As environmental and political leaders struggle to determine how to move forward from the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, a new report by an international coalition of top forest organizations warns that the failure to set legal standards and safeguards for a mechanism to transfer funds to forest-rich nations may trigger a sharp rise in speculation and corruption, placing unprecedented pressures on tropical forest lands and the communities that inhabit them.
The report, released by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) concludes that unclear land rights in some countries, coupled with threats from corruption, could block success of the US$3.5 billion pledged for a program to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by preventing the unfettered destruction of tropical forests.
The authors of ‘The End of the Hinterland: Forests, Conflict and Climate Change’ cite numerous studies suggesting that in 2010 the potential for enormous profits will lead to increased competition over forest resources between powerful global governments and investors on the one hand, and local actors on the other, resulting in new and resurging violent conflict.
“Throwing heaps of money into a system without agreeing to any framework or standards has the potential to unleash a wave of speculation unlike anything we’ve ever seen in our lifetime,” said Andy White, Coordinator of RRI and one of the lead authors of the report. “The result will be chaos on the carbon markets, as well as chaos in the field. It will be like the Wild, Wild West.”
The End of the Hinterland provides examples of conflicts between forest communities and outsiders:
• In Peru, the “Bagua Massacre,” a violent clash between indigenous protestors and military police along the jungle back roads of the Peruvian Amazon, left nearly 100 dead. Sparked by the government’s allocation of ancestral forests lands for oil and gas exploitation, a coalition of indigenous groups occupied key oil installations and roads for several months in protest to a series of presidential decrees that violated their rights to these lands. After 57 days, President Alan Garcia violently evicted the protestors and upheld the decrees.
• In India, despite the enactment in 2009 of a forests right law that was hailed as a landmark for tribal peoples and forest dwellers, reports from the field show little real change. Minimal effort has been made to alert villagers to the law’s provisions, and those who have managed to file claims are only given a fraction of the area under occupation/cultivation with no opportunity to appeal. This is taking place amid escalating confrontation between Maoist rebels and the Government, and many believe the real objective of the Government’s “Operation Green Hunt” is to clear the indigenous forest dweller population, known as adivasi, from mineral-rich lands so that the Government can hand over the lands to the corporations.
Armed with new technologies and tools, such as GPS devices and GIS mapping, indigenous peoples have taken steps to obtain legal recognition of rights to their lands, especially in Latin America, though Africa and Asia remain far behind; it would take 270 years, for example, for the tenure distribution in the Congo Basin to match that of the Amazon Basin.
The report notes as well encouraging signs of progress on tenure reform in countries such as China and Brazil. China’s recent forest land reform, commenced in the early 2000s, allowed collective forest owners to reallocate their use rights to households or to keep them as collective. In 2009, a national-level survey showed that the impact of these reforms have affected more than 400 million landowners and over 100 million hectares of forests, making it arguably the largest tenure reform in history.
In Brazil, the Supreme Court in March 2009 formally recognized the land rights of the Rapos Serra do Sol indigenous reserve, and a legal study of Brazilian and international law concluded that the Surui tribe can claim legal ownership of forest-carbon rights associated with their lands in Rondônia, Brazil.
Nevertheless, despite significant advances in 2009 around tenure reform in certain regions of the world, the report concludes that for real emissions reductions around REDD programs to happen, policymakers must invest in strengthening local organizations, governance, and rights, rather than invest in the same business and development models that failed in the past.
The full report can be read at:
The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) is a coalition of organisations dedicated to raising global awareness of the critical need for forest tenure, policy and market reforms, in order to achieve global goals of poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation and forest-based economic growth. Partners currently include ACICAFOC (Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Agroforestry Communities of Central America), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Civic Response, the Foundation for People and Community Development (FPCD), Forest Peoples Programme, Forest Trends, the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), Intercooperation, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Federation of Community Forest Organisations of Nepal (FECOFUN), and the Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC).