Author Archives: Chris Meyer

Clarifying the Role of Non-Carbon Benefits in REDD+

(This post was written with the help of Sarah Marlay, EDF summer intern and graduate student at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies)

In the face of the growing threat of climate change, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) has been a hot topic in international climate negotiations for nearly a decade.

Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are currently in the process of deciding on many important elements of the REDD+ policy framework. The ‘non-carbon benefits’ of REDD+ activities is one such issue that is just now being discussed in two different forums under the UNFCCC.

In June, countries at the UNFCCC’s 38th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) proposed a draft text to be considered at the Conference of the Parties’ (COP) 19th session this coming November. The draft text acknowledged the need for clarity on the types of non-carbon benefits and related methodological issues and for the discussion to take place in 2014.

Also, this week Parties will convene a workshop on the COP Work Programme on Results-based Finance for REDD+, with the mandate to explore ways to incentivize non-carbon benefits.

In this post, I offer my answers to the two key issues related to non-carbon benefits that have been raised by the Parties this summer: the lack of clarity surrounding non-carbon benefits; and the need to identify ways to incentivize non-carbon benefits in REDD+.

For a more in-depth discussion, please see  our policy paper on non-carbon benefits.

Lack of Clarity Surrounding Non-Carbon Benefits

Defining Non-Carbon Benefits

‘Non-carbon benefits’ are positive outcomes resulting from REDD+ activities beyond those associated with carbon storage and/or sequestration. Non-carbon benefits are often broken down into 3 main types: social, environmental and governance benefits.

The diagram below provides several examples of potential non-carbon benefits in each of these 3 categories:

One difficulty with the term ‘non-carbon benefits’ is that it encompasses such a wide range of potential benefits that it becomes challenging to target and promote specific non-carbon benefits at the national level.

To provide additional clarity on non-carbon benefits, specific non-carbon benefits should be identified and prioritized at the national level, according to each country’s objectives and context.

Once selected, these priorities for non-carbon benefits can inform the design of the national REDD+ program.

Clarifying the Relationship between Non-Carbon Benefits and Safeguards

At COP 16 in Cancun, Parties of the UNFCCC adopted a list of safeguards that should be promoted and supported by REDD+ activities. Through this decision, key non-carbon benefits were formally incorporated within the framework of ‘REDD+ safeguards.’

While certain safeguards are protective in nature and set minimum standards for REDD+ actions, other safeguards fall within the category of ‘non-carbon benefits’ by extending beyond protective measures to require that REDD+ activities promote and/or enhance social, environmental and governance benefits.

Incentivizing Non-Carbon Benefits

Centrality of Non-Carbon Benefits to the Success of REDD+

There has been growing global recognition of the fact that, if REDD+ is to succeed in mitigating climate change, non-carbon benefits must play a part. It is often through the promotion of these benefits that many REDD+ strategies address the root causes of drivers of deforestation and achieve real and permanent emission reductions.

Ways to Incentivize Non-Carbon Benefits

The discussion in the COP Work Programme this August will focus on Phase 3 of REDD+, when payments for REDD+ results will be made.

Here, I suggest ways that non-carbon benefits can be incentivized in Phase 3 by both the UNFCCC and avenues external to the UNFCCC.

The UNFCCC should incentivize non-carbon benefits by making results-based payments conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards link more explicit.

Despite significant progress in the UNFCCC in institutionalizing safeguards, Parties have not clearly defined ‘results-based payments.’

‘Results-based payments’ should be defined under the UNFCCC as payments for emission reductions that are conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards. Under this definition (and as already stated in the Cancun Agreement), only REDD+ activities that enhance social and environmental benefits, incentivize the conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and promote effective forest governance mechanisms, along with the other safeguards, will be eligible to receive payments.

Outside of the UNFCCC and the REDD+ mechanism, REDD+ activities can receive direct compensation for non-carbon benefits by securing funds from funding sources that promote specific non-carbon benefits.

For example, Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) initiatives worldwide have promoted and directly paid for diverse ecosystem services, like biodiversity conservation.

