REDD Lights: Who Owns the Carbon in Forests and Trees?

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This paper argues in favor of the ownership by indigenous peoples and local communities of carbon in forests and trees and that such ownership could be the basis of social accountability that should be mainstreamed in implementing what is popularly known as the REDD-Plus mechanism.

REDD-Plus stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, and the conservation and enhancement of existing forest carbon stocks. The mechanism was formally adopted by the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during its 16th session in Cancun, Mexico held last December, 2010 (La Vina et al 2011). In that meeting, governments agreed to the scope of the mechanism, the components of a national REDD-Plus program, and what could be the phases of such a program. They also also agreed to a set of safeguards that would accompany REDD-Plus implementation at the national level, which included assurances that the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities will be recognized and respected. Still pending and currently being negotiated in the UNFCCC is the system of information that needs to be established to ensure that the REDD-Plus safeguards are implemented and respected.

In making the case that indigenous peoples and local communities have ownership of carbon in forests and trees, the authors review the evolution of the international law on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and use examples from all over the world and especially from the Philippines. While asserting such ownership, the authors recognize the authority of governments to co-manage and to exercise joint control over such carbon. Certainly, REDD-Plus programs are national programs and are implemented in the context of treaty and other international obligations.

The paper should be read with an accompanying monograph Implementing the REDD-Plus Safeguards and Monitoring REDD-Plus Finance: The Role of Social Accountability authored by Antonio G. M. La Viña and Lawrence G. Ang. In that paper La Viña and Ang explores and articulates the role of social accountability in implementing REDD-Plus safeguards and argue that, without mainstreaming social accountability mechanisms in such implementation, REDD-Plus programs are likely to fail in producing not only the desired climate change and environmental outcomes but also in avoiding unjust and inequitable results. Likewise, citizen monitoring of REDD-Plus finance is critical – to ensure integrity and accountability in these programs.

Download paper here

Photo of forest by Micky, used under a Creative Commons License.

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