‘Unsafeguarded’ Norwegian money for REDD triggers controversy

‘Unsafeguarded’ Norwegian money for REDD triggers controversy

The dismally slow progress in the intergovernmental negotiations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases prompted the Norwegian government, in May, to fast track its own money through a parallel ad hoc financing mechanism to pay developing countries for reducing their emissions from deforestation. The process was initially set up with minimal participation but, in response to protests, the Norwegian Government insisted that it would require respect for indigenous peoples’ rights and sound governance. These claims are beginning to seem increasingly hollow.

The first test of its resolve has come in Guyana, where the Norwegians agreed to a creative way of passing US$250 million of this money through to Guyana via the World Bank but without requiring that the overall funding be assessed using the World Bank’s safeguard policies (see FPP July Enewsletter). No progress has been made resolving the Amerindians’ claims to their lands and forests, beyond the small titles granted for their villages and restricted farmlands which fail to embrace the territories to which they have rights under international treaties ratified by Guyana.

While the issue of Amerindian rights remains unresolved, the Guyanese government then announced that a large part of the Norwegian funds was going to be spent building a controversial dam deep in the forested interior at the Amaila Falls. Just how this will slow deforestation is anybody’s guess. Barely a day passes in Guyana without allegations being published in the local press of skulduggery in how this project was assessed and contracted. The company that secured the road-building contract has no experience with road construction and is now way behind schedule.

The Norwegian government has also promised US$1 billion over 5 years to Indonesia to slow deforestation. Will this money secure forest peoples’ rights to their lands and forests or will it encourage further central government control of forests? Oceans of ink were spilled by NGOs trying to persuade the Norwegian government that none of this money would do any good unless forest peoples’ rights were first secured and good governance assured. The Letter of Intent, when published, was however full of ambiguity. Instead of the proposed requirement to secure indigenous peoples’ rights in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Indonesian government promised no more than ‘full and effective participation, subject to national laws and applicable international instruments’. Given the weak rights indigenous peoples currently enjoy in national law, and the lack of response from the Government when UN bodies recommended reforms to strengthen them, this is weak stuff.

The national indigenous peoples’ organisation has insisted that measures must be introduced to secure their rights. Even the Indonesian Government’s apparently fulsome promise to halt the hand out of all deforestation permits for two years has turned out to be less than it seemed. First, the moratorium will only start in 2011. Second it will not apply to companies that have already secured permits. What kind of permits? According to SawitWatch, the Indonesian NGO tracking the palm oil sector, provincial governments have already issued start-up permits for over 26 million hectares. Even so, spokespersons from both the palm oil and timber plantations sectors have been demanding special provisions to allow continued expansion.

Now the local press is reporting that one of the government’s chief negotiators with the Norwegians has been accused of accepting bribes. This is very worrying as Indonesia has a dismal record of corruption: over US$5 billion was misappropriated from the Government’s Reforestation Fund in the 1990s. The case for firm safeguards assuring forest peoples’ rights and good governance seems stronger than ever. But is anyone listening?