Additionally, emission reductions associated with non-carbon benefits are more competitive in carbon markets and in attracting multilateral or bilateral funding, thereby providing another incentive for REDD+ activities to promote non-carbon benefits.

In the voluntary carbon market, emission reductions achieved while promoting non-carbon benefits often receive higher prices, and there has been growing demand for larger quantities of these credits. Also, national REDD+ programs with prominent non-carbon benefits may have a higher likelihood of securing multilateral or bilateral funding arrangements (the case of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s Carbon Fund).

The Role of the UNFCCC Moving Forward

To help bring clarity to the discussion surrounding non-carbon benefits, Parties of the UNFCCC should begin identifying and prioritizing non-carbon benefits at the national level. This progress will help clarify the types of non-carbon benefits that will be promoted and potential challenges to their implementation.

In order to incentivize non-carbon benefits, Parties should adopt a definition for results-based payments that clearly defines them as payments for emission reductions that are conditional upon compliance with the REDD+ safeguards.

While there is general consensus that non-carbon benefits are closely tied to the success of REDD+, what remains is for the Parties of the UNFCCC to clarify the role of non-carbon benefits in the global REDD+ framework, and in doing so, strengthen the foundation of REDD+ itself.

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD |: | 2 Responses

Workshop for Indigenous Technicians Kicks Off REDD+ Capacity Building

  • Compass – check
  • Fluorescent orange flagging tape – check
  • Woods Hole Research Center’s Forest Carbon Measuring Field Guide – check
  • Garmin GPS 62sc units –check

Those were all items that  Indigenous field technicians learned to use, and learned to train their fellow Indigenous peoples to use, for measuring forest carbon at a November train-the-trainer workshop.

The workshop included teams of two from Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. It was organized by a consortium consisting of the Coordinating Body of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC). In addition to training, it also covered the basics of climate change and of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

Following this training workshop, each team of technicians has returned to its respective country to hold a series of community workshops over the next six months. The teams have ambitious goals: train leaders from at least 100 communities in their countries; collect 25 measurements of forest carbon from specific locations; and coordinate their work with government authorities, Indigenous organizations, and other organizations involved in REDD activities.

In addition to being a big step forward in actually implementing REDD+ on the ground, this initiative is noteworthy because it marks the first time that IDB has provided direct financing to any indigenous organization to execute a project. Previously, the money would have passed through the government or a northern non-profit such as EDF.  COICA’s capacity to directly receive those funds illustrates the tremendous progress being achieved by indigenous groups in building their institutional capacity.

REDD+ workshop photo

COICA technicians zero in on key coordinates

The workshop was located in Puyo, Ecuador, where many of the Amazon’s tributaries begin. Puyo is  a region where jungle is slowly disappearing as a result of conversion for agriculture.

Drs. Wayne Walker and Alessandro Baccini from WHRC designed a set of activities to build the forest carbon measuring skills. The technicians started practicing navigation using their GPS units to find locations throughout the city, and eventually navigated into denser and more difficult forest. From the forest locations they found with the GPSs, they measured 40 meter by 40 meter plots (about 130 feet by 130 feet), at first in an open grass area and later in a dense forest similar to what they’ll encounter in their countries. Measuring and monitoring of non-carbon forest elements was also discussed.

The technicians will be using similar activities in their two or three-day workshops at the community level. In addition to those practical “field classroom” activities, the curriculum will also include information on REDD+ and climate change that will be taught through adult-oriented learning activities such as participatory mapping and experiential sharing.

EDF and WHRC provided COICA with technical assistance in designing the November training workshop and will support the technicians throughout their six months of holding community workshops and collecting field measurements. While EDF expects the community workshops to be highly beneficial in building Indigenous peoples’ capacity to carry out these activities, we believe this project will also highlight the ability of Indigenous technicians to collect forest carbon measurements on their own and use that data to produce carbon maps and land management plans.

Overall, the ability of Indigenous Peoples to participate in REDD at national levels will visibly be strengthened immensely – a necessity if REDD+ is going to work.

