The Government of Nepal, the World Bank as well as the promoters of the REDD activities should guarantee the rights of indigenous people.
Ever since the World Bank approved of a proposal from the Nepal Government on Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) activities in 2010 and dispersed the fund, the government has been implementing REDD Plus (REDD+) program as one of the highest priority programs in the country. However, the debate that still surrounds it is how it is going to be indigenous-people friendly and how the government-led REDD+ mechanism will ensure their longstanding right to access to their forest and forest-related resources. Indigenous people have long been dependent on their forests for their livelihood.
The idea of using forest conservation as a tool to mitigate climate change was first introduced formally in the negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005. The speculation relating to the failure and the success of REDD+, especially in regards to the rights of forest-dependent indigenous people, started in 2007 when the concept of REDD mechanism and REDD scheme emerged globally.
“We doubt the World Bank and its promoters are concerned about the rights of indigenous people who rely on the forests. Many also still live in the forests,” says Dinesh Kumar Ghale, advocate and Vice Chairperson at Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP). “We’ve been saying that the REDD Scheme should ensure meaningful participation of indigenous people in the decision-making process and the management level of the REDD mechanism.”
He also says that the Government of Nepal, the World Bank as well as the promoters of the REDD activities should guarantee the rights of indigenous people, as stated in the ILO Convention No. 169 and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and other international legal instruments to which the Nepal Government is a signatory.
Scientists estimate that forest degradation and forest deforestation contribute 20 percent of the global greenhouse emission annually. Thus, one approach to reduce the amount of carbon emissions (that come from deforestation around the world and cause global warming and climate change) is to reduce forest deforestation and forest degradation by managing forest on sustainable basis. The very same concept of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation especially by providing incentives to developing countries is known as REDD. When REDD activities also cover the forest conservation, sustainable management of forest and enhancement of forest carbon stock, such initiatives are referred to as REDD Plus (REDD+).
All forests conserved by the communities are said to be eligible for such incentives and the efforts also have been started to look at how to compensate for carbon storage forest protected by the communities. But indigenous activists doubt whether or not indigenous peoples will have continuous access to forests as they had for centuries to make their livings.
“Forest-dependent communities, including indigenous peoples, are the primary beneficiary of the REDD+ program,” says Krishna Prasad Acharya, Joint Secretary at the Planning Section of the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC). “The Government has made its efforts to involve indigenous communities in its every consultation, workshops, designing of action plans and strategies relating to REDD+, forest and so forth.”
The efforts have also started to look at how to compensate for carbon storage for forest protected by the communities. But the debate still looms in the implementation of REDD+ program in Nepal.
Indigenous Peoples’ demands
The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), the NGO Federation of Nepal’s Indigenous Nationalities (NGO-FoNIN), the National Indigenous Women’s Federation (NIWF), and those umbrella organizations of Nepali indigenous peoples’ organizations, NGOs and women’s groups as well as LAHURNIP are for establishing a strong network, pressing the government to recognize indigenous peoples with a special status and their role in all the deliberations of REDD in Nepal.
According to them, a majority of indigenous peoples in Nepal are living in and depending on the forest resources for their livelihood and they have longstanding role as stewards of the forests. Therefore, being rights holders with a special status in the context of REDD, the implementing agencies of REDD should ensure meaningful participation of the local indigenous communities by obtaining and maintaining the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) before starting any activities relating to forests and any other activities, plans and programs as well as formulation of strategies as well as action plans, including the REDD in their lands and territories, in line with the ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which Nepal is party to. The same protocol should be observed during the implementation phases and the post-project period.
Both the Convention and Declaration guarantee that Indigenous people have a right to the land they have traditionally occupied and to access the resources they have traditionally depended on for their livelihood and cultural practices.
“First, we’ve been saying that REDD+ shouldn’t threaten the right to land, territories and resources that indigenous people have long been depending on. The second, Indigenous Peoples’ basic rights should be recognized and protected. The third, we’ve been strongly demanding the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) with regards to all strategies, plans, policies formulated and implemented by the government, including of REDD+, forestry, in the planning and implementation carried out in the territories of indigenous people,” says Nagendra Kumal, Chairperson of NEFIN.
