Walk into any conference on biodiversity or natural resources conservation today and you’ll find a whole host of characters that 10 years ago had no business or interest being there. Representatives from large companies, economists, vice-ministers for business development, UN agencies with annoying acronyms and consultants who always seem reluctant to reveal their area of expertise. This mixed bunch of folks are a bit like tourists who stumble into a local bar; tolerated as long as they keep quiet and pay for their drinks (at special tourist rates of course). Occasionally they are allowed on stage provided they punctuate their talks with suitable phrases like sustainable development, triple bottom lines and win-win situations.

The only ‘stakeholder’ you don’t see is a representative of indigenous people. I mean the real kind not someone who has ‘worked’ with them for 20 years. There is no shortage of representatives claiming to know what indigenous people want and willing to make decisions on their behalf. All one has to do is mention Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, Equitable Sharing of Benefits and Prior Free Informed Consent a few times and the box on indigenous people concerns is ticked.

That conservation organisations do not have the legitimacy to speak on behalf of indigenous people has become increasingly obvious. For example, the Resolution of Amazonian Indigenous Forum on Climate Change states in its introduction that;

“Considering that the positions and measures taken by the majority of the NGOs and their representatives do not represent our viewpoint in the decision making process in the negotiations and agreements on the Kyoto Protocol and its consequences;”

When indigenous people do make it to conservation forums, they end up feeling marginalised. For example, at the ad hoc Working Group on Protected Areas of the Convention on Biodiversity in 2008, members of the International Indigenous Forum of Biodiversity staged a walkout to protest against not being taken seriously. In their statement they said that;

“the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) withdrew from the Working Group on Protected Areas because on the previous two days, indigenous peoples were not given the floor on matters of concern to them in a timely manner. This led to missed opportunities for indigenous peoples’ comments and proposed text to be appropriately discussed and reflected in the conference room papers (CRPs)”

Indigenous groups are still hurting from the failure of big conservation organisations to support local movements relating to forest rights, land tenure, extractive industry and encroachment of forests by non-indigenous people. Lack of opportunities for meaningful representation and marginalisation is definitely not the way to rebuild trust. When it comes to indigenous people issues, conservationists tend to shy away as they believe it is a complicated minefield that is best left to others. If conservationists can spend lifetimes in hostile environments trying to understand what makes elusive species tick, they sure can spend some time trying to understand how to regain the trust of indigenous communities.

Show me the money

June 22, 2009

Everything on earth costs money or can only be obtained at the cost of someone/something else. The conservation sector woke up to this reality and started calculating the cost of ecosystem services and livelihood opportunities  from forests. This, they believed would serve as a valid argument for protecting forests from destructive alternate land use. All very fine and noble. But they went a bit too far and started placing a price on forests as well. In boom time, conservation organisations vied with each other to buy leases to a gazillion acres of forest concessions as an alternative to logging. These leases were by no means cheap. Millions of dollars were raised in record time to secure them, as they were guaranteed to generate publicity and in turn more funding.

The flip side of this forest real-estate boom was that cash-strapped governments were let off the hook and absolved of all their responsibilities to safeguard their own natural heritage.  All that they had to do was give the developed world an ultimatum to pay up or face the chainsaw. In their view, the only other option to logging their forests is to sell them to eco-bidders. This sudden influx of ‘green money’ resulted in years of conservation education programmes being flushed down the john. These education campaigns worked on the ‘slow but sure’ model of helping communities restablish the link between forests and people. In one clean sweep, the conservation and forest carbon market has nullified the hard-won gains with a short-term cash influx. Now with the recession, conservation groups and carbon financiers are finding it increasingly difficult to pay governments the asking price for their forests. For example, Cameroon has given Wildlife Works, 30 days to cough up $ 10 million for almost 2 million acres of forests or see it opened to logging and mining leases who are willing to pay to plunder.