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, Forestry, Indigenous peoples, REDD |: | 2 Responses

EDF selected as representative to UN-REDD Program Policy Board

A child from the Sao Felix community in the Brazilian Amazon. (Photo credit: CIFOR)

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is very pleased to be the newly selected representative to the UN Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) Program Policy Board for northern (i.e., developed-country) Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The Policy Board is a critical component of the UN REDD Program, providing strategic direction and approving financial allocations. The Board is comprised of representatives from partner countries, donors to the Multi-Partner Trust Fund, civil society, and indigenous peoples, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Development Program, and the UN Environment Program.

As one of the Board’s Civil Society Observers, EDF will participate in UN REDD Program Policy Board meetings, and solicit concerns to be raised at meetings on behalf of northern civil society organizations; EDF will also share information among its networks about REDD meetings and processes. EDF’s first meeting as a CSO will be the Ninth UN REDD Policy Board meeting in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo on October 26th and 27th (see agenda).

EDF recognizes that there is a lot of confusion surrounding the UN REDD Program and its “cousin” REDD initiatives, and that information on how participating organizations interact with one another, governments and indigenous populations is not always clear or easily accessible. In an effort to answer some of the questions about the REDD process and key players, EDF has prepared a brief explanatory document. In it, you can find a breakdown of the three major REDD initiatives – the Forest Investment Partnership (FIP), the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), and the UN REDD Program – describing which REDD activities they are involved in, which countries they partner with, and their main REDD objectives.

In addition, EDF has set up a specific web page for those interested in the UN REDD program. EDF will update this website with information and news on the UN REDD program meetings, and will promote the discussion of REDD initiatives on various forums and threads as well. Shortly after the Brazzaville meeting, we will provide an update on developments there.

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD, UN negotiations |: | 2 Responses

REDD+ finance, indigenous rights protections move forward in 2012 with boost from Durban negotiations

This is a joint post by Gus Silva-Chávez, EDF's Climate & Forests specialist and REDD+ project manager, and Chris Meyer, who coordinates EDF’s REDD+ activities with Indigenous Peoples.

The most recent UN climate negotiations wrapped up in December with a better-than-anticipated outcome, but the preparations for the next set — this year in Qatar — are already underway.

Policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and to protect the rights of indigenous peoples who live in the forests made important progress in the recent UN climate negotiations in Durban.

We've spent some time reflecting on the outcome of the 2011 talks in Durban, South Africa, especially on progress on policies to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, known in the UN world as REDD+. REDD+ was a huge winner in the 2010 negotiations, when the UN put its seal of approval on the policy, and this year made some additional progress, most importantly in finance and in ensuring rights for indigenous peoples.

We were recently invited to write about the REDD+ negotiations in Durban for the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), a coalition of -collaboration of 14 states and provinces in the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria that was formed in 2008 at the first Governor’s Global Climate Summit.

Below is our analysis of where REDD+ negotiations ended in Durban, and what we're likely to see as countries gear up for the Qatar negotiations. You can find additional analysis of Durban negotiations by EDF's International Climate Program Director Jennifer Haverkamp in her blog post In Durban, world's major economies show will to address climate change.

The Durban REDD+ Outcome

Cross-posted from the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force Newsletter (January 2012)

In an annual ritual, government negotiators, NGOs and journalists attended the December 2011 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Durban, South Africa. Negotiators in Durban approved technical guidelines for ensuring that reference levels — benchmarks for measuring progress in reducing emissions from deforestation — have environmental integrity. EDF had been eagerly anticipating this technical decision going into Durban, these new guidelines will provide a framework and necessary guidelines on how to establish reference levels that are based on science and that can serve as a measuring stick for environmental performance and financial compensation.

REDD+ policies got a major boost in Durban when countries agreed that all sources of funding, including carbon markets, are eligible to pay for REDD+ activities. After years of exploring how to pay for all three stages of REDD+ (capacity building, early implementation and national-level pay-for-performance), the UN has put its seal of approval on the use of markets. Estimates indicate that while public financing is needed, especially for the capacity building stage, only large-scale, sustainable funding from carbon markets will generate sufficient funding. EDF applauds this decision.

