COP 15 / REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries)

Tip Sheet

Amazon Watch

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Official delegations from 192 countries – including an estimated 100 heads of state amongst them U.S. president Barack Obama – are gathering at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen for the next two weeks to make progress toward a binding treaty to fight climate change. They are being joined by a sizable number of non-governmental organizations and Indigenous leaders calling for climate justice and the explicit recognition of Indigenous peoples' rights in the new climate change agreement.

At the center of the negotiations is a proposed mitigation mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation in the developing world, including the Amazon. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries) is being touted as the cheapest and most quick-to-implement path to cutting carbon emissions, which would pay "less-developed" countries to preserve their forests.

Advocates purport that REDD could ultimately help reduce the estimated 20 percent of the world's CO2 emissions that presently come from deforestation in countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the emerging mechanisms, championed by Brazil and other members of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, are seen as a potential threat to the rights of Indigenous and forest-dependent peoples in yet another attempt to continue business-as-usual exploitation of the region.

"If there is no full recognition and full protection for Indigenous peoples' rights, including the rights to resources, lands and territories, and there is no recognition and respect of our rights of free, prior and informed consent, we will oppose REDD," the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) said in a statement in September.

While the details of REDD have yet to be agreed upon, there are a large number of concerns when it comes to human rights, land rights, accountability and environmental impact. A summary of each of these topics is highlighted below. To contact an expert in one of these issue areas who is currently at COP15, please email one of the contacts listed above.

  • Absence of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Indigenous peoples territories contain most of the world's remaining tropical forests and their stewardship over millennia has led to the conservation and preservation of the planet's remaining native forests. Although the current version of the draft agreement text includes bracketed (still-negotiable) language for the protection of Indigenous peoples rights and livelihoods including their right to self-determination and the right to free, prior, and informed consent as guaranteed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we are extremely concerned that powerful nations will drastically weaken such language over the course of the negotiations, ostensibly in the name of reducing the treaty length.
  • Human Rights Abuses & Displacement. REDD's carbon trading, free market model could compromise Indigenous peoples' rights to their territories and resources. As has happened with traditional conservation models, REDD programs could drastically restrict traditional customs and lifestyles, leading to displacement and impoverishment of Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities. The scheme is likely to exacerbate conflict over land rights with local landowners and governments. By turning forests into a highly-prized commodity, REDD could give way to forced evictions and essentially turn control over a given area of forest to private interests.
  • Threat to Native Forests - On paper at least, the latest REDD draft fails to differentiate between old-growth forests and large-scale plantations. This means old growth forests could be cut down, replanted with eucalyptus or other exotic species and apply for REDD compensation. Critics say it could lead to the deforestation in neighboring parks and forested areas, also known as leakage.
  • A Profitable and Speculative Carbon Market. The REDD rush has been fuelled by interest groups eager to pay to save emissions elsewhere, without curbing their own output of CO2 pollution. In this system, fraud is likely to be rampant (as with the Clean Development Mechanism) and actual reductions are exaggerated and often not "additional." U.S. energy companies, hotel groups, and banks have already signed deals with forest owners in order to establish their own REDD schemes – in some cases facilitated by large conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy.

Additional Resources: To learn more about these and other environmental and social justice issues on the table at the 2009 COP15 UN climate change conference, visit the following links:

  1. New Climate Deal Risks Impoverishing Indigenous Peoples, Global Forest Coalition, October 8, 2009
  2. REDD Forest Agreement Hits a New Low, November 6, 2009
  3. Carbon Trading: How it Works and Why it Fails - Oscar Reyes and Tamra Gilbertson, Nov 23 2009
  4. Non-paper #39, AD HOC WORKING GROUP ON LONG-TERM COOPERATIVE ACTION UNDER THE CONVENTION -Resumed seventh session Barcelona, 2-6 November 2009
  5. The Most Inconvenient Truth of All: Survival International report on adverse impacts of REDD on Indigenous peoples. November 22, 2009

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