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CLIMATE CHANGE: REDD at Cancun Causes Angst in India

Keya Acharya* - IPS/TerraViva

CANCÚN, Mexico, Dec 4 2010 (IPS) - Forest rights advocates and indigenous community organisations from India are adding their voices to what promises to become the newest division in the climate talks here: the inclusion of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation + in developing countries, or REDD+, as an agreement.

A cloud forest in Costa Rica.  Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS

A cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS

REDD+ essentially supports developing countries financially and technically, to either prevent deforestation or regenerate forests through afforestation.

The resulting carbon sequestration is aimed to reduce overall emissions, while the move itself will enable sustainable forestry and halt degradation.

But the clause is not going down well with forest rights and tribal groups in India over the draft REDD+’s use of agri- business plantations and ambiguity over the land categories to be used for the programme, the latter of which clashes with land rights given to tribal communities under India’s recent Forest Rights Act.

India’s government is staunchly supporting REDD+. In December 2008, it submitted a document to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called “REDD, Sustainable Management of Forest, and Afforestation and Reforestation”.

The government now proposes to use REDD+ as part of its ‘Green India Mission’ to restore 20 million hectares of land into forests in the next 10 years, costing approximately $10 billion, and calculated to sequester 43 million tonnes of carbon annually.

Under its climate change policies, a national REDD+ coordinating agency and a national forest carbon accounting programme are being institutionalised.

Well-known forest and tribal rights expert Madhu Sarin criticises the government’s grouping all categories of land, whether coconut plantations, or forest, private, community or industrial plantations, into its fold for the programme.

She questions whether existing livelihoods, biodiversity, and displacement of forest-dependent communities have been taken into account by the programme.

“Without clarifying who will own the carbon, who will have the right to decide whether to participate in carbon markets or not, and with barely any mention of community forest rights, the Green India Mission seems designed for garnering REDD+ funds for undertaking plantations on community lands in the name of increasing forest cover,” Sarin charged in her blog on the India Environmental Portal, a news website run by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, with sponsorship from the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF).

“According to MoEF’s own data, till 1999, 31.21 million hectares of forest plantations had already been undertaken. If all the plantations had survived why would Rs 46,000 crores (US 10b) be required for another 10 mha today?” Sarin continued.

A joint statement of protest against India’s support of REDD+ has now been issued by an umbrella group of Indian organisations, including the National Forum of Forest Peoples and Forest Workers and tribal rights groups from 13 states.

The letter highlights the “dangers” under India’s strategy under REDD+ of denying people’s land rights and forest livelihoods under the Forest Rights Act, excluding community participation, and allowing land grabs by private commercial interests.

But India’s Environment Ministry believes it has addressed community issues under REDD+, saying “local communities will be at the heart of implementation, with the Gram Sabha [village government body] as the overarching institution overseeing Mission implementation at the village level”, according to its brochure brought out just days before COP 16 began at Cancún.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) also sees REDD+ as one of the best options available to reduce carbon emissions.

While agreeing that the scientific community has so far focused mainly on forest carbon monitoring, reporting and verification without paying adequate attention to social impacts, CIFOR says many REDD+ programmes identify improving livelihoods as an important co-benefit.

CIFOR recently published “A Guide to Learning About Livelihood Impacts of REDD+ Projects” and is collaborating with the government of Mexico to stage Forest Day 4 on Dec. 5, alongside the UNFCCC talks at the Cancún centre.

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