Including indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge in forest management key to REDD+ success
The full and effective engagement of indigenous peoples and the incorporation of traditional forest knowledge in forest management strategies are crucial for REDD+ success in curbing climate change, say experts ahead of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
REDD+ aims to create value for forests as a means to protect them. If designed and implemented in a more inclusive manner, the experts say, REDD+ could contribute to generating revenue, securing indigenous lands and livelihoods and maintaining the culture of forest dependent communities.
“At the very outset, indigenous peoples have to be involved in the design and implementation of REDD+ projects,” said Terry Sunderland, a forests and livelihoods scientist from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “Although engagement with indigenous peoples carries many complexities, these need to be overcome for REDD+ to work.”
REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries while fostering forest conservation, sustainable management, and enhancement of carbon stocks. It is predicted that up to US$30 billion could flow from developed to developing countries each year to help facilitate significant reductions in deforestation. Although REDD+ is recognised as one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to mitigate climate change, it will face costly setbacks should the mechanism not respect the rights of indigenous peoples and other forest dependent communities that are involved in or near REDD+ projects.
“At present, the cultural capital of traditional societies is no match for the financial capital of interests that dominate policy debates worldwide on climate change and REDD+”, said John Parrotta, coordinator of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) Task Force on Traditional Forest Knowledge.
Indigenous and local communities have developed significant bodies of knowledge on how to cope with local climatic shifts including agricultural techniques for managing and conserving forests, water, and soil resources. “These practices can help guide the design of mitigation measures that involve carbon sequestration, forest conservation, and other environmental and social benefits,” said Parrotta.
Myrna Cunningham Kain, an indigenous Miskita from Nicaragua and Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues, says the best scenarios for REDD+ will occur when indigenous peoples become active players in the decision making process. They must be provided with complete and true information, and allowed continued access to forests and their resources.
“We must commit to respect international human rights standards that establish moral and legal obligations to protect and promote rights of indigenous peoples in all matters related to climate change,” says Cunningham Kain. “This includes rights to lands, territories and resources, right of traditional knowledge and free, prior and informed consent as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
The adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the recognition of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) therein are important milestones in securing the rights of indigenous peoples. FPIC refers to the collective right of indigenous and tribal peoples to give or withhold consent regarding decisions that may affect the rights and interests associated with their lands, territories, and resources.
International programmes such as the United Nations Collaborative Programme on REDD+ (UN-REDD Programme) have undertaken global and regional consultations with indigenous groups and other forest dwellers to elaborate on how this right can be operationalised.
“The adoption of procedures to respect FPIC could be vital for ensuring permanence in REDD+ while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and forest dependent communities,” states Charles McNeill, who coordinates stakeholder engagement work at UNDP on behalf of the UN-REDD Programme. The UN is developing guidelines – in consultation with Indigenous Peoples and forest dependent communities – to operationalise FPIC on the ground, under the UN mandate to support the implementation of UNDRIP (see UN-REDD Draft Framework for Sharing Approaches for Better Multi-Stakeholder Participation Practices).
While questions need to be clarified in the operationalisation of FPIC – such as who gives consent and defining adequate representation – the right to FPIC, says McNeill and others, is fundamental to indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination to strengthen the legitimacy, efficacy, ownership, sustainability, and longevity of REDD+ actions.
To address the accelerated loss of biodiversity in forests, other international bodies like the Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD) are adopting strategies relevant to indigenous peoples and local forest communities. The CBD has set a target to halve the loss of natural habitats, including forests, by 2020.