A useful climate-change policy tool, or a license to deny forest dwellers' rights?
Deforestation causes about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but tackling the problem has proved as difficult as reducing fossil fuel-based emissions. The most promising current approach is a proposal called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), which will be a centerpiece of the December 2009 international meetings on climate change in Copenhagen. REDD is meant to help poor countries reduce deforestation by enabling aid organizations, NGOs, corporations, and governments to buy carbon credits generated from activities that keep forests standing. The buyers could then apply the credits toward their own quotas or trade them in carbon markets.
REDD is a critical policy tool because slowing deforestation can simultaneously help to put the brakes on catastrophic climate change, slow species loss by protecting habitat, and promote sustainable development. And while the technical challenges are immense, some experts believe that REDD may be the one coalition-building facet of a hotly debated post-Kyoto climate agreement.
But some key affected parties have serious doubts. Forests provide homes and livelihoods for millions of the world's poorest people. Many traditional forest dwellers and indigenous groups do not own the forests they live in and have voiced substantial opposition to REDD. In 2008, indigenous leaders railed against their own representative body, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, for what they saw as a failure to represent them in the climate change debate. The Indigenous People's Global Summit on Climate Change last April produced a declaration that REDD must "secure the recognition and implementation of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, including security of land tenure, ownership, recog?nition of land title according to traditional ways, uses, and customary laws, and the multiple benefits of forests for climate, ecosystems, and Peoples before taking any action."