Hearing Indigenous Voices on Forests
Andrew D. Kaspar
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon may have said it best when he visited Central Kalimantan on Nov. 17 to launch Indonesia’s UN Office for REDD Coordination: “Making REDD a success here and elsewhere will require the commitment and cooperation of all stakeholders. We must ensure that all have a voice.”
As nearly 200 nations convene in Durban, South Africa, for the UN’s annual climate change summit, one aspect of negotiations will be of particular interest to the Indonesian delegation — and the 50 million to 70 million indigenous people across the archipelago.
REDD — Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation — is one of many attempts to encourage an international accord on greenhouse gas emissions reductions. REDD aims to incentivize forest preservation, to prevent the release of carbon dioxide stored in trees by offering payment to do so.
Because the vast majority of Indonesia’s emissions are attributed to deforestation, REDD is seen as a particularly potent means of emissions reductions.
And because REDD involves preserving forested areas that many indigenous peoples call home, the concept and its implementation are particularly high on the list of developments to watch at this year’s climate summit.
“Everybody’s talking about REDD now. Everybody’s talking about forests,” said Mina Setra, the head of international policy with the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). “And when they talk about forests, they cannot skip indigenous peoples in the discussions.”
REDD is more concept than reality at this point. While Indonesia is one of several nations to begin implementing pilot projects, critical questions remain, among them how to fund such conservation, how to measure and monetarily value forests saved and to whom REDD payments should go.
“This is a window for us to jump in, and talk about how to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples in this area,” Mina said. “This is a very important moment for us to really take as an opportunity.”
For Mina and AMAN, the negotiations boil down to a simple maxim: “No rights, no REDD.”
To be sure, the rights of indigenous peoples have come a long way. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was ratified by 144 nations in 2007. It includes many of the protections viewed as critical to a successful and equitable REDD regime.
“Over the last five years, the climate negotiations have been responding to that and have made specific references to indigenous peoples’ rights and the need to safeguard them,” said Patrick Anderson, Indonesia’s policy adviser with the Forest Peoples Program, which advocates on behalf of indigenous rights worldwide.
But a recent FPP report highlights major shortcomings in pioneering REDD projects in Indonesia and elsewhere. It paints a picture of a REDD wild west, where “carbon cowboys” in various guises bring projects to local communities with exploitative intent.
Indigenous peoples from around the world gathered in Oaxaca, Mexico, in October, to hash out a unified position in advance of Durban.
Among other priorities, the action plan calls for greater land tenure rights, recognition of the value that traditional knowledge can play in climate change mitigation and a mandate that REDD projects going forward will only be launched with the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of resident indigenous peoples.
Whatever comes out of Durban, it is clear that REDD’s success in benefiting indigenous peoples will ultimately fall to national, provincial and local governments.
Simpun Sampurna, an AMAN organizer in Central Kalimantan, said the reality on the ground was reflective of these challenges.
“Communities are confused because there are too many projects, too many initiatives happening in their territories,” he said.
“We welcome the idea of protecting our forests, but the implementation of the projects is not protecting the rights, not respecting FPIC. That’s the problem.”