REDD and Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
CLIMATE CHANGE, INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, AND THE SEARCH FOR LEGAL REMEDIES, Abate & Kronk, eds., Edward Elgar Publishing, Forthcoming
37 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2012 Last revised: 29 Mar 2012
Date Written: March 23, 2012
Brazil contains roughly one-third of the world’s remaining tropical forest and nearly half a million indigenous people, many of whom are largely or entirely dependent upon forest resources for subsistence and cultural survival. For decades, its deforestation has been among the most extensive in the world and its indigenous peoples have suffered as a direct result. Recent changes in Brazilian national policy have begun to restrain forest clearing and incursions into indigenous territories, but these policies remain politically vulnerable and climate change threatens to accelerate damage to the Amazon and its peoples. Thus, Brazil faces an urgent need to secure long-term forest protection measures that can enhance the resilience of its indigenous peoples.
Brazil’s relatively developed institutional infrastructure, extensive forests, and recent embrace of environmental priorities have made it a leading actor in the emerging REDD (“reduced emissions from deforestations and degradation”) program that seeks to compensate for avoided greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. Successful development of REDD would preserve large stretches of Amazon rainforest, yielding major climate change mitigation benefits and potentially securing the future of engaged indigenous tribes. Indigenous peoples are not only potential beneficiaries of REDD , but also crucial to its success because they control over twenty percent of the Brazilian Amazon and possess traditional knowledge related to a long history of successful forest management.
However, the benefits of REDD for indigenous peoples remain deeply uncertain. REDD may undermine traditional indigenous forest activities unless it is carefully designed to preserve them. More difficult design challenges arise with regard to assuring equitable distribution of REDD benefits for tribes and, potentially, among members of a tribe. Most troubling, the bedrock of equitable implementation – free, prior, and informed consent – remains uncertain. Moreover, questions regarding cross-cultural communication and the ability of apparent leaders to legitimately bind tribal members persist for many tribes with limited exposure to nonindigenous society.
This chapter emphasizes the importance of indigenous peoples for Brazil’s successful engagement in REDD , particularly because of their traditional knowledge and strong record of forest management. At the same time, however, the chapter maintains that equitable and effective engagement of indigenous peoples in REDD demands careful design of international and Brazilian law to address risks before indigenous peoples are encouraged to enter long-term REDD arrangements. Even with such law in place, challenges involving indigenous understanding and consent may prove insurmountable for tribes unfamiliar with the worldview underlying economic approaches such as REDD . Therefore, the chapter concludes that net benefits for indigenous peoples in Brazil can only be secured if REDD engagement occurs in a secure legal environment that facilitates understanding and context-specific evaluation by the tribes themselves.
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