Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Exactly Whose Language Is REDD Talking?

Personal Note: Regular readers will know my very negative attitude towards REDD - amongst other things it is a certain way of fuelling corruption.

April 07, 2010
Fidelis E Satriastanti Jakarta Globe

Exactly Whose Language Is REDD Talking?

Yuriun, a 67-year-old native of Aceh, knows best when it comes to the traditional ways of protecting forests and preserving local ecosystems in his home province. This wisdom has been handed down from his ancestors, from one generation to the next.

But these days, this knowledge may not be of much use as the fate of the forests is discussed at high-level forums and conferences where people such as Yuriun are often excluded.

Yuriun, coordinator of the Indigenous Community Network of Aceh, said he had heard about a thing called REDD, but was unsure what it was all about.

“This REDD shows up and is heard everywhere but nobody can really explain to us how it works, who’s doing it, what kind of incentives we can get out of it,” he said.

“I only know that it’s a program to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation. But those are the words of smart people, the words of academics — us villagers don’t really understand the meaning of it.”

But indigenous people around the world need to understand REDD, the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative to protect forests in developing countries. In fact, the key to REDD’s ultimate success lies with local communities and indigenous groups, said Harry Alexander, assistant director for law and policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program.

Essentially, REDD — which was first proposed five years ago — is a way to protect forests by providing incentives to developing countries, such as Indonesia, to do so. While it has not yet been formally adopted, REDD is included in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, the nonbinding agreement hammered out during the UN climate talks in Denmark last December.

But Yuriun is wary of the initiative, saying it could just be another way to expel indigenous people from their lands.

“It’ll be our enemy if more traditional lands are occupied, casting us out from the source of our livelihoods,” he said.

Some proposals for REDD’s implementation do involve fencing off large tracts of forest and declaring them completely off-limits, which could potentially overlap with lands that have been inhabited for generations.

But WCS-IP’s Alexander said REDD should not be written off by indigenous groups. He said these groups should instead use the initiative to fight for acknowledgement of their rights.

“All this time, indigenous issues have never been addressed by the government and have been neglected for a long time,” he said. “REDD won’t work without their help, so it’s a good opportunity to remind the government of this.”

But there is also the question of who benefits from the incentives REDD will supposedly provide.

“Before everyone starts talking about REDD, it would be better to talk about who will receive the benefits and to make sure that everybody is invited to discuss this,” Yuruin said.

Alexander acknowledged that this was a complicated matter.

The idea behind REDD is to assign monetary value to the carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas driving climate change — that is not released into the atmosphere through conservation efforts. But who exactly owns the carbon and, therefore, who will benefit from the incentives?

“Is it the state, local government or the people? Can landowners automatically be called carbon owners or not?” Alexander said, adding that carbon ownership issues were being overshadowed by discussions of money.

“REDD will only attract investors if there is clarity on these issues. You cannot sell something if you don’t have the product.”

Furthermore, these issues should be covered by a strong legal framework, Alexander added. In other words, the government should prepare laws and regulations to prevent confusion and conflict over the issue.

“All natural resources in this country are protected by laws, such as mining, water and forestry laws, but we don’t have a law on carbon,” he said. “We have ministerial regulations from the forestry minister about REDD, but this issue does not solely belong to one sector and it’s not enough to be controlled by ministerial regulation as it also concerns money and people’s prosperity.”

Yuyun Indradi, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said REDD would only work in Indonesia if other forestry issues were addressed.

“We have never really tried to resolve the real threats from deforestation,” he said. “Deforestation is more than just illegal logging, because now we have more legal logging. For example, the government issued more logging permits in Riau back in 2005, where they only have less than 35 percent of their forests left.”