Indigenous peoples' informed voices critical in Cancún

One of the biggest issues expected to be addressed in the U.N. climate summit that started Monday in Cancún, Mexico is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

REDD+ policies provide economic incentives for forest conservation by taking into account the amount of carbon trees store and putting a value on living forests and their ecosystems, but REDD+ also has an important human element to it.

A critical component of making REDD+ policies effective is engaging indigenous peoples who both rely on the rainforests for their survival and have valuable knowledge of the forest lands.  Their livelihoods and cultures are put at risk when forests are destroyed, so they have a great deal to gain from preserving their forests through the REDD+ approach.

Indigenous peoples’ involvement within U.N. climate process increasingly strong

Nearly 250 indigenous leaders from around the world, skilled at lobbying for areas of concern for them, are participating in the U.N. climate negotiations going on now in Cancún. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

Many indigenous leaders from around the world have recently become involved in the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, after years of being cut out of political decision-making processes here and in their home countries.

This year, nearly 250 indigenous leaders from around the world are participating in the negotiations in Cancún.

These indigenous leaders have, through their sustained efforts, become experts in many issues within the negotiations, and represent countries, their own indigenous organizations or other “civil society” organizations.  Through their intensive involvement in the negotiation process over the last few years, they have become very skilled at lobbying for areas of concern for them, such as the reference to the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples in the REDD+ negotiation text.

Indigenous leaders within the U.N. are effective representatives of indigenous issues

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of protests against large institutions like the U.N., but it’s important to remember that the official participation of indigenous peoples within the U.N. process is already making encouraging process.

In a paper by the Foundation for International and Environmental Law and Development earlier this year, Chair of the REDD negotiating group Tony La Vina wrote that when compared to other stakeholders in REDD+ negotiations, indigenous peoples were the most effective at lobbying for their issues (pg. 16).

Various indigenous leaders are now part of their governments’ official delegations and directly involved in formulating policy.   And while leaders who are on their countries’ official delegations do have to follow their government’s line of policy when speaking at the conference, they also have access to and are able to participate in meetings that are closed to civil society organizations.

Many indigenous leaders see the U.N. process as a positive step toward increased human rights through the processes at the national level that the U.N. and other REDD+ processes have delivered, and participation within the U.N. process is a positive step in the development of indigenous peoples’ dialogue with their governments.

EDF is working with indigenous leaders at the Cancún negotiations to ensure that REDD+ policies being negotiated increase both the protection of the human rights of the indigenous peoples who live in the rainforests and the conservation of the world’s forests.

This is part of a series from EDF's experts, who are blogging regularly from the U.N. climate conference in Cancún on EDF's Climate Talks blog.

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