REDD: The New Beast in the Forest Brings Hope and Threats to Indigenous Peoples

Deforestation for oil palm plantation in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo Karmele Llano Sanchez, International Animal Rescue

“REDD is the new beast in the forest,” said Patrick Anderson of the Forest Peoples Programme in Indonesia here at Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples workshop in Cairns, Australia.

Deforestation gobbles up an area the size of Greece (13 million hectares) every year. As if that loss wasn’t bad enough, it also produces huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions — a whopping 15 to 20 percent of all global emissions. That’s second only to the burning of fossil fuels.

Sadly, in our economic system, trees are worth far more dead as paper, lumber, furniture, etc., than alive.

In an attempt to reverse this, countries in the United Nations have agreed to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests in a program called REDD: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

This is how it works. Trees take heat-trapping carbon out of the atmosphere as they grow and store it for as long as the trees live. Instead of cutting down trees and selling the wood, the carbon trapped in the living trees can be sold as “carbon credits” on an open market.

A steel, cement, or coal-fired power company in the U.S. or a European country can then buy those credits instead of reducing its carbon emissions. The current price is around $10 per tonne but this fluctuates.

For example, the newly established Carbon Tax in Australia sets the price at $23 per ton in the first year of operations. (One hectare of tropical forest stores between 250-500 tonnes of carbon but varies considerably. An average car emits 1.5 tonne of carbon per year.)

Patrick Anderson of the Forest Peoples Programme in Indonesia. Photo: Stephen Leahy

“Everyone’s chucking money at Indonesia to get carbon credits,” said Anderson. “Its probably because it’s too hard to reduce emissions back home.”

About 80% of Indonesia’s carbon emissions come from deforestation, making it the third largest emitter after the U.S. and China. In 2009 Indonesia said it will reduce its emissions 60% by 2030 — most of that will come from reduced deforestation.

The world’s remaining forests are not just big green carbon storage tanks, they are the homes and territories of diverse Indigenous peoples. Indonesia has 750 tribes and 100 million out of a total population of 240 million on its 17,000 islands, including Borneo.

“Indonesia doesn’t recognize the rights of its Indigenous peoples and grants logging concessions without involving them,” said Anderson.

There are at least 40 REDD projects underway in Indonesia and not once were local peoples first asked if they want to participate, he said. While REDD can help protect forests and could bring local people much-needed income, the devil is in the details… or in this case the demands of the marketplace.

Like any market, the carbon market demands verification of how much carbon is in a forest and how much carbon will remain there over 40, 60, or 80 years. This is both very technical and very expensive to do. Purchasers of carbon credits also want contractual agreements with forest owners to guarantee the carbon stays in the forest, which may prevent local people from using the forest to grow food, fix a roof, or even hunt for generations.

And then who gets the money? So far it’s not the Indigenous peoples, said Intu Boedhihartono, a researcher at James Cook University in Australia. “Very little money from carbon credits is going to them,” said Boedhihartono, who works in Indonesia and the Congo.

The carbon market involves hundreds of millions of dollars. One major obstacle in accessing some of that carbon credit money is Indigenous peoples’ lack of formal land title, she said.

The global community still hasn’t recognized our inherent rights, said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director, Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education).

REDD will fail if forest peoples are kept out of the negotiations and if states do not ensure that our right to free, prior and informed consent is properly respected, said Tauli-Corpuz, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the Philippines.

That includes the right to say ‘no’.

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Human Journey

Meet the Author
An international environmental journalist for more than 20 years, Stephen Leahy has been published in dozens of publications around the world: National Geographic News, The Guardian (UK), Vice, New Scientist, Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), Al Jazeera, Mo Magazine (Brussels), TerraGreen (India), Toronto Star, China Dialogue (UK), Earth Island Journal, The London Sunday Times, Wired News, BBC Wildlife. Stephen was a co-winner of the 2012 Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for reporting on Climate Change, and the author of Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products (Winner Best Science Book 2014)