REDD is not just about carbon storage

I heard this theme—that REDD is not just about carbon storage—in two strikingly different contexts over the last few days.

On Saturday, in the opening plenary of Forest Day 2, Sunita Narain, stated that one of the three main forestry issues in the negotiations is that forests are not just places of carbon storage, but habitats for communities. To preserve communities of indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities, a successful REDD deal must have equity as a prerequisite.

Yesterday, during the financing and investing session of Business Day, Peter Gardiner, Natural Resource Manager, Mondi UK, criticized some aspects of the REDD dialog. He stated that REDD should not just focus on deforestation: essentially, he too said REDD should not just be a about carbon storage. However—in contrast to Narain—his expanded definition includes forest products and bio-energy. If it doesn’t, REDD may lead to perverse incentives. From the view of sustainable forest and forest product companies—the talk’s focus—this criticism is well-founded. And, certainly, an incorporation of REDD in an agreement may take into account some of Gardiner’s criticism.

Despite this contrast, Gardiner’s presentation also synced with the Forest Day message. He quoted a principle goal of the Forest Dialog, “for forests to achieve full potential, improve governance, and empower Indigenous People and Forest Dependent Communities.” I was glad to hear this incorporated into the presentation, as often the interests of indigenous communities and forest peoples are at odds with the corporate world. It is along these lines that I can’t help but questions, will true equity really be a prerequisite in a REDD deal?  This sentiment was echoed moments ago by Bolivia in the REDD contact group: we must continue to work to incorporate equitable treatment of indigenous peoples in the REDD agreement.

Several years ago I saw first hand how timber companies’ interests conflicted with indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon. Although details are too lengthy for this blog, these companies were either illegally logging or buying off younger tribe members to gain permission to log on indigenous land. I spoke with a member of the panel on “Indigenous and Local Community Perspectives and Climate Change: What is Needed for Effective Strategy to Avoid Deforestation,” after the panel concluded. She believes that REDD projects will provide tribes with a source of income so that they will not “sell-out” to loggers, and will provide revenue to support effective monitoring to prevent illegal logging and invasions. I asked her specifically about the Kayapo—a tribe that was facing many challenges at the time of my visit—and she assured me that she has seen progress along these lines. Yet, due to the gravity of what I’ve seen, I’m skeptical that REDD will provide a complete solution to logging problems on indigenous land.

Nevertheless, if a solution is found, it will only come from a shared agenda. I saw a glimpse of that shared agenda today: both Gardiner and the members of the Forest Day panel agree that the land rights (both access and tenure rights) of indigenous peoples and forest communities must be secured for effective mitigation. I agree that this is a step in the right direction—and will likely prevent illegal logging—but, it will only stop all logging if indigenous communities receive adequate compensation from REDD projects to value their protected land enough not to sell logging rights.