, managing coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition. “Putting a monetary value on forests might lead to land-grabs in areas where property rights are poorly defined and not well protected.”

Increased awareness that deforestation is a big contributor to global warming has prompted international focus on conserving the worlds’ tropical forests. A plan known as ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation’ or REDD, wants to turn conservation into a profitable business. Carbon stored in forests would become a commodity on the global market. Polluters in rich countries would be able to offset their emissions by buying carbon credits. The money would go to developing countries that are undertaking efforts to protect their forests.

Indigenous Peoples fear that REDD will lead to loss of sovereignty over their territories and its natural elements. Their lives would be determined by global markets. A hardly reassuring idea after the financial crisis showed us how things can go wrong.

REDD also refocuses attention on a key moral and legal dilemma – to whom, if anyone, do forests belong? And who has the rights to sell carbon credits? Estebancio Diaz, the secretary general of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests, a Kuna from Panama, points out that this is a major issue. The Kuna are world-famous for their level of autonomy and self-determination, but a Panamanian government official told Estebancio that the land and the planted trees might belong to the Kuna, but that the forest’s carbon belongs to the government of Panama. ‘So if the Kuna want the REDD rewards they will have to cut down the forest and plant trees’, replied Estebancio.

This is for real. The current definition of a forest used in REDD does not exclude tree plantations. This means old growth forests can be cut down, replanted with pine or eucalyptus and apply for REDD money. Even though the amount of carbon stored in a plantation is less than twenty percent of the carbon stored in an old growth forest. Yesterday, environmental groups expressed outrage at an attempt by the European Union to delete a clause in the REDD text that would have prevented the replacement of forests by tree plantations. Earlier this week, a large number of Brazilian social movements published a joint letter asking their government to reject carbon offset funding for Brazilian REDD projects.

Camila Moreno of Terra De Direitos, one of the participants, comments “according to its national climate plan, the Brazilian government is planning the expansion of at least 11 million hectares of exotic tree plantations. This will have devastating impact on local communities, Indigenous Peoples and biodiversity”.

It is certainly clear that in the absence of secure land rights, Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities have no guarantees that they will receive any form of REDD ‘incentive’ or reward for their extensive forest conservation efforts. Instead they may find that governments and others are increasingly likely to ignore the customary and territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples, as they seek to protect an increasingly valuable resource from ‘outside’ interference, violently or otherwise.

In Africa, 95% of the forests is owned by governments. “In the Congo Basin, traditional land rights are not recognized and community organizations often don’t take part in policy discussions” says Samuel Nguiffo, who heads the Cameroonian Centre for Environment and Development, one of GFC’s partner organizations.

Without resolving these dilemmas, REDD could join the growing list of false and futile solutions to climate change.
International groups urge the parties who will gather in Copenhagen to take into account forest people’s livelihoods AND To recognize local communities’ right to land and self determination.


For more information and interviews, you can contact:
Simone Lovera: (in AsunciĆ³n, Paraguay): + 595-991-216536
Yolanda Sikking (in Amsterdam, The Netherlands): +31 623913217

The Global Forest Coalition (GFC) is an international coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations involved in international forest policy.