The decision on REDD+ finance, in the “Long-term Cooperative Action” (LCA) negotiations, included a clear endorsement of all sources of finance, a call for a REDD+ finance workshop and a technical paper in 2012.

Looking forward to next year’s climate negotiations in Qatar, countries will start deciding on the details of reference levels, and some will begin to calculate their reference levels using the guidance decided in Durban. As more specific REDD+ financing methods are developed, countries will hold a REDD+ finance workshop and produce a technical paper that will attempt to answer some of the questions around financing REDD+.

Indigenous peoples & REDD+

Negotiators in Durban approved critical provisions for ensuring the rights of Indigenous Peoples are respected and will be safeguarded in the implementation of REDD+ programs. Parties also outlined the protections for Indigenous Peoples prominently in the LCA’s financing sections. Still, negotiators only developed a framework for systems of reporting on the implementation of REDD+ safeguards and decided to continue working on the content of these REDD+ systems next year.

Durban resulted in a positive step forward in providing preliminary guidance for the reporting on the implementation of safeguards as countries launch REDD readiness initiatives already being financed through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, UN-REDD program, and other bilateral initiatives. More importantly, we’re seeing indigenous peoples in many countries developing their own consultation and information gathering processes that will feed information into these systems.

The Durban conference as a whole produced surprisingly good results, given our modest expectations. However, it is important to note that there are a lot of concrete actions taking place outside of the UNFCCC forum, including efforts to open a path for REDD+ credits from Brazil, Mexico and beyond to flow into California’s emerging carbon market. Top-down efforts at the international level can only succeed if bottom-up actions like these are being successfully implemented.

For additional information on EDF’s international work, please visit edf.org/international.


Posted in Deforestation, Durban (COP-17), Indigenous peoples, REDD |: , | 2 Responses

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and EDF partner to show on-the-ground realities of reducing emissions from deforestation (REDD+) in Panama

en español  |  This blog was co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund’s Amazon Basin Project Coordinator Chris Meyer and McGill University professor and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Research Associate Dr. Catherine Potvin.

Deforestation accounts for as much as 15% of all manmade global warming pollution, and negotiators from countries around the world have been working to hammer out policies at United Nations climate talks to reduce emissions from deforestation.

It’s easy to get lost in the details of the complex policies of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), and miss what’s happening — and who’s working — on the ground.  So, just prior to the UN climate negotiations in Panama City earlier this month, Environmental Defense Fund’s Chris Meyer and McGill University and Smithsonian’s Dr. Catherine Potvin organized a field trip for UN negotiators to see first-hand the realities of deforestation, and of the policies that have been put in place to protect forests.

Indigenous-led REDD+ project preserving trees in eastern Panama

The hill on the right side of this photo, taken in the Panama province of Darien, has been deforested by migrant farmers, while the indigenous-owned lands on the left hill and in the distance show heavily forested lands that are absorbing carbon and helping curb global warming. (Photo courtesy of STRI.)

For their first stop, REDD+ negotiators from Canada, Denmark, the European Union, France, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Peru, the United States, and a member of Panama’s government's REDD+ team visited a REDD+ project in eastern Panama.

The 500 indigenous people who live in Ipeti-Embera control approximately 3,200 hectares (7,910 acres) of land.  In the eastern part of Panama, including the provinces of Panama and Darien, where the community is located, huge swathes of primary forest, rich in biodiversity, have been cleared for timber and cattle ranching by migrant farmers coming from Panama's central Provinces.  Indigenous People mostly try to withstand invasion from these migrants, as they value the forest more than pastures.  The REDD+ project seeks to find a solution to such land conflicts and deforestation.

This picture shows the benefits of having indigenous communities control forests; the indigenous-owned lands of Ipeti-Embera on the left remain heavily forested, while the hill to the right has been cleared of its forests and converted to cattle pasture.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute using REDD+ to become carbon neutral

In 2007, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) decided to move towards carbon neutrality.  As part of its strategy to offset its carbon footprint, STRI became interested in piloting a REDD+ project with the Ipeti-Embera community.

