Carbon Credit Watch

Devil is in the (lack of) details: citizens left in the dark on carbon credit schemes

(July 30, 2010) Brady Yauch writes that citizens in the developing world are often not provided with details surrounding carbon-reduction projects.

Using forests in the developing world as carbon sinks continues to gain traction in both political and NGO circles as a way to reduce global emissions. Too bad many of the residents who will be most affected by such programs—locals living in the forest—have been left in the dark when it comes to the details of such schemes.

A report from Indonesia [PDF] is the most recent example, with communities living in the forests currently part of negotiations by the Indonesian government for participation in a U.N.-backed deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) scheme saying they still don’t know the details of the program.

When Sarwevin, former head of Jahanjang village of Katingan regency in Central Kalimantan, was asked if he had heard of REDD, he said: “So far, nobody has informed us about it.”

“My understanding is that all money (from the carbon credit schemes) will be used to finance Indonesia’s foreign debt,” he added.

The lack of details being offered to the villagers comes as the Indonesian government is running REDD pilot projects across the country. To date, the government has yet to release details on how revenue from REDD programs will be used.

Meanwhile, local villages in Indonesia that are aware of REDD projects are expressing concern over how the programs will affect their way of life. According to one report [PDF] , a group of indigenous communities have warned government officials that that will reject any carbon credit schemes unless the government guarantees their rights to use the forests to maintain their livelihoods.

“Our stance is clear—no rights, no REDD,” said the secretary general of The Alliance of Archipelagic Indigenous People (AMAN).

“Indigenous people only seek recognition of their land rights from the government, not money from rich nations through REDD,” he added.

And another report [PDF] from the Voice of America says a number of villages on the Indonesian island of Sumatra will reject millions of dollars of aid for a forest conservation project—saying they’re concerned that rules regarding deforestation will prevent them from using the land for subsistence.

According to the report, an Australian-run project under the REDD scheme will pay the villagers to protect the forest. But a number of villagers say they don’t want the money or Australia to protect the forest, as they have a right to use it.

The disputes in Indonesia highlight a much larger problem with the REDD scheme: mainly, that the program will reverse a decades-long trend that has seen greater decentralization in forest management, with local villagers assuming greater control over how their forests are managed.

The result has been, according to one study from researchers Jacob Phelps, Edward L. Webb and Arun Agrawal from the National University of Singapore and the University of Michigan, a cheaper and more effective system of forest management.

“Local actors’ benefits and rights in forests,” say the researchers, “reduced costs of protection, and provided opportunities for biodiversity conservation.”

“A recent analysis of 80 forest commons across 10 countries shows that rule-making autonomy at the local level is associated with greater forest carbon storage and higher livelihood benefits.”

The results for local citizens from the REDD programs could be disastrous, the researchers warn, as it “could involve the imposition of excessive requirements or even evictions of local users, as in some national parks.”

Brady Yauch, Probe International

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