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Who's Afraid of REDD? Reflections from the Rights, Forests and Climate Change conference
This opinion piece is authored by Ben Vickers, Senior Program Officer at RECOFTC
“REDD,” as it happens, is Norwegian for “scared.” So, did the notorious forest-based climate change mitigation mechanism invoke fear in the hearts of delegates at the Oslo conference on Rights, Forests, and Climate Change last week? Hardly. The event, jointly organized by Rights and Resources Initiative and Rainforest Foundation Norway, inspired a well-balanced critique of the prospects for REDD. The dominant emotions were hope and caution, in roughly equal measure.
Hope was evident most clearly in the consensus shown by a diverse group of participants—government officials from North and South, inter-governmental organizations, universities, environmental NGOs and campaigners, representatives of indigenous peoples and forest users’ groups—that issues of equity, rights, and tenure are crucial to negotiations on forests and climate change. In his address to the conference, Erik Solheim, the Norwegian Minister for Environment and International Development, asserted that there is “no way for world leaders to avoid the issue of rights” for indigenous and local people in the design of REDD. The topic of this conference already has their attention; the task before participants was to demonstrate the most effective way of addressing rights within the forest and climate change agenda.
Several encouraging examples were given of progress within the forest sector. From Nepal, senior representatives from both government and civil society were on hand to explain how the lessons of community forestry are now being applied to the development of a national REDD strategy. Recognizing the success with which local people have managed and conserved forests, the government of Nepal has included representatives of community forest groups from the outset in the design of a REDD readiness plan supported by the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). On an international scale, groundbreaking research, presented by Prof Arun Agrawal from the University of Michigan, showed how community forestry can result in win-win solutions in terms of improved livelihoods and forest carbon stocks. He emphasized that such solutions were most likely where communities had control of relatively large areas of forest land and enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in forest management.
Ghana provides a model of good practice in another field of forest policy reform. In September, it became the first Southern country to sign a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union, setting minimum verification standards for timber exports. This success was largely thanks to the full and constructive inclusion of civil society organizations on both sides of the negotiation process, according to Kyeretwie Opoku of Civic Response, the African focal point for RRI. Such an inclusive process, if replicated in the context of the FCPF, would allow the concerns of all stakeholders in the forest sector to be reflected in the national strategy for REDD, substantially increasing the chances of the mechanism benefiting local livelihoods as well as facilitating real emission reductions of greenhouse gases.
Andy White, coordinator of RRI, injected a note of caution, referring to the “wall of capital” that is currently bearing down on forest institutions in the developing world in expectation of windfall profits from future forest carbon markets. These institutions are, mostly, woefully lacking the governance structures required to regulate and distribute this influx in an efficient and equitable manner. Furthermore, it was generally acknowledged that conference delegates, and their respective organizations, had a sketchy knowledge, at best, of the theories and workings of carbon markets. This made the absence of private sector representatives at the conference, carbon finance companies, brokers and venture capitalists, all the more regrettable.
The potential of REDD and the commercialization of forest carbon to foment conflict was noted, but the consequences of this for the design and implementation of REDD were not explicitly addressed. A significant potential source of conflict is the current ambiguous tenureship of forest carbon itself, a new, unique, and loosely-defined “commodity.” The value of carbon stokes fears of a land grab in tropical forests, particularly in areas where local and indigenous peoples’ rights are currently poorly defined, poorly protected, or unrecognized.
The concerns of civil society groups regarding the ability of forest carbon markets to either secure genuine emission reductions or to protect local rights, eloquently voiced at the recent climate change talks in Accra, were again stressed in Oslo. Graham Floater of the UK government’s Office for Climate Change presented the findings of the recent Eliasch Review, which concluded that a carbon market operating under a cap-and-trade system is the only way to generate the finance (US$11–19 billion annually) needed to halve worldwide deforestation rates by 2020. Floater agreed with civil society representatives, however, that insufficient thought had so far been given to a regulatory framework for this market. There was a strong call for entry to forest carbon markets to be conditional, under international agreement, on minimum national standards of tenure and rights recognition, based in large part on the UN 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
REDD, by definition, will reward avoided loss of forest carbon only and will not explicitly recognize and value rights. There may well be a need for additional financing mechanisms, such as a dedicated international fund, to channel benefits to forest communities with no history of deforestation. However, international negotiators are increasingly aware that, without safeguarding rights, REDD will be stillborn. The continuing, diligent participation of civil society groups is required to inform negotiators on appropriate methods to secure these rights, based on past experience, and thus ensure that REDD is, indeed, nothing to be scared of.
RECOFTC Senior Program Officer
For more information on the Oslo conference, including presentations, interviews, and commentary, please visit the conference weblog at www.rightsandclimate.org.
Posted By Ben Vickers at 12:47pm on October 27, 2008
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