In a world experiencing climate change, it is only too easy to assume a global stewardship of the world’s forests as our shared, common life-raft resource. In reality it is far from the truth. The first right to any forest can only be claimed by the local indigenous people and communities living beside/in them, followed by citizens of the State and countries that have a legal jurisdiction over them. Equally, the responsibility for protecting those forests also follows the same chain of claims. A Brussels banker has as much claim on a rainforest patch in Borneo as an Irula adivasi elder has on a Citibank branch in Tokyo. Global solutions to local problems is akin to selling hybrid Hummer trucks to combat climate change.

It is here. The most eagerly awaited climate change draft has been revealed at last. The Draft Negotiation Text of the UNFCCC which will form the basis of the post 2012 climate negotiations was unveiled in Bonn this month and it does look promising. With a draft in hand, the UNFCCC will be hoping that the negotiations in Copenhagen will be less like  assembling a mangled Frankenstein and more like choosing the interiors of your new Prius Hybird car. The fate of final document rests on two words; Curly brackets a.k.a { } , the bread and butter of all negotiators. With {Shall} or {Should} in almost every other sentence of the draft, there is a lot to be won or lost. And the stakes are high. Some interesting developments (all in ye good olde {} of course) in the Draft are;


1. Developed countries to reduce emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and 75-95% by 2050

2. Of this 90% has to be from domestic action and only 10% from offsets.

3. Developing countries to reduce by 25% of 2000 levels by 2050.

4. Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) for developing countries on a voluntary basis but this mitigation cannot be used to generate offsets for developed countries.

5. More prosperous developing countries have to have a NAMA by 2020 and be prepared to undertake actions similar to developed countries after a fixed date.

6. Sectoral commitments for developing countries (steel, power, cement industry, etc.)

REDD/Avoided deforestation

7. REDD (avoided deforestation) to be incorporated as a legitimate part of NAMA

8. Interested developing countries must draft a National REDD strategy covering readiness, demonstrative and full implementation phases along with national reference levels.

9. Separate fund for REDD activities to complement the World Forest Carbon Partnership.


10. Developed countries must fork out 0.5 to 2% of their GDP

11. Price on carbon through auction of emissions

12. Levy on air passengers

13. Levy of 2-5% from CDM projects and 2-12% from emissions trading.

14. Global levy on internation monetary transactions.

15. Monetary penalties for non-compliance to be paid into the Adaptation Fund.

Many developing countries with significant forest cover are waiting with bated breath for the climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December. They will be trying to push for the inclusion of the REDD (Reduction of Emissions of Deforestation and Degradation) scheme into the new climate framework. This would mean that developed countries will pay them for ‘avoided deforesation’ and in exchange will be entitled to forest carbon credits to offset their emissions at home. Tropical forests are saved, global emissions fall, emission targets are met and guilt consciences assuaged. Everyone is a winner. Or so it seems…

A major spanner is this dream sequence is Brazil, the ‘Saudi Arabia of green assets’. Its President Lula, has announced an ambitious commitment to reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 70% over a 10 year period (2006-2017). To pay for this, Brazil has set up the Amazon Fund, which seeks funding to the tune of $ 21 billion from developed countries. So what’s new, you ask? Well the big difference is that unlike REDD schemes, donors to the Amazon Fund WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE for carbon credits from ‘avoided deforestation’. The message is clear; “If you are so concerned about deforestation in the Amazon, be prepared to pay for its role as  global carbon lifeline instead of a cheap source of carbon credits. An expert summed it up nicely, “Brazil is not interested in giving industrialized countries cheap carbon credits from protecting the Amazon if they are not going to stop building coal-fired power plants”. In short, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Brazil’s offer is not to be taken lightly. If it does manage to meet its 10 year commitment, it would reduce emissions equivalent to that of Canada and E.U (annual emissions) combined. The Amazon Fund also takes us back to pre-climate change enlightened times, when people were prepared to pay to protect forests without any payback in the form of emissions reductions. Must forests only be viewed through the narrow lens of carbon capture/finance providers?