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Delegates on REDD Alert to Protect Forests and Indigenous Peoples

Belinda Lopez

December 15, 2009

The steaming forests of Berau in East Kalimantan are a long way from the grey skies and freezing cold of Copenhagen.

But as negotiators at the UN climate talks struggle to set binding targets for reducing carbon emissions from deforestation (REDD), and financing for the project in the next few days, a thriving carbon program in the Indonesian province is a microcosm of the potential benefits and dangers of the controversial carbon measuring system.

Aside from the ongoing battles about financing and deforestation targets between developed and developing countries, indigenous rights have emerged as a major stumbling block to reaching a legally binding REDD text, Yuyun Indradi, an observer at the climate talks and Greenpeace’s South East Asia forest campaigner, said on Monday.

Ghana, India, the United States and Papua New Guinea have all opposed a proposal to have the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples placed in the operative section of a possible REDD agreement, which would enshrine such rights as legally binding, Yuyun said.

“In countries such as Papua New Guinea, they have a constitution that says they respect indigenous peoples’ rights, especially land rights,” Yuyun said. “But in implementation in their country, indigenous people are mostly marginalized from forestry sector development.”

Meanwhile, the United States had not ratified the UN declaration, he said.

Watchdogs like Global Witness have warned that REDD in its current form is “grossly inadequate” in addressing governance issues and is ripe for exploitation and corruption.

The former secretary general of the Indonesia Ministry of Forestry, Wahjudi Wardojo, now an adviser for the forest carbon program in Berau, is already looking to establish safeguards to protect community rights. Speaking in Copenhagen, he said a central facet of doing so would involve picking community leaders to manage REDD agreements.

“Most of the time we fail working with communities, because we don’t take the right representative,” said Wahjudi, who is now a senior adviser with The Nature Conservancy. “Under our governance issue, we would like to have a group of decision makers in the program consisting of government, the private sector and representatives, and also civil society, who are facilitating work there. Then the money is going to be in a trust fund for Berau.”

Before an agreement in Copenhagen is reached, those involved in the Berau project have no way of saying exactly how much of the carbon accounted for through the preservation of forests and more efficient logging practices can be sold, or how much local communities will receive.

However, the project still needs $50 million from aid agencies and other donors over the next five years to set up the project completely, Wahjudi said. The Nature Conservancy ideally hopes to hand over the forest carbon program to local government from 2015, he said.

On Monday in Copenhagen, eleventh-hour negotiations on forest talks ground to a halt as developing countries demanded clearer financing commitments from developed nations, Indonesian observers said.

Talks on REDD, initially thought to be progressing better than other negotiations at the UN climate talks, had stumbled on the same fault line of differing interests between developing and developed nations. Any REDD agreement depended on the results of talks on an global climate deal for the conference, said Fitrian Ardiansyah, WWF-Indonesia’s program director for climate and energy.

“At this point in time, I would say that there is a 50-50 possibility of REDD being adopted, especially the financing and policy stuff. It is all now depending on the bigger umbrella of the negotiations,” Fitrian said.

A key draft text released on Friday for combating climate change under the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) showed that most figures on emissions and financing are yet to be agreed on.

“Without any clear provision for financing, it would be difficult for developing countries to develop REDD in detail,” Fitrian said.

Land-use change, mostly from tropical deforestation, is believed to represent about 20 percent of current global carbon emissions. Indonesia is the world’s third-largest carbon emitter, according to Wetlands International.

Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to attend the Copenhagen talks on Thursday, where observers are hoping he will provide a clearer indication of how Indonesia will reduce its emissions from forestry and energy by 26 percent, Fitrian said.

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