Ready for REDD
Nepal was one of the countries being supported under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and its REDD Readiness Fund after submitting a Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) in 2008 which was approved in 2010. The World Bank provided a total of US$3.4 million to Nepal Government, while Nepal Government contributed a budget of US$0.055 million (in addition to staff deputation and office spaces). Besides the World Bank, the program also has been funded by various bilateral donors such as DFID, SDC, Finland, USAID, and the Japanese Government.
In order to succeed in its plan and for the proper implementation of REDD+, the government has established a three-tiered institutional mechanism consisting of an apex body, a REDD Working Group, and a REDD Forestry and Climate Change Cell. Led by Minister for MoFSC, the apex body, which consists of 49 members, including 11 Ministries of the government, ensures multi-sector coordination and cooperation for planning and implementation of REDD activities.
Led by the Secretary of MoFSC, a REDD working group comprises 12 members, including nine members representing the government and the remaining three being civil society members, including the NEFIN and the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN) for providing technical and institutional support, monitoring program activities and facilitating in preparation of REDD strategy and so forth. The REDD-Forestry and Climate Change Cell (in short REDD+ Cell), led by the Joint Secretary of MoFSC is established as the lead institution to undertake REDD readiness activities in Nepal.
With the fund, the government through its different stakeholders, has conducted consultation, outreach and awareness-raising programs and also has readied drafts of four different strategies, including strategies on REDD+, forestry sector strategy, forest conservation strategy, and national biodiversity strategy and action plan.
“We’ve achieved tremendous progress in terms of formulation of strategies and action plan, conducting wide multi-stakeholder consultations, and raising awareness at the community level,” says Joint Secretary Acharya at MoFSC. “All the four strategies, including REDD+ strategy and action plan, are slated to be approved by the end of the current fiscal year, June/July 2014.”
According to him, the strategy includes not only stepwise plan of implementing of the REDD+ program but also the participation of local communities, including indigenous communities claiming access to resources and benefit sharing and so forth.
Indigenous activists however fiercely criticize the recently devised different strategies on REDD+, forestry, forest conservation and the national biodiversity. They say that those were drafted without conducting proper consultations with the forest-dependent indigenous communities.
“Indigenous communities are forest dwellers, forest-dependent and stewards of the forests, and have intimate relationship with the forests. But it’s sad that the government doesn’t recognize their tremendous role in forest conversation and didn’t see the need to conduct consultation with indigenous communities while devising forest-related strategies,” says Pasang Dolma Sherpa, National Coordinator, NEFIN Global Climate Change-REDD Partnership Program, adding that the government ignored indigenous people while drafting strategies related to forestry, conservation, biodiversity and so forth, which can create conflict in the future.
She also says that conducting a national-level consultation and dialogue with indigenous people on forest-related policies and program in Kathmandu, the NEFIN prepared an 82-point position paper over the recently drafted strategies, including REDD+ and forestry and handed it over to the Secretary of MoFSC Dr. Ganesh Raj Joshi. The paper includes strategies on meaningful participation of indigenous communities at all levels, from planning, implementing and monitoring of any plans, policies, programs and strategies in relation to forests, including REDD+ schemes.
Secretary Dr. Joshi says that the strategies will address the concerns of all stakeholders, including that of Indigenous Peoples.
Challenges and the way forward
In the REDD+ process, the highly debated and the most sensitive issues are the distribution of REDD benefits as well as the possible impacts of REDD+ schemes. It is indeed different stakeholders, including NEFIN, LAHURNIP, NIWF, NGO-FoNIN that have been working to increase their reach to the grassroots. The greatest challenges, however, are still awareness on REDD+, and indigenous peoples’ rights relating to the forests, which have hindered their meaningful participation in the preparatory phases of the plans, programs, policies and strategies relating to forests as well as REDD+.
Policymakers need to concentrate on how to allow benefits to reach the village level in the most efficient manner. Similarly, non-governmental sectors must come together to support the government in carrying out awareness and capacity-building initiatives. Similarly, government officials must also realize that their goals will be fulfilled only when the goals of the local and indigenous communities are met.
Indigenous people have long been raising their concerns over the monetary value of forests, including water and land, as timber extractions and other commercial activities have threatened their existence as well as their rights time and again. These are the factors why they have little reason to believe their rights and concerns will be ensured in the REDD processes.
However, former Parliamentarian and Chairperson of NIWF, Kanti Jirel, says, “There will be support from indigenous people if the strategies are designed keeping their rights in mind.”
Sunuwar is a freelance feature writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Published on 2014-05-09 09:55:37