Twenty-one families in Ipeti-Embera now have small reforestation parcels of native species that are sequestering carbon while 48 households are ready to modify their pattern of land use to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.  STRI is purchasing the sequestered carbon, or carbon offsets, while analyzing the barriers to implementation of similar projects elsewhere.

McGill University and Smithsonian’s Potvin said:

The revenue from the offset sales to STRI is a welcomed extra income for the families.

After a delicious customary lunch served in banana leaves, the group headed to the community of Nuevo Paraíso, or New Paradise.

REDD+ can sustain communities and keep trees standing

Country negotiators, members from non-governmental groups, and local residents look at young mahogany trees, planted by the local indigenous people of Ipeti-Embera. The group was able to talk with community leaders about the community's efforts to reduce deforestation. (Photo courtesy of STRI.)

Founded about 25 years ago, Nuevo Paraíso is a migrant farmers community whose families own 25-50 hectares of land and practice a mix of subsistence agriculture and small-scale cattle ranching on deforested land.

In this field trip, negotiators were able to see REDD+ projects that work with communities and farmers to prevent further deforestation and maximize the benefits of forest protection.

EDF’s Chris Meyer said:

This was a truly eye-opening experience for negotiators, seeing how well policies to avoid deforestation work.  Negotiators told us they enjoyed the opportunity to spend time on the ground in the rainforest, and some even mentioned this was their first time in the forest and first contact with communities trying to halt deforestation.

In Ipeti-Embera, negotiators had time to speak with community leaders and participants in the REDD+ project, and witness first-hand the complex challenges of implementation.  In Nuevo Paraíso, discussion centered on how the private sector could be successfully engaged in REDD+ activities, and provide much-needed financing.

Financing options for REDD+, including carbon markets, are on the official agenda for the upcoming UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, at the end of this year.  These negotiators now are able to take back with them to Durban and later international climate talks the on-the-ground knowledge they have about the REDD+ projects, including that REDD+ policies work, and local communities are critical to implementing — and simultaneously benefitting — from them.

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Read this blog in Spanish/ Siga este vinculo para leer el blog en español: El Instituto de Investigaciones Tropicales del Smithsonian y EDF colaboran para mostrar la realidad local sobre la reducción de emisiones por deforestación (REDD+) en Panamá

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD |: | 1 Response

Surinamese government, indigenous groups and NGOs join together to protect forests

As EDF’s Amazon Basin Project coordinator, I spend much of my time working in Latin America with our non-governmental allies to discuss REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) with indigenous groups.

REDD+ has come so far since conceived two decades ago; the general framework has been approved by the United Nations, and now countries will be spending time in the UN meetings hammering out the details at the international level.

In the meantime, EDF is partnering with groups like the Coordinating Body of the Amazon Basin Indigenous Peoples (COICA), the Amazon Institute for Environmental Research (IPAM), and U.S.-based Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) to help tropical rainforest countries and local governments with preparing for REDD+ policies to go into effect – what’s called “REDD+ Readiness.”  (Read about our REDD+ training workshops in Ecuador).

Suriname: a young country with a great opportunity for REDD+

The smallest independent country in South America, Suriname is covered mostly by tropical forests, which are threatened by logging, mining and new development. (photo credit: Wayne Walker, WHRC)

COICA recently organized a REDD+ training workshop in the small South American country of Suriname to educate their fellow Indigenous leaders.  (EDF, IPAM, and WHRC were there to help with presentations on REDD+ Readiness information and logistics.)

Suriname is a densely forested country that’s home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and for its size one of the most ethnically diverse in the world.  Its topical forests, which cover most of the country, and biodiversity stand to benefit greatly from REDD+ policies as the country faces a growing interest in logging, mining, and new development, which would further contribute to the country’s deforestation and threaten the forests’ biodiversity.

Suriname is also a young country – having only gained independence from The Netherlands in 1975, it still has many basic issues to work through before REDD+ could be implemented.

