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10 Oct, 2013

Indigenous Peoples “Must be Represented in Climate Change Deals on Future of Global Forests”

REDD+ Safeguards Working Group Media Release

Indigenous peoples should have a permanent representative in a partnership of 75 countries that aims to decrease the global carbon footprint through reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

Asia- and Australia-based members of the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group (R-SWG), a North-South coalition of civil society and indigenous peoples’ organizations, today issued the call for indigenous peoples (IP) to be granted full partner status in the REDD+ Partnership, a global platform for countries to scale up actions and finance for REDD+ initiatives, during its first-ever meeting in Indonesia, in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, 8-11 October.

“The REDD+ Partnership – and the international community — is missing an opportunity to learn lessons from the ground on the participation of and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples,” said Stephen Leonard, president of the Climate Justice Programme. “A decision to financially support this participation would be particularly meaningful at this meeting in Central Kalimantan following the recent Constitutional Court decision guaranteeing customary rights to extensive forests across the archipelago.”

The Partnership most recently took up the matter at its meeting in Bonn, Germany on 16 June, following a proposal from several indigenous peoples’ organizations. Full partner status would allow the IP representative to participate in all Partnership discussions and meetings on an equal level.

Delegates from several countries welcomed the proposal at the time, with one saying “all stakeholders must be involved…they [IPs] are the ones who live in the forest, not us.”

Alaya de Leon of the Ateneo School of Government in Manila, The Philippines, said having an IP representative onboard would enable a “two-way learning process” as country delegates would gain more knowledge about on-the-ground experiences.

The role of indigenous peoples in forest management is considered crucial as they both protect and utilize forest resources. Hence, the REDD+ safeguards, agreed to at the 2010 United Nations climate change conference in Cancun, include protection of their rights.

Several delegates expressed concern, though, on the economic feasibility of the proposal, since the support of one IP representative would cost between $US2000 and $US4000. At least $US1.2 million of the partnership’s 2013-14 budget of $US3.16 million, however, is earmarked to the secretariat, and support is already provided to developing country delegates. Funding for the Partnership comes from member countries Norway, Finland and Switzerland, among others, and from several United Nations organizations.

One delegate proposed that since IP groups have their own networks and sponsors, the Partnership should build linkages with those sponsor organizations. “The Partnership can open up to those sources of funds, and then we can encourage them to provide support,” he said.

Grace Balawag of Tebtebba, the Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research, said the Partnership should be able to find ways to secure funding for IP participation. She stressed that while they are part of civil society, they are a “different constituency” who are traditional managers of the forests in REDD+ countries, and hence the need for IP representation in all the various REDD+ forums.

Another point raised in the Bonn meeting was the selection process for the IP representative.

“How would they be chosen?” one delegate asked, and questioned whether there should be only one representative or one for every region.

Another delegate said that their choice of an IP representative has the broader implication of “setting a precedent.”

Such a precedent, however, has already been set by the policy board of the UN-REDD Programme, according to Dr Rosalind Reeve, Senior Fellow at Ateneo. That board includes four full member representatives from indigenous peoples – three regional observers in addition to the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).

The UN-REDD Programme has also developed guidelines for free and prior informed consent in relation to REDD+. UN-REDD is a collaborative initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which supports national REDD+ readiness in 48 partner countries,.

Indigenous peoples enjoy observer status with the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), a program of the World Bank, and are members of its technical advisory panels. “Observer status” allows an IP representative to participate in the discussions of the group, but not vote on its decisions or work programme. The World Bank’s Forest Investment Program (FIP) also has indigenous representatives in its subcommittee.

Balawag proposed that indigenous observer selection should be a regional self-selection process from the three regions (Africa, Asia and Latin America), which is already the practice of IP regional caucuses and networks and has been implemented for selecting IP observers in UN-REDD, FCPF and FIP.

But other Partnership delegates said the proposal has to be more specific and needs to be refined. One member recommended that a committee study it before re-submission.

The Partnership agreed in Bonn to decide on the formal request once the proposal provides the necessary parameters for selection process and funding. Sources indicate that a new proposal may be submitted at this week’s meeting in Indonesia, which is chaired by Eirik Sørlie of Norway and Heru Prasetyo of Indonesia.

The participation of indigenous peoples in the REDD+ Partnership was raised as early as 2010, when IP organizations and civil society groups said the platform lacked inclusivity. Following a heated campaign in Tianjin, China in October 2010, stakeholders were granted status as self-funded observers provided they are registered as observers under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCCC).