Are REDD+ safeguards supporting community land, resource, and carbon rights?

Steps forward from the review of 11 safeguard standards
Yanesha women collecting forest seeds and fiber to produce handicrafts, Peru. Photo by Marlon del Aguila/Banco Mundial, CIFOR-ICRAF

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There is growing evidence of the critical role that Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and local communities (LCs) play in the effective implementation of forest-based initiatives, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) framework for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). With half of the world’s tropical forests located in territories stewarded by IPs and LCs, the value of community partnership and engagement cannot be overstated. 

However, structural inequalities and implementation guidelines that are not supportive of community rights are challenging the vital participation of IPs and LCs in forest-based initiatives – as partners, rather than as mere beneficiaries. If managed correctly, the self-determined participation of IPs and LCs in REDD+ could catalyze results that benefit both forests and people. 

As part of the Global Comparative Study (GCS) on REDD+, scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) have created a series of flyers that explore the rights and social inclusion concerns of IPs and LCs under 11 voluntary safeguard standards and guidelines for multilateral funding institutions. By providing a pathway to shift from the minimum goal of ‘doing no harm’ to one of ‘doing better’, the series seeks to redefine the way community rights are integrated into safeguard design, implementation, and monitoring. 

The newest flyer in this series examines if and how REDD+ standards and guidelines recognize the land, resource, and carbon rights of IPs and LCs. 

REDD+ and the rights of IPs and LCs

Since the earliest discussions about REDD+, community organizations and their allies have urged for the recognition and respect of land, resource, and carbon rights. In response to these appeals, as well as concerns regarding REDD+’s environmental impacts, the UNFCCC introduced a set of social and environmental safeguards, known as the ‘Cancun safeguards’. 

However, these safeguards do not contain specific guidelines; rather, they serve as principles that each REDD+ country can interpret in accordance with its own legal and policy frameworks. While this flexibility has its benefits, it also leads to a wide interpretation of the same principles, since different countries have different understandings of community rights based on their national frameworks and the international agreements to which they are signatories.

As a result, REDD+ actions have been advanced and implemented in areas where community tenure over land and resources is unclear or unenforced. This dynamic is problematic because UNFCCC decisions on REDD+ acknowledge the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but the actual execution of this mechanism does not sufficiently incorporate the broad spectrum of rights recognized in UNDRIP.  

The safeguards developed for results-based payment agreements and voluntary carbon markets may provide an improved pathway for community rights. CIFOR-ICRAF’s comparative analysis of REDD+ guidelines and standards also reveals some of the work that still needs to be done to cultivate essential support for community land, resource, and carbon rights. 

Safeguards at a glance 

The most recent flyer provides a summary of research and findings in a table assessing the guidelines and standards across six criteria. 

The first criterion rates each institution’s guideline or standard based on whether or not they recognize community land and resource rights, and the second addresses community carbon rights within the same context. The third and fourth criteria denote whether each guideline or standard requires initiatives to carry out a community tenure assessment, and whether they recognize community tenure, respectively. The fifth line assesses whether the listed guidelines and standards adequately avoid negative community impacts, and the sixth notes the extent to which they mitigate said impacts. 

Ratings are categorized as fully aligning (‘yes’), aligning in a limited capacity (‘partial’), and unaligned (‘no’), based on the team’s review of the available documents published by each participating institution. 


The core finding from this analysis is that, despite wide recognition of community land and resource rights within national and local legal frameworks, community carbon rights are virtually nonexistent. While just over half of the standards do reference carbon rights in a broader sense, not one advocates for community carbon rights specifically. 

This separation of land and carbon rights is disadvantageous because the two tend to be closely linked in REDD+ countries. For example, in some countries, those who hold rights over forests are included among the beneficiaries in REDD+ benefit-sharing mechanisms. However, if the same communities do not hold rights to carbon, they are excluded from decision-making processes on the commercialization of emission reduction units derived from their land.

Furthermore, most of the standards state that physical and economic displacement are to be “avoided”, rather than prohibited. And, in most cases, displacements are only deemed as such if they involve formally recognized communities. While most of the standards require compensation or restitution for resettlement that improves – or at least restores – livelihoods, not all of them require consultation with affected groups to inform or guide these processes, thus infringing on UNDRIP-recognized rights to self-determination.

Some of the standards feature additional protections, including identifying and resolving land and/or resource conflicts prior to project implementation. In cases of displacement, this requires the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of all communities – not just those that are legally recognized. These provisions, however, should go beyond mere suggestions and should not be limited to application only “where feasible”. 

Moving forward

Although headway has been made in the recognition of community land and resource rights, further progress is necessary to overcome the legal and political barriers that inhibit IPs and LCs from asserting self-determined use of their lands and resources. The UNFCCC’s mention of UNDRIP in its decisions regarding REDD+ is laudable, but most standards and guidelines require that project proponents follow national legal frameworks, which tend to limit community access to land, resources, and the wide scope of rights under UNDRIP.

To ensure equitable implementation of the REDD+ agenda, it is imperative to clarify and secure community tenure while also addressing community carbon rights. Attaining clarity on the current, loosely-defined standards will foster more just and effective REDD+ outcomes and advance climate mitigation efforts worldwide. 

Respecting land, resource, and carbon rights should be a strictly-monitored priority, as well as a prerequisite for fund disbursement. REDD+ safeguards should be crafted with the intention to elevate IP and LC engagement in land, resource, and carbon management. Steps should be taken to centralize specific requirements and monitoring procedures under UNDRIP to propel nondiscriminatory climate action. 

With upcoming publications in this same series, and lessons from fieldwork conducted in Indonesia, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, CIFOR-ICRAF’s GCS REDD+ will continue to evaluate how safeguard standards can best support the rights of IPs and LCs.

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne M Larson ( and Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti (

This research is part of CIFOR-ICRAF’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+. The funding partners that have supported this research include the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad, Grant No. QZA-21/0124), International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU, Grant No. 20_III_108), and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRPFTA) with financial support from the CGIAR Fund Donors. 

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Climate change