Government participates with indigenous groups to conserve forests

Surinamese workshop participants participate in “REDD+ Readiness” training sessions to learn how to reduce deforestation in their country. (photo credit: Wayne Walker, WHRC)

These REDD+ training workshops are typically conducted by non-governmental organizations and attended by a number of indigenous group leaders, but this one was unique: for the full five-day workshop, the Surinamese government participated side-by-side with the indigenous leaders to learn the most effective ways to preserve the country’s forests.

During the workshop, various government officials presented how their respective ministries are developing policies related to REDD+.  The government officials’ involvement is important because policy development for the REDD+ programs requires a great deal of collaboration between indigenous groups, who will be most affected by the policies, and the government, which is designing the policies.  It’s a common problem in REDD+ countries for the government and indigenous groups to have only limited dialogue, so the earlier these conversations take place in Suriname’s REDD+ process, the more constructive the conversations will be.

A big challenge facing Suriname that is also a basic tenet for any potentially successful REDD+ program is determining the country’s laws on ownership of land and resources.

There are still many areas of the country and indigenous groups that lack “titles” to their lands, which means indigenous groups don’t have official ownership of the land they’re living on, and consequently don’t have the legal ability to decide whether potential deforestation activities such as logging and natural resource extraction can happen.  Indigenous groups are pushing for full ownership rights for REDD+ activities, which would allow the groups to reap the benefits of activities they choose to allow on their land.

Since the government is still in the process of determining how to address the land-titling, the workshop sparked spirited discussions between the indigenous leaders and government officials, addressing both sides of the challenges of determining the land-titling.

A government official works with Surinamese indigenous leaders to measure the circumference of trees during a REDD+ Readiness workshop. (photo credit: Wayne Walker, WHRC)

But by the workshop’s end, the indigenous groups understood very well that before REDD+ could work for them and their lands, the government first needed to determine their rights to their land and resources.  Government interest in REDD+ finance can help indigenous groups win recognition of their land and resource rights when governments realize that these will be crucial to accessing REDD+ markets.  Another potential way of addressing this issue is to define REDD+ as an “environmental service” and ensure that those providing the service, including indigenous communities, are the beneficiaries.

A resolution for the land rights in Suriname (and thus full REDD+ policies) is likely still years away, but it’s critical for all parties to continue a constructive dialogue like this throughout the process. The recognition of rights and new dialogues and cooperation between governments and indigenous leaders will ensure successful REDD+ programs.

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD | 2 Responses

People, plots and pixels: both high- and low-tech skills needed to measure carbon in forests

This post was originally featured on the World Bank's Development in a Changing Climate blog.

If you are in a forest in Ecuador and see indigenous communities standing with an android phone, a measuring tape and a good pair of boots, don’t be surprised. These ‘indigenous forest carbon monitors’ have been trained to collect field data by measuring a 40m x 40m sample plot. They align the center of the square plot with a GPS coordinate associated with the center of a satellite footprint, and measure the diameter of the trees in the plot. Once the measurements of the trees are determined, they are sent via phone to scientists who use satellite images – and now even images available on Google Earth – to estimate the amount of carbon stored in forests.

Indigenous forest carbon monitors practice using a GPS device, whose readings will be used along with satellite imagery to determine the density of forests. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

These communities can efficiently traverse terrain that is typically inaccessible to foreign technicians. The result is better forest carbon density maps that can determine changes in the amount of forest carbon present over time.

With the cutting and burning of trees contributing to about 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions, any realistic plan to reduce global warming pollution sufficiently – and in time to avoid dangerous consequences – must rely in part on preserving tropical forests.

A critical part of ensuring that the rate of deforestation is decreasing – and the part where skeptics are most vocal – is monitoringreportingand verifying (MRV) the area and density of forests. The MRV process measures the amount of carbon stored in a forest, and also helps make sure that further deforestation and degradation do not occur. It also requires both modern technology and old fashioned boots on the ground.

Modern technology, boots on the ground both needed for good forest monitoring

On the technical side, scientists analyze thousands of different satellite images, developing sophisticated algorithms to estimate the amount of carbon stored in forests based on what they see in the pictures.

However, accurately translating what they see to actual carbon estimates requires large amounts of “field data” – the boots on the ground.  This presents a great opportunity for indigenous communities to play a leading role in helping to reduce deforestation.

Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have partnered with the Coordinating Body of the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA) to host a number of training workshops in Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador, where measuring forest carbon was one of the most popular portions of the workshop that introduced them to REDD+ – reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

WHRC, COICA, and EDF have identified many opportunities for Indigenous Peoples with proper training to contribute to the MRV of REDD+ policies. There is increasing interest and demand by local communities to be involved in the development of national forest carbon MRV systems, and a lot of potential for the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) program, for example, to help stimulate demand for indigenous involvement in MRV through programs at the national level. The next couple of years are crucial for many countries who are now developing forest carbon MRV systems on a national level, and it is important to ensure that these plans include Indigenous Peoples.

REDD+ policies are currently being negotiated at international climate talks, and MRV will be a particularly hot topic at this year’s meetings, particularly given that its design – and role for Indigenous Peoples – was left undetermined at the 2010 U.N. climate change negotiations in Cancun, Mexico.

But groups aren’t waiting for the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to act. For example, as part of its Pan-Tropical Mapping Project, WHRC coordinates the technical skills of scientists, government technicians, and nongovernmental organizations throughout the world. Their capacity building efforts (through REDD+ workshops) with COICA are gaining international attention and have been the focus of a recent presentation to the World Bank.

With training, local indigenous peoples are using their familiarity with the forest to do the same job, but with a few added benefits. While they gain a marketable technical skill, they are able to collect more field data and across larger areas. They also tend to have a greater stake in the process and design of national deforestation policies, resulting in better policies. The process provides them with better information about the state of their forests, leading to better land management and prepares them for negotiations with government and private investors.

Learn more about EDF's work with indigenous peoples protecting forests and livelihoods in the Amazon Basin.

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD | Leave a comment

Indigenous peoples march for rights in Cancún, not against reducing deforestation policies

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post mentioned the indigenous peoples’ march was not in rejection of carbon markets, however the press release issued by the group does have language rejecting carbon markets.  This post reflects the correct information, and we apologize for the error.

One of the more anticipated events at the U.N. climate conferences is the annual civil society protest-march held during the negotiations.  This year’s in Cancún has already received a lot of attention because of the anticipated larger-than-normal participation by indigenous peoples and rural groups.

There have been rumors for weeks now that this year’s march would be to protest policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

However, it was encouraging to see the press release from the official indigenous peoples caucus, which says, instead, the indigenous peoples are marching to request that a future global climate deal:

  1. Respect the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples contained in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): UNDRIP is actually contained in the annex on safeguards for REDD+ implementation, so they already have this in place in a final agreement.
  2. Respect Their Right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC): Indigenous peoples want the right to say “no” to any REDD+ projects on their land.  FPIC is contained in UNDRIP, so it is technically already in a potential final agreement on REDD+.  However, indigenous peoples would like to see it explicitly included.
  3. Recognition and respect of indigenous peoples traditional knowledge and use of it as a solution for climate change: Indigenous peoples have been conserving the forest since the beginning, and they want some of their knowledge used and recognized.  In a sense, they are saying “Work with us when you are designing REDD+ programs because we can make them better.”  The potential REDD+ final agreement does already require "full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular, indigenous peoples and local communities" in REDD+ programs.

Indigenous peoples, who contribute crucial expertise and traditional knowledge about the forests and are the best-suited to monitor and protect the trees, must play a central role in REDD+. Above: an indigenous community learns how to estimate the amount of carbon is stored in the tree, which they will report for future REDD+ projects.

The Coordinating Organization for the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA), an indigenous peoples group who EDF works with, recently spoke about their organization’s REDD policy.  COICA is not for or against REDD+, but requests certain rights be recognized, such as right to land, resources and self-determination.  Once these rights are ensured, COICA believes, indigenous peoples can make a decision for themselves whether to participate in REDD+ projects or not.  EDF also believes these rights to land, resources and self-determination are the foundation for any REDD+ project or program to be successful.

