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Seeing REDD+

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BY Peter Schmitt
German/Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities '11


James Cameron's recent movie Avatar took a lot of flak for its parallels with the movie Pocahontas, as well as the negative portrayal of the bad, invading humans invading a forested planet and trying to displace the native inhabitants. Evidently people thought that this "green" message was inappropriate and only wanted to see visually stunning effects. Maybe people simply did not want to address the fact that historically we have displaced native populations for our own ends. Personally, I had not given it much thought until some of the recent presentations here at COP 16. Through these presentations, though, I am gaining a new insight into the problems and struggles of indigenous peoples around the world. Their traditions and homes are being disturbed by pressures to develop industry and commercially manage forests.

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is among the new, promising proposals being discussed at the COP 16 conferences to avoid the loss of carbon-rich biomass from forests. REDD+ is a program aimed at establishing a value for environmental services as a means of incentivizing developing governments to protect forests using conservation practices and sustainable forest management. It has been discussed over the past few COP conferences and the details are being worked out now as to who should receive funds from the program and for what. The incentives are also beneficial to the rest of the world because protecting the forests provides more carbon sequestration, which is beneficial because carbon emissions are the leading cause of global climate change.

As great as the REDD+ program sounds in theory, though, there are a lot of concerns being raised by the indigenous peoples groups about the program. Indigenous peoples do not feel they should need the assistance of the REDD+ program because they have been sustainably managing the forests for centuries. The main concern for this group is rather the encroachment of governments on their native lands. Instead of signing on to an international treaty in which the voice of indigenous peoples is barely heard, they would rather governments simply leave them alone so that they can continue providing the same sustainable forest stewardship that they have been providing for centuries.

The concern about encroaching governments is a difficult one to balance with the REDD+ program. On the one hand, the program would likely provide the monetary benefits to allow indigenous peoples to continue their own stewardship in forests. On the other hand, though, REDD+ is turning into a program that is essentially looking to pay governments to leave their people in peace, which almost comes across as paying ransom. So though the program is great on paper, it seems like there must be a better solution to be found to protect the interests of indigenous peoples and the health of global forests. The REDD+ program may be a good foundation and the first step forward, particularly in the development of a scheme to value ecosystem services, but maybe it is more important to protect the rights and lands of indigenous peoples than simply paying off governments.

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