REDD+ and Ecuador

Being at Cancun has thus far been an incredible opportunity. I arrived here on Saturday evening, and upon the advice of my fellow Yale delegates, I quickly got into the ocean as they said this was probably the only chance I would have to enjoy some waves. They weren’t kidding. Since Monday morning, things have been incredibly hectic, and I’ve been trying to attend as many side-events and presentations as possible, as well taking sometime to attend the plenary to see firsthand just how the UNFCCC process works.
Since the summer, I have been working closely with a small Ecuadorian NGO named CEPLAES. With funding from the Norwegian Rainforest network, this organization has been actively participating in a campaign called the “rainforest and rights’ initiative, which seeks to promote the participation of civil society in the UNFCCC process and tries to impulse for the necessary safeguards and rights of vulnerable communities, especially as how these pertain to their forests. Besides being an active presence at international climate change deliberations, CEPLAES is also part of the ACCRA Caucus and carries out a campaign within Ecuador to ensure that communities are well aware of what is being proposed internationally and nationally, what their rights as communities are, and to include in the discussion some of the most marginalized sectors of society, such as indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian communities, as well as women.
A large part of their work has centered on following the proliferation of REDD. Having been studying the feasibility and concerns of including indigenous communities under such project frameworks, it was clear that my work easily overlapped with theirs, and a strong relationship has been developed between CEPLAES and me, even before the semester began. While in Cancun, my duties have been two fold. On the one hand, I have tried to keep up with all the new technologies, policy proposals, and deliberations of trying to institute a REDD mechanism. On the other hand, I have also been actively involved in determining how Ecuador is building their own REDD strategy, and how the concerns of civil society and disenfranchised groups within the country have been taken into account in the process.
As we all have heard, it was understood from the get-go that a global agreement on climate change in Cancun would not be reached. While this may seems frustrating to most, it has allowed for considerable steps to be taken in other areas where common ground can be found. REDD has been one of these areas. It has been incredible tracking the progress of this initiative since it was brought to the forefront of climate negotiations, first during the mid 1990’s, and then most prominently in Bali in 2007. Even a year and a half ago, many observers, academics, and human rights organizations were skeptical of the idea , but it is clear that now more than ever REDD will become a reality and that some of the most collaborative action here in Cancun will focus on moving these projects forward.
Notes, publications, and observations have been gathered from a number of events regarding REDD here in Cancun. I have been able to attend events centering on such things as recent research on benefit-distribution methods, technological advances on systems of MRV (monitoring, reporting, and verification), methodology and certification processes, and country readiness and pilot project efforts. Links to this information, as well as a summary of my notes, and access to a number of recent publications I have gathered, will be provided once I get back to New Haven.
At the plenary, considerable progress has been made on this topic. Even indigenous peoples’ organizations feel more comfortable as an addendum has been included to the text which specifically refers to recognition of the UN declaration of indigenous peoples’ rights. However, some controversy remains over other topics, specifically the inclusion of market systems in order to pay for these projects. Numerous countries, mainly in Latin America, are still opposed to market or neoliberal systems to be put in place. While mainly economically and ideological in nature, their opposition also stems from the notion that REDD will simply be used as a ploy to allow Annex 1 countries to continue polluting while not taking effective action in reducing their own emissions. A complete and comprehensive agreement on REDD is thus probably not likely. If an agreement is reached, experts state that this will be really general, and that conferences, technology, and further policy reviews will have to continue to be developed for years, even decades to come. On a positive note however, there is enthusiasm that the money pledged by certain countries (mainly the US and Norway) will finally start flowing to encourage REDD readiness in some countries. Though discussions are still going, it is still most probable that the available funds will be offered by the FCPF, UN REDD, USAID, etc.
On the other front, I had the ability to personally ask a question to the president of Ecuador yesterday. Ecuador is still intent on pushing their Yasuni-Itt initiative as part of their main strategy to combat climate change. As some of you may know, this is the initiative to forgo oil drilling in a national park in return for compensation from the international community. Attending a press conference spearheaded by the president on this topic yesterday, I took the opportunity to also ask about REDD and the national strategy that was being developed. At first he seemed a little discomforted with my question, mainly because he wanted to remain on the discussion of the initiative, but as I later found out, there were other reasons for his discomfort. He was very cordial, and after diverting my question to a member of his cabinet, he also answered and threw in his perspective at the end. It seems like Ecuador is finally warming up to the idea of using a market scheme to help fund REDD in the future, with the president saying, “There is no reason why we should fear markets, what we have to do is use markets to our advantage.” As a colleague later told me, other members of the ALBA union (the Bolivarian alliance), mainly Venezuela and Bolivia, may still not be comfortable considering markets, thus making the topic a bit controversial, politically speaking. I Hope I just didn’t shoot myself in the foot if I someday apply for an environmental position in his administration !?@??@$*^%