Greater awareness needed to dispel REDD+ myths

The basic question for local communities - ‘what are we consenting to?’ - is still unanswered.
, Wednesday, 22 Aug 2012

BOGOR, Indonesia (22 August, 2012) _ Many local communities know REDD+ is touted by international policymakers as the best way to protect carbon-packed forests, but recent studies indicate that communities do not fully understand the scheme’s broader goals or how they stand to benefit economically.

Arild Angelsen, professor at Norway’s University of Life Sciences, and editor of Analysing REDD+: Challenges and Choices, said this is undermining the process.

There has been a surge in anti-REDD+ sentiment by indigenous groups recently, Angelsen notes, attributing it partly to “misconceptions and ideologies.”

“REDD+ is being associated with markets and green capitalism. Carbon markets may play a role in the future, but the fear of markets seems exaggerated,” he said.

“Most REDD+ finance is currently from development aid budgets. And markets are not inherently anti-poor, as some seem to believe.”

Forest dwellers need to participate in the U.N.-backed scheme “in a meaningful way”, he said. They should be aware not only of the opportunities, but the risks and their rights and responsibilities.

REDD+ is being associated with markets and green capitalism. Carbon markets may play a role in the future, but the fear of markets seems exaggerated.

“Given the high stakes of REDD+, it is critical that local voices are heard, not only by project proponents, but also by national and international decision makers,” authors of the CIFOR book said.

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD+, was introduced to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2005 as a way to pay developing countries to not cut down trees, one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Companies, conservation groups and countries that take steps to help protect forests would be eligible for “credits”, which could be sold on an international carbon market.

The CIFOR publication, looking at nine projects in Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia and Tanzania, based on fieldwork in 2010, found villagers’ knowledge of REDD+ to be “generally low,” with only around a quarter of households interviewed ever having heard of it.

Those who were aware generally understood the main objective — saving forests — but did not correlate this to improved incomes even though “all projects plan to support alternative livelihoods, and in some cases, apply payments for ecosystem services.”

This isn’t helped by the fact that many REDD+ developers are hesitant to inform local communities about the global forest carbon scheme to avoid raising expectations that could not be fulfilled if long-term financing fails to materialise.

While it can be argued that there is no need to “burden” local forest users with the intricacies of REDD+, the authors of Analysing REDD+ said both villagers and the international community at large are better off if they understand the basics.

“But meaningful involvement and implementing the principle of Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) is not easy. REDD+ schemes are evolving and there is much uncertainty about the future scope and scale of REDD+. The basic question for local communities – ‘what are we consenting to?’– is still unanswered,” said Angelsen.

Daju Pradnja Resosudarmo, one of the chapter authors, said this further illustrates the need to make sure communities have an adequate understanding of “what REDD+ is, and how it is going to be implemented.”

The basic question for local communities – ‘what are we consenting to?’– is still unanswered.

The consequences of misinformation

A CIFOR and Leiden University study of hunter-gatherers living near mining and logging concessions in North-eastern Philippines found that FPIC was failing the very people it was supposed to protect.

Due to one-sided lobbying from government agencies and operational firms, indigenous peoples’ consent was being repeatedly manipulated and agreements drawn up with little input from the affected communities. This is an unsettling reality, the paper said, considering that “an estimated 50% of all land covered by mining applications in the Philippines is subject to indigenous land claims.”

Where the neutrality of information is in doubt — due to conflicts of interest or power imbalances — Analysing REDD+ advocates that communities employ independent knowledge brokers or legal advisers, including for the signing of legal agreements.

While scientists continue to support the use of FPIC in REDD+, some argue that it could be more successfully implemented in cycles, and repeated as projects advance and change.

“Indigenous peoples are better off if the time, resources, and energy that are presently spent on a fake decision-making process are spent instead on genuine negotiations on the conditions under which extractive companies may operate,” the paper said.

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