COP23 Special: What would a rights-based REDD+ look like?

Eight transformational proposals from a new literature review
An indigenous Shipibo woman from the La Roya community at a REDD+ site in Peru. Global discussions are ongoing on the connections between initiatives to tackle climate change, and the rights of local communities, particularly indigenous peoples. CIFOR Photo/Juan Carlos Huayllapuma

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From its outset, REDD+ has divided opinions over its potential impacts on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Partly, this is because REDD+ seeks to address a global issue, but is being readied and implemented locally, often in forests with large areas traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples. These forests are located in countries with different – and often fraught –  histories of interactions and levels of recognition and respect for the rights of indigenous and other forest-dependent citizens.

Responding to these concerns, and seeking to contribute to ongoing discussions on the connections between human rights and climate change, scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) recently carried out a review based on a systematic search of the published scholarly literature that addresses allegations of abuses of the rights of indigenous peoples in the context of REDD+ readiness and implementation.

The preliminary results of the review, published in a new infobrief, seek to contribute to rapidly progressing policy discussions on climate change initiatives by deriving lessons and recommendations for future efforts to address this context.

This research will be officially launched at COP23 on Friday, 10 November in Bonn, Germany.


The review reveals REDD+’s potential to exacerbate already complex challenges to the rights of indigenous peoples. Although the review does not seek to verify the accuracy of the specific allegations in the literature, the findings highlight important concerns for REDD+ readiness and implementation.

The evidence shows that REDD+ affects rights in at least three ways. First, REDD+ projects or programs are sometimes responsible for allegations of rights violations. Second, REDD+ is evolving in sociopolitical contexts and geographical spaces framed by histories of conflict that pre-date current climate agreements, and can aggravate problems in contexts that it is unprepared to address, or to transform. And third, REDD+ has provided some opportunities for change.


We propose three main arenas for action: safeguards; Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC); and rights to territory and self-determination.

The review highlights key points of concern in regard to the UNFCCC’s REDD+ social safeguards. Firstly, although the adoption of safeguards is laudable, countries are only being asked to promote and respect safeguards, rather than being required to do so. The Warsaw Framework requires that countries maintain Safeguard Information Systems as a pre-condition to receive results-based payments for REDD+, but it remains to be seen how this will work out in practice.

Secondly, the national-level implementation of safeguards is affected by country-specific priorities, based on different histories of interactions between states and their indigenous citizens. Long-standing discriminatory and exclusionary decision-making practices may be reproduced through REDD+.

The review also reveals that REDD+ processes have applied FPIC in a manner that has done little to avoid it becoming a tool for communication, countering its original spirit of inclusive decision-making. Without clear and strict guidelines, application of FPIC in REDD+ processes will present great, even contradictory, variation between countries. Also, whilst respect of FPIC is key, it must include a parallel move to secure land rights. A failure to do so obstructs FPIC processes, for example, with regard to the territories within which FPIC would apply.

As for territory and self-determination, the review demonstrates how REDD+ may exacerbate land-related tensions, as it is often implemented in contexts where land tenure is neither clearly defined nor enforced. The preliminary evidence also shows that although there is more pressure from donors for the titling of indigenous territories in the context of REDD+, titling processes have not signaled a pro-rights transformation of the relationship between states and their indigenous citizens.


Despite these concerns, the findings also reveal the potential to transform this situation by promoting and enhancing indigenous rights, and how this can contribute to REDD+’s goals. Recent academic studies on deforestation conclude that areas occupied by indigenous peoples are more likely to be conserved than those that are not, and the review suggests that tenure insecurity is detrimental to REDD+’s aims.

So, what would a rights-based REDD+ look like? We propose eight characteristics as a way forward, noting that these could apply to other climate change initiatives.

A rights-based REDD+:

1. Actively engages with indigenous men and women as rights-holders, not stakeholders or project beneficiaries.

2. Includes formal and credible grievance and redress mechanisms, with a more dutiful research and register of abuse allegations, and access to justice for their victims.

3. Has social safeguards that are more than a tool to avoid negative impacts on passive beneficiaries, and instead recognize the important roles of indigenous peoples in climate change initiatives and conserving forests.

4. Prioritizes the active participation of indigenous men and women, with clear and strict FPIC guidelines to be implemented throughout the REDD+ process, and involves capacity-building efforts at the grassroots to support engaged participation.

5. Leads a concerted effort to enable the implementation of titling and/or formalization initiatives where there are unfulfilled claims to territory.

6. Is aware of how unresolved land-rights claims can negatively impact efforts to implement FPIC as part of national strategies.

7. Thinks innovatively, with attention and funding for pilots and scaling up of existing transformational proposals like Indigenous Amazonian REDD+, which encourages rights, non-carbon benefits, and the holistic management of territories.

8. Is funded with an emphasis on long-term results, thereby avoiding rushed project implementation with unclear safeguards, lax grievance and redress mechanisms, and unresolved land claims.

This research is part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+.

For more information on this topic, please contact Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti at or Anne M. Larson at
This research was supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) with financial support from the CGIAR Fund Donors: 
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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Climate change