UN Climate Forest Conservation Spawns ‘Carbon Piracy’ in Peru

DURBAN, South Africa, November 30, 2011 (ENS) – A new UN-backed effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests by paying communities to leave the trees standing is undermining the rights of indigenous peoples in Peru, leading to “carbon piracy” and land conflicts, finds a new report issued today by Peruvian indigenous organizations and an international human rights group.

The report, “The reality of REDD+ in Peru: Between Theory and Practice – Indigenous Amazonian Peoples’ Analyses and Alternatives,” was released at the ongoing UN climate conference in Durban, where some 20,000 delegates and observers are gathered to craft solutions to the climate crisis.

The report is published by Peruvian indigenous organizations AIDESEP, FENAMAD and CARE [see below for names in Spanish] and by the international human rights organization Forest Peoples Programme, based in the UK.

Rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon (Photo by mothclark62)

The report centers on the UN program Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, commonly called REDD, which offers incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.

REDD+ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation to include conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

The UN predicts that financial flows for greenhouse gas emission reductions from REDD+ could reach US$30 billion a year, a North-South flow of funds that could reward carbon emissions reductions and support new, pro-poor development, help conserve biodiversity and secure vital ecosystem services.

But in Peru, the report shows that REDD project developers are roaming the rainforest trying to convince indigenous peoples and local communities to enter into REDD deals with promises of millions of dollars in return for signing away their rights to control their land and forest carbon.

Deals are being written using strict confidentiality clauses and with no independent oversight or legal support for vulnerable communities. Some of these peoples are not yet fully literate in Spanish, but are being asked to sign complex commercial contracts in English that are subject to English law.

Indigenous man in the Peruvian rainforest (Photo by David Bodington courtesy Voice of America)

“We live here in the Peruvian Amazon where there is a new boom, a new fever just like for rubber and oil but this time for carbon and REDD,” writes AIDESEP President Alberto Pizango Chota in the report. “The companies, NGOs and brokers are breeding, desperate for that magic thing, the signature of the village chief on the piece of paper about carbon credits, something that the community doesn’t understand well but in doing so the middle-man hopes to earn huge profits on the back of our forests and our ways of life but providing few benefits for communities.”

“We denounce this ‘carbon piracy’ that is one side of the reality of REDD in the Peruvian Amazon,” said Pizango, whose organization represents more than 1,400 indigenous communities.

“The other side is the big programs of the environmental NGOs, the world bank, the IDB [Inter-American Development Bank] and the government who promise to act with transparency and respect our collective rights, but will this include the respect of our ancestral territories and self determination?” asks Pizango. “The safeguards and guidelines of the big projects always say that they will respect our rights but the reality is always different,” he said.

Some communities already have come to regret early deals made with carbon traders and NGOs, and are now attempting to extricate themselves, according to the report.

One leader from the community of Belgica in southeast Peru explained, “We were presented with a trust fund in which the community is obliged to hand over the administration of communal territory and be subject to the decisions of the developer for 30 years.”

Nahua men post a map demarcating their traditional terrority in the Peruvian Amazon (Photo courtesy Forest Peoples Programme)

“This will not allow us to make decisions about our territory or plan for the future of our children,” he said.

Roberto Espinoza Llanos, coordinator of AIDESEP’s Climate Change program and a lead author of the report, said, “The commitments made by the previous government [of Peru] in 2011 were not made lightly. They were assumed by the state and approved in a global meeting of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.”

“We hope that the present government and international entities like the World Bank will deliver on their promises to respect land and territorial rights,” he said. “Continual monitoring will be necessary to make sure they keep their word.”

In violation of Peru’s international obligation to recognize and secure indigenous peoples’ traditional possession of their forest lands, says the report, many indigenous communities have no secure land rights, as an estimated 20 million hectares of indigenous peoples’ customary territories in the Peruvian Amazon still possess no legal recognition, including those of isolated or ‘autonomous’ indigenous peoples.

At the same time, hundreds of formal requests for “conservation concessions” with the intention of establishing REDD projects have been submitted to the government of Peru by private individuals and environmental NGOs.

Indigenous hunter, Amazon River, near Iquitos, Peru (Photo by Shanta Somasundaram)

“Many of these would be concessions directly overlie indigenous peoples’ territories still awaiting legal recognition, thereby setting the stage for a state-backed land grab,” the report states.

In addition, “Efforts to protect forests through REDD+ are undermined by contradictory policies of other government sectors overseeing mining, energy, agriculture, infrastructure and national defence,” says the report.

Conrad Feather, project officer for Forest Peoples Programme and the report’s other lead author said, “REDD is not just a policy instrument being negotiated at the UN; unregulated REDD developments are already turning Peru into a center of international carbon piracy and the site for a potential land grab of indigenous peoples’ territories on a massive scale. Urgent measures are needed to protect the lands and livelihoods of indigenous peoples.”

But today, community consultation is occurring only after REDD+ projects have started, and a lack of awareness and understanding of REDD+ among communities and government agencies as well as project developers are clouding the prospect for the program’s success.

As an alternative, the indigenous peoples’ organizations are urging the new Peruvian government to re-think the forest and climate plans developed by their predecessors and use REDD funds to secure indigenous peoples’ forest territories and support community-based solutions to tackle climate change.

Climber atop Pisco surveys the snow-covered peaks of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, vulnerable to climate change, October 2011. (Photo by nic0704)

These community and rights-based approaches are cost-effective and proven to protect forests, reduce emissions from deforestation and lead to poverty reduction, increased livelihood security and biodiversity conservation, the indigenous organizations maintain.

AIDESEP President Pizango said, “Only in this way can REDD truly become an opportunity for indigenous peoples instead of a threat.”

“For indigenous peoples in both the Peruvian Andes and Amazon climatic crisis is already a reality,” the report states. “Presently drastic changes are being observed in the frequency and intensity of rain, frost, hail, and drought. In the past five years, according to figures from the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment, 22% of glacier volume (some 7 thousand million m3) have been lost. This is the equivalent of the capital city of Lima’s water consumption in ten years.”

“What is worse,” says the report, “for 2025, glaciers below 5500 meters above sea level will have disappeared, drastically reducing the supply of a vital resource.”

The report, “The reality of REDD+ in Peru: Between Theory and Practice – Indigenous Amazonian Peoples’ Analyses and Alternatives,” was published by:

  • AIDESEP (Interethnic association for the development of the Peruvian Amazon) is a national confederation of indigenous Amazonian peoples in Peru, representing over 1,400 communities. http://www.aidesep.org.pe
  • FENAMAD (Federation of the Native Peoples of the river Madre de Dios and its tributaries) is the umbrella indigenous federation of the Madre de Dios region, Peru. http://fenamad.org.pe/noticias/
  • CARE – (Ashaninka Centre of the river Ene) is a local indigenous federation representing Ashaninka communities on the Ene River in the central rainforest region of Peru. http://ashanincare.org/
  • Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) is an international non-governmental human rights organization working to support the rights of peoples who live in forests and depend on them for their livelihoods. http://www.forestpeoples.org

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