Back at today’s march, sure there were groups participating with an anti-REDD+ message – but they are not the majority.  To place all indigenous peoples in the category of anti-REDD+ groups is a mistake, especially given the official statement from their caucus saying nothing of the sort.

There are a number of indigenous groups within – and outside – the U.N. climate negotiations, and we’re encouraged to see the focus of the official indigenous peoples’ march is not against REDD+, but instead for recognition of their own rights.

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.

Posted in Cancún (COP-16), Indigenous peoples, News, REDD, UN negotiations | 8 Responses

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.

Posted in Cancún (COP-16), Indigenous peoples, REDD, UN negotiations | Leave a comment

Ecuadorian indigenous community takes forest conservation into own hands

The Shuar community is an indigenous group in the Ecuador Amazon Rainforest that is fiercely independent and has successfully kept mining and petroleum exploration off of its lands.  In that sense, the Shuar people have always been conservationists, and they’re now looking into how reducing deforestation can help them continue to conserve their homeland.

Indigenous community’s innovative conservation program goes national

Ecuador deforestation

Ecuador’s Shuar community developed its own program to prevent deforestation, a serious contributor to global warming pollution. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

A number of years ago, a Shuar community developed a conservation project in which the community could be compensated by the Ecuadorian government for conserving the group’s lands.

After successful implementation of this pilot program, Shaur leaders are now examining how this type of program might be translated into a larger project of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) for their entire territory.

The Shuar presented their pilot program to the Ecuadorian government, which then used it as a basis for the current Socio Bosque program that pays forest communities and individuals throughout the country to protect its forests.

Locals become leaders in protecting forests

Ecuador REDD training session

Workshop participants practice using a GPS device, which will be used, along with satellite imagery, to determine the density of the forest. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

A critical part of any REDD project is measuring the carbon in trees; that’s because the amount of compensation communities receive for conserving their forests is directly related to how much carbon the trees are estimated to hold.

In order to determine how much carbon the trees hold, certified technicians are sent into the forest to take necessary measurements, such as trees’ diameters and forest density.  Because the technicians generally are from urban areas, they often hire indigenous guides to help them find the specific locations required for measuring most efficiently.

But that’s changing, thanks to growing interest among indigenous communities in taking a greater role in conservation of their land, and the help of groups like Environmental Defense Fund and leaders like Juan Carlos Jintiach, a Shuar and the Chief of Economic Policy and International Cooperation for the Coordinating Organization for the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA).

Juan Carlos recognizes the opportunity for indigenous peoples to perform the measurements themselves.  Instead of having outsiders come in and measure the carbon in the community’s trees, indigenous communities can measure it themselves, earn good wages, and learn to value another resource in their forests: carbon.

Workshops offer paths to greater conservation, participation

Ecuador WHRC measuring trees

Workshop participants look on as Wayne Walker from Woods Hole Research Center (EDF’s partner) shows how to measure a tree’s diameter, which will help in estimating how much carbon the forest stores. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

Two weeks ago, EDF, with Woods Hole Research Center and COICA, co-hosted a workshop to train the Shuar on measuring carbon in forests.

The training workshop, which has been adapted for numerous other indigenous groups in the Amazon Basin, teaches and empowers indigenous peoples with technical skills needed for measuring carbon trapped in forests, like using a GPS to find specific coordinates; measuring out a 40 x 40 meter “parcel” of forest; and measuring the diameter of each tree in that area.

At the end of the three-day workshop, it was clear to me and all those involved that there is a great opportunity for indigenous peoples to use forest carbon measuring to contribute to REDD.

The indigenous leaders at our training left with a solid understanding that there are also opportunities for indigenous peoples to play a key role in and gain economically through conservation.  We hope this can, in turn, act as a catalyst for more indigenous participation in REDD, and potentially increase input by indigenous peoples into the development of government REDD policies.

But most importantly, indigenous peoples with forest carbon measuring skills will be able to generate not only good jobs for locals based on conservation, but also generate important information regarding the amount of carbon in their lands that will help them make better land management – and conservation – decisions for the future.

Learn more about our work with indigenous peoples protecting forests and livelihoods in the Amazon Basin.

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD | Leave a comment