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CLIMATE CHANGE: Forests Debate Dominates Talks

Wambi Michael

POZNAN, Dec 8 2008 (IPS) - The debate over reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation is dominating the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Poznan, Poland, Dec. 1-12. At issue is the best way to deal with the 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation.

Forests were left out of the carbon trading system adopted in 1997 under the Kyoto Protocol, due to the difficulties of accurately measuring or controlling the emissions from deforestation. But by the time the Bali Action Plan was agreed in December 2007, it included an action point to strengthen conservation of forests in developing countries.

Broadly, the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation initiative – known as REDD – propose to extend existing carbon trading mechanisms, in which polluters in the developed world buy credits to offset their carbon emissions, to include forests in the developing world, rewarding conservation and sustainable use.

The exact shape of REDD is far from decided. Several proposals are competing for daylight, each with different structures for funding, responsibility for auditing and monitoring; and even definitions of forests.

Indigenous groups view REDD proposals so far as a threat to their right to maintain their culture and livelihoods in forests around the world; they say they have been excluded from negotiations.

Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told IPS, "Indigenous people are the most vulnerable to climate change. We have been disproportionately impacted, yet we have no voice here compared to other stakeholders."


Goldtooth says mitigation measures suggested under Kyoto Protocol are not benefiting Indigenous persons. "The mitigation measures for climate change are very much market-driven and the non-market measures have not been given much attention. We need to end this imbalance."

Murray Gauntlett, the Global Forest Coalition's Oceania focal point person, says REDD must to be suspended until all stakeholders agree on how it will function: "The REDD initiative is very critical, especially for people coming from forested areas in the global South. In those areas the rights of our indigenous people have been violated.

"One of the concerns is that REDD is being fast-tracked by the World Bank through the UN bodies like UNFCCC here with no solid policies around consultations, without recognition of free and prior consent which was recognised by UN general assembly in 2007."

The Global Forest Coalition, a coalition of NGOs and indigenous peoples' organisations around the world, has sharply criticised the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility which has already nominated 14 countries for funds to prepare to implement REDD strategies.

Gauntlett says this and a UN-REDD initiative are premature: "We need for instance to know when the investments come. The question of who owns the trees there. Is it going to recognise the customary rights of people to access the forests for gathering or hunting? We think that issues around property rights have to be addressed. Whose trees will those be? Will they be owned by some foreign company and then rented to us to access?"

According to Debora Ossiya of the Initiative for Minorities and Pastoralists Capacity Transformation in Uganda, communities like the Batwa, Ndorobo and Benet have been threatened by conservation efforts in the past.

"The right way might be to reward indigenous people and other forest dwellers for conserving the forests. The indigenous persons should be given support to nature and develop their traditional knowledge, cultural diversity and biodiversity with in their territories," she said.

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Yvo de Boer told IPS that he has met the Indigenous Persons.

"They have suggested the establishment of an experts group which would look at concerns of the indigenous people across the agenda. And what I have done is to encourage them to come with a specific proposal on what that expert group would be intended to do and how it would be composed and then find friends that are willing to back their proposal. So establishment of a new expert group of indigenous people will have to be supported by governments that are party to the convention at to the protocol," he said.

Goldtooth told IPS that while IEN and others are already canvassing for support and have found at least one government willing to recommend the establishment of an indigenous experts group, he expects it will be a long process.

Sources in Poznan indicated that Bolivia has promised to bring up the suggestion when governments meet at the Conference on Dec. 9. The indigenous persons caucus is also mobilising support from Nordic countries.

 
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