A Washington-based human rights organization warns of an unprecedented "carbon grab" by governments and investors that will infringe upon the rights of indigenous peoples in low- and middle-income countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Research conducted by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) reveals that there are no laws to guarantee that indigenous peoples and local communities will benefit from the global trade of carbon credits as nations cope with carbon emissions that impact global climate change. As deforestation threatens the livelihoods of remote forested regions, governments and investors may profit while rural communities suffer.
"Carbon grab is sort of an offset of land grabbing," says Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque, the lead researcher for the RRI study. He explained that any sort of grab of a resource is based on the idea that the rights of local communities are not necessarily respected.
The RRI study cites countries along the Congo Basin and those in Southeast Asia and Indonesia as prime examples where national governments claim ownership rights over their forest land. Between them, these countries collectively boast the world's largest rainforests and wealth derived from lumber and soil.
"A lot of research shows that conflict over the right to use and own natural resources, especially forestry resources - it's actually a major driver of deforestation. So the point that this research makes is that if efforts are made to further clarify the local lands rights, it will actually be a useful tool to reduce those conflicts over land and forests," emphasized Corriveau-Bourque.
Deforestation and lower carbons emissions
The UN and the World Bank seek to address the issues of carbon grabs in the new era of carbon credit trading. As a result, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program was created at the 2007 climate change talks in Bali to respond to deforestation and forest degradation.
Corriveau-Bourque says while carbon-grabbing is a global issue, it is not necessarily a bad thing for communities. "It's just that currently our research shows that the institutions are not necessarily in place to make sure that these transactions happen in an equitable manner. "
Delegates at 2013 climate talks in Warsaw agreed that REDD+ could move forward with carbon trading as long as the carbon rights of indigenous peoples were safeguarded. Corriveau-Bourque says those safeguards - which include a process for filing grievances - need to be implemented.
Accelerate recognition for indigenous
RRI now argues in the recently released report that the REDD+ initiatives have so far failed to reverse the slowdown in rights recognition for indigenous peoples.
REDD+'s senior officer Thais Linhares-Juvenal wrote in reply, "REDD+'s readiness has provided a positive environment for the advancement of tenure and rights by requesting developing countries to engage with indigenous peoples, local communities and civil society in REDD discussions."
Corriveau-Bourque says more needs to be done to ensure a fair allocation of the benefits from these resources. "The trend across the world is that currently there aren't sufficient reforms to clarify who has the rights of carbon, and the legal frameworks do not necessarily attract the necessary regulations to make sure that these things take place without abuses."