REDD and rights: lost in translation
Important achievements on rights and safeguards in REDD at UNFCCC now risk being seriously watered down and reinterpreted in REDD policy debates and practices, posing significant threats to the environment and indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples gathered in Cancun in December 2010 to defend previous gains on rights and safeguards in Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations. While some important commitments have been secured on paper, the current challenge is to ensure that these are properly translated and interpreted by those actors that are increasingly engaging in REDD readiness. A final assessment of how the Cancun outcome will impact on REDD is not possible at this stage, considering that policy processes and political positioning require time and resources to evolve and consolidate. However, evidence is starting to consolidate about the hiatus existing between rhetoric and practice, confirming that what was achieved in Cancun might turn out to be nothing but a strong political mandate to intensify support and proceed with REDD readiness while diluting some of the key requirements in terms of rights and safeguards. The convergence between the haste to access funds for readiness and start putting carbon credits on the market and the lack of political will to ensure stringent checks and balances might represent a major threat to indigenous peoples and the environment. REDD countries are resisting any additional commitments to Monitoring, Reporting and Verification while donor governments and agencies engaged in REDD are likely to translate the Cancun agreement as they see fit.
Three facts that occurred shortly before, during and immediately after the Cancun COP16 provide significant evidence of the potential dynamics that could be triggered by the Cancun agreement. A few days before the COP, the Interim REDD+ Partnership held a meeting which significantly downplayed the importance of safeguards in REDD. During the COP, the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) decided - in a particularly non-transparent manner - to enlarge the number of countries under its recent Multiple Delivery Partners initiative, including Peru whose Readiness Preparation Plan (RPP) has been strongly criticized by indigenous peoples’ organisations. Nevertheless, the FCPF decided to support it without any guarantee for the full respect of land rights and indigenous peoples’ rights. Shortly after the conclusion of the Cancun COP, the FCPF and the UN-REDD produced a new, and apparently final, version of their joint RPP template, where previously existing language on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Free Prior and Informed Consent has been substantially watered down, and the procedures aimed at ensuring compliance to social and environmental safeguards have been revised. Similar efforts to conveniently translate the Cancun mandate in a less stringent manner are likely to happen in all REDD policy debates. Therefore, now more than ever, national and community level advocacy has to be tied to these international fora. At the same time, more efforts will be needed to support indigenous peoples’ organizations in their countries, in order for them to produce their own principles for REDD and thus challenge their governments and international institutions to fully respect international obligations and standards on indigenous peoples’ rights.