Statement to House of Commons RRI book launch by Marcus Colchester 'From Clash of the Commons to a New Agenda for Forests' 14 July 2008

Statement to House of Commons RRI book launch by Marcus Colchester 'From Clash of the Commons to a New Agenda for Forests' 14 July 2008

First, let me welcome you as the Director of the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), which is a UK-based human rights organisation that promotes the rights of peoples who live in forests. This meeting has been organised jointly with the Rights and Resources (RRI) Initiative which is an international alliance of community organisations, research bodies, conservation, human rights and development agencies and think tanks that has got together to ensure that the needs and rights of forest dependent peoples are accommodated by policies over forest resources. The Forest Peoples Programme is the British member of this alliance.

My job today is just to set the scene for what follows and to provide some context for the findings that Andy White will present, followed by Joji Cariño of the Philippines and Kyeretwie Opoku of Ghana. I also hope to clarify to you why we have chosen the title for today's meeting - ' the clash of the commons'.

We have chosen this place to launch our findings for two main reasons. The first is that we are here thanks to the kind hospitality of Martin Horwood MP who, among his many other responsibilities, is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples. Many thanks, Martin. The second reason is that the House of Commons seems an appropriate place to draw attention to the growing clash we fear between global forest policies addressing climate change and forest peoples - the commoners - the rights-holders in forests.

It's easy for us to overlook in 21st century Britain how important common property regimes are in the rest of the world. Yet these were once a prevalent system for organising land holdings here in the UK. These systems were demolished gradually between the 14th and 18th centuries by the Enclosures, which culminated in the Highland Clearances of the 18th century when a million or so Scottish crofters lost their rights and livelihoods to make way for sheep. Today only vestiges of our commons remain in the UK but in the rest of the world these common property systems are still the norm. For example, in Indonesia, where I work a lot, and which is a country of 230 million people, only 40% of land holdings have been formally titled. All other lands are held by various informal and customary means. Likewise in much of Africa customary laws regulate land ownership with little connection to statutory law. All such peoples are uniquely vulnerable to expropriation, especially when land values rise.

It's thought that something like 1 billion people - amongst them many of the world's poorest - depend on what we call 'forests' for their daily livelihoods. Their rights to their forests are even less secure that other rural peoples, typically because forestry laws classify forest lands as State or Crown lands where local rights are curtailed or ignored. Again we can recall our own history in which the notion of 'forests', which was introduced following the Norman Conquest, led to the takeover of 1/4 of England by the time of Henry II to reserve such lands for Royal Hunts and timber extraction. Our first 'forest' - the New Forest - was only established through the burning of Saxon settlements and many of us think that the myths of Hereward the Wake and Robin Hood arose as expressions of the resentment that English freemen and commoners felt at this expropriation of their rightful domains.

This exclusionary model of forestry was exported during the era of colonialism to the developing world and its this kind forestry, which denies rights, causes poverty and creates conflict and which is still the prevalent form of forestry in much of the world, which FPP and RRI have been set up to challenge.

And now we face a third wave of enclosure. Our global commons - the air we breathe, the waters we all rely on to fall from the sky - is now in peril due to pollution from the burning of fossils fuels and forests. An urgent cry has gone up to stop deforestation - to 'save the rainforests' - and billions of dollars are being mobilised to this end. But allocating these monies is not so simple - who will be rewarded for storing carbon in trees? The companies who develop carbon saving schemes? The governments of the countries where the forests are? Or the local peoples, whose rights in their forests are so insecure?

Obviously we think it is the local people whose rights should be recognised - must be recognised - but as Andy will now explain, the prospects are not so good. What we fear is another wave of enclosure in which forests and lands for hundreds of millions of indigenous people and rural poor are taken over by companies and governments in the name of saving the planet.

So, Andy, over to you .....   [Link to Andy White's statement ]