The Future of REDD+: Communities a Side Note?

Today was REDD+ Day at COP 20. The COP assigns themes to certain days of the conference, in order to emphasize important issues. I have been following REDD+ during this course, and blogging on the issue, so was excited to have the opportunity to attend several meetings on REDD+ today. When looking ahead to COP 20 this fall, I thought that the Warsaw Decisions had redirected the focus of the REDD+ program to address human rights concerns and the needs of local communities. However, as Macarena’s blogs demonstrate, meetings on REDD+ at COP 20 have been about financial mechanisms far more than human rights. This trend continued today, on REDD+ day, where scientific and financial advances in the program were celebrated and safeguards were literally only a side event.

Youth Delegation Protesting REDD+

Youth Delegation Protesting REDD+ at COP 20 (C. Craig 12/8/14)

To begin, pursuant to Decision10/ CP. 19, the first voluntary meeting on the coordination of support for the implementation of REDD-plus activities convened today. During this meeting, which focused nearly entirely on procedure, parties disagreed about who should be able to take part in future meetings. Some parties interpreted the past COP decisions to exclude all stakeholders other than national entities. For example, Brazil said that if experts and communities wish to participate in the meetings, they should do so through their national entities (party delegates.) In contrast, the World Wildlife Foundation, the Indigenous Caucus, Germany and other Parties argued that all stakeholders, including observers to attend the meetings. To me, the fact that inclusion of non-party stakeholders proved contentious was grossly disappointing.  Decision 10/ CP. 19 recognizes the need to “strengthen, consolidate and enhance the sharing of relevant information, knowledge, experiences and good practices, at the international level, taking into account national experiences and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge and practices.” This portion of the Decision, as well as a good body of international law (including Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration), requires the inclusion of local communities in environmental decision-making and supports the case that inclusive participation is essential to a ethical approach to coordination of implementation of REDD+.

In the afternoon, I attended a REDD+ showcase, in which Columbia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico announced the submission of their forest reference levels. Again, I was struck by the limited mention of safeguards.

The final meeting I attended today, a side event entitled “Looking Forward: REDD+ Post 2015,” however, did point the discussion back to people and communities. The panelists discussed the importance of governance structures to empower and protect local and indigenous communities. In particular, Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, gave an impassioned speech on the need to create governance structures that protect indigenous in the implementation of REDD+.

Vicki Tauli Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Corpuz spoke of her skepticism of the REDD+ program, but said that REDD+ has potential to simultaneously address deforestation and alleviate poverty. Further, Corpuz described how Indigenous peoples are protectors of the forest. Research has demonstrated that protection of indigenous rights is correlated with climate mitigation: between 2000-2012, deforestation in Indigenous territories in Brazil was less than 1% compared to 7% in non-indigenous territories. This side event demonstrates that while at the party-level the conversation remains stunted at procedure, the REDD+ framework (as established by the Warsaw Decisions) is far beyond that.  Perhaps because REDD+ is a market-based solution, it will always fall short of what is socially just, or perhaps some parties (e.g. Brazil) have yet to get hip to the necessary protections Corpuz and others understand are necessary.