Over the course of the Fifth Rights and Resources Initiative Dialogue on Forests, Governance & Climate Change which wrapped up this Tuesday in Washington, DC, four expert panels surveyed the past, present, and future for reducing emissions from deforestation (RED) and forest degradation (REDD) and through improved forest management (REDD+).
With recent REDD+ movements such as the growing billions of dollars pledged through multilateral and bilateral deals or through the recently established Interim REDD+ Partnership among more than 50 countries, the rapid movements in this area in the wake of Copenhagen have earned REDD+ front-runner status on the global climate agenda and appear to be positioning REDD+ as a testing ground for seeing more generally how international funding mechanisms and sustainable development priorities can be integrated to address climate change.
While the debate over numerous technical policy choices remained in the background and periodically resurfaced throughout the event, this dialogue presented a focused and sustained vision of why meaningful safeguards are not simply a burden to be side-stepped by eager project developers or forested countries looking to tap into the growing pool of money to fight deforestation. Similarly, the standards being discussed were not to be viewed as a luxury afforded only to conscientious funders.
What was laid plain through the course of the discussions and comments from both panelists and members of the audience over the course of the day was a growing consensus that critical safeguards such as securing free, prior, and informed consent (commonly abbreviated as FPIC) from local stakeholders, as well as the establishment of functioning grievance and redress mechanisms should, rather than obstacles, more fundamentally be viewed as enabling conditions without which REDD+ will be doomed to fail.
According to Lars Løvold, the Director of Rainforest Foundation Norway and panelist in the first session, the process of REDD+ policy formation has been changed dramatically since it first emerged clearly with the Bali Action Plan in 2007. The role of southern NGOs and indigenous peoples groups has increasingly been recognized and institutionally secured through voices and votes in various executive and policy bodies embedded within the emerging REDD+ architecture.
Løvold pointed specifically to the transformation of the Paris-Oslo process where many civil society and indigenous peoples organizations were initially left entirely out of the picture, but are now being incorporated into the nascent Partnership's apparatus. While Løvold stressed that more such progress was needed and higher standards were still in order, he was heartened by the fact that the basic landscape for REDD+ participation has evolved considerably in recent memory.
Yet even while voices and votes for local stakeholders have begun to materialize in several international bodies, a disconnect persists between developments on the international stage and for those on the ground to whom REDD+ will mean the most.
Guy Patrice Dkamela of the Network for Environment and Sustainable Development described the state of affairs in Cameroon as an upside-down pyramid. While more than a dozen BINGOs (big international non-governmental organizations) are active in the country on REDD+ issues, fewer than five national NGOs and only one government ministry are seriously engaged.
Arguing "REDD is still an issue for technocrats and the elite," Dkamela lamented a "tragedy of coordination" among national officials and organizations to develop the political will for making progress on forest conservation in Cameroon.
These stalled policies play into a history where, as Dkamela says, "corruption and collusion between [major economic] interests is a resilient process in the forest sector." He sees these trends furthering an ongoing distrust between the state and the population who have witnessed decades of failed revenue-sharing and embezzlement from forest funds.
In the final panel, Cécile Ndjebet, Director of Cameroon Ecology spoke of the urgent need to move the REDD+ discussion to a local context where mayors and community representatives could begin a more grounded process to move up the REDD+ learning curve and determine how REDD+ can be sustainably implemented. She described a danger that failing to engage local decision-makers on REDD+ could reverse the empowering trend of decentralization of authority in much of Africa if central governments are left as the only engaged political parties.
Ndjebet also stressed in particular the need to empower women who risk being further marginalized in decision-making and resource-management in Cameroon if money for REDD+ activities contributes to a magnification of the male-dominance of the forest sector. Ndjebet's perspective provided a stark reminder that these environmental remedies being sought around the world do not take place in a social vacuum, but rather have a strong potential to exacerbate (or ameliorate) pervasive social inequalities.
And yet, while the entire day's discussion of safeguards proceeded with general agreement, the unresolved issue for many seemed to be the mechanisms by which any safeguards could be reasonably enforced from international to local levels.
Forest Trends' Director of Communities & Markets Program Beto Borges described the landmark legal work arising from the Surui tribe's forest planting and REDD+ projects in Brazil that demonstrated a constitutional right for the tribe to the carbon in their trees. And the World Bank's Charles Di Leva described how existing contract mechanisms could be expected to fill some of the gap for enforcing breaches in agreed-upon safeguards where carbon credits are being generated.
But outside this scope of the carbon market, which is obviously looming large in the background, but for the time being seems relegated to be dwarfed in the short-term by public financing and fund-based approaches, the emergence of numerous multilateral and bilateral agreements have created a hodge-podge of social and environmental safeguards where they exist at all.
Andreas Dahl-Jørgensen, advisor to the Norwegian government's International Climate and Forest Initiative described a vision of coordinated international REDD+ activities. "We should have one national strategy and all donors come under that, multilateral and bilateral, in the same country," he said.
But the international political will to require meaningful social and environmental safeguards as part-and-parcel of REDD+ funding remains to be seen. Carlos Mamani, the chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues described in the day's third panel the current state of affairs regarding the recognition of indigenous rights through the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but remained unconvinced that mere recognition of international commitments (as occurred at recent UNFCCC meetings in Bonn) was enough.
Citing failures among countries that are already signatories to the International Labour Organisation's Convention 169 that enshrines indigenous control "over their own institutions, ways of life and economic development including the rights to control their own development priorities, and the right to manage and safeguard their own natural resources," Mamani articulated that safeguards subject to political vetoes, biased judicial systems, or even simply capable of being ignored will provide no meaningful improvement in indigenous livelihoods and rather allow persistent colonial tensions to drive a wedge between marginalized locals and political authorities.
Ultimately, the growing momentum surrounding the need for safeguards in emerging international REDD+ mechanisms is worthy of note, but the potential efficacy of these standards is still largely unknown.
All Politics are Local
Recognizing the open gaps in local and regional engagement on these issues, the Rights and Resources Initiative has scheduled three new dialogues with regional emphases to be held over the coming months in El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Nepal before reconvening an international dialogue in Mexico by September.
The outcomes of these dialogues will no doubt continue to illuminate the way forward for REDD+, and we should all hope that the words and sentiments expressed at these and other regional meetings will inform the international debates currently occurring largely above any level accessible to local stakeholders.
Although, as Carlos Mamani described, "the current situation among indigenous groups is a division between those who accept REDD (or its versions + and ++) and those who condemn it," the value of open dialogues such as those commenced earlier this summer in Cochabamba and soon to occur in San Salvador, Addis Ababa, and Kathmandu can hardly be overstated.
If REDD+ is to be more than a convoluted financial sleight-of-hand or simply a complex extraction of a new environmental asset from forests and the Global South, there is no way forward but through meaningful consultation, consent, and ownership over the performance and outcomes of these activities on the ground by the people who value these forests most.
David Diaz is a Forest Carbon Associate with Ecosystem Marketplace. He manages the Forest Carbon Portal, and can be reached at ddiaz(at)ecosystemmarketplace(dot)com.
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