Thursday, November 29, 2012

REDD+ And Indigenous Peoples

One of the most difficult climate change mitigation policies to pass is called REDD+. REDD stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, with the "plus" representing the broadened scope of REDD which was the result of agreements made at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico. In this post I will give a brief history of REDD, current REDD initiatives, issues surrounding the policy, the role of Indigenous People in REDD+, and why the interests of Indigenous People are so important to this policy.

The idea for REDD was first introduced by the Coalition for Rainforest Nations at COP11 in 2005. Five years later REDD finally became part of the agreements at COP16 in Cancun. Originally REDD was designed to pay forest owners who prevent deforestation and thus help reduce atmospheric carbon. In Cancun they broadened the scope of REDD to include both actions that prevent emissions and actions that increase the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, in other words conservation and sustainable management of forests. With this revision the term "REDD+" was coined. Another aspect of REDD+ that must be mentioned is the inclusion of environmental and social safeguards. These are meant to ensure the rights of indigenous people and ensure that no forest be destroyed due to any REDD agreement. The Cancun agreement touches on these issues but nothing is set in stone, and therein lies the issue.

During my experience observing REDD+ presentations it has been evident that indigenous peoples have the highest interest in REDD discussions.  This stems from the fact that they have the most at stake in issues surrounding deforestation. Many questions I have heard from indigenous people ask how it will possible to battle the massive amounts of money that timber and agriculture companies have. They feel that the battle is almost hopeless at the moment because no policy exists to protect indigenous rights. The current REDD policy discusses indigenous rights but does not actually do anything to protect them. COICA, an indigenous group representing indigenous peoples from Amazonia, believes that "REDD+ cannot advance without immediate guarantees and conditions for indigenous peoples, such as the recognition of rights to property, to collective legal status, consultation, participation, and free, timely and informed consent; and, moreover these be binding.” Although this is a very brief explanation it provides a solid, relevant background on the issues and controversy surrounding REDD+.

 Currently REDD+ is still being discussed at the international level. Even though nothing about REDD+ is completely set in stone there are still many REDD+ initiatives around the globe. Indigenous groups in the Amazon and South America are currently drawing up REDD+ initiatives but more than likely nothing will begin to happen until indigenous people have territorial recognition and are able to secure their rights. COICA says that “without territories and rights, REDD+ is unworkable”. Essentially at this point if indigenous people are going to adopt any REDD+ policy they will demand self-determination and territorial rights, otherwise as COICA says, REDD+ will be unworkable.


The important information to take away from REDD+ discussions is that indigenous people need to be represented in the decision making process. They have the most at stake and know the most about the areas in which REDD+ will be initiated. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the Executive Director of Tebtebba, who is coordinating the efforts of all IPO’s (Indigenous Peoples Organizations) at COP18, said to me that if the indigenous people do not get represented in decision making process they will not let REDD+ policy take place in their ancestral lands.


  1. In 2007, the United Nations passed the Declaration of the Rights of Indigneous People. Most nations, but not all, have signed it, including the United States in 2011. The Declaration includes resoulutions to protect indigenous rights having to do with religion, culture, land, women, natural resources and property (including intellectual property). The U.N. Declaration would provide the appropriate framework for the REDD+ discussions.

  2. Indeed the UN did pass the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, and it does provide many rights to them by preserving their land, language, culture among other things. What UNDRIP does not do is give Indigenous People any representation whatsoever. So even though they have rights, they do not have representation or any other way to effectively make their voice heard, which is exactly what they need when it comes to international policy negotiations. Because if they do not have representation they can be completely ignored.