Environmental Democracy and Forest Carbon (REDD+)
65 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2014 Last revised: 5 Jun 2014
Date Written: March 12, 2014
Public funders and private investors are pouring billions of dollars into Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) in the developing world. In REDD+, investors pay people to preserve carbon in trees, and then sell credits based on the stored carbon to those who wish to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions. REDD+ promises a dynamic synergism that mitigates climate change, conserves biodiversity, and alleviates poverty. When done poorly, however, REDD+ may dispossess already impoverished people from their sources of sustenance and may do little to mitigate climate change or conserve biodiversity.
Including indigenous, forest-dependent, and other local people in all aspects of planning and implementing REDD+ is not only prudent practice — it is increasingly required by international law, and, I explain, is an essential ingredient in sustainable (effective, synergistic, and equitable) REDD+ Yet fulfilling these Environmental Democracy norms is nigh impossible in REDD+. What then?
In this project, I review the current international legal status of Environmental Democracy, i.e., the right to participate in environmental decision making; the right to acquire information on environmental decisions; the right to redress and remedy when environmental rights are violated; and the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent when decisions are made that will affect vital resources and lands. I explain and expand current thinking of how the aspirational language of the principles ought to be implemented, and connect the principles’ relevance to REDD+, currently the most important laboratory for expanding Environmental Democracy in international conservation and development work. To illustrate how Environmental Democracy is or is not working in REDD+, I explore examples from Vietnam and Cambodia, where I conducted fieldwork in December 2012.
I conclude that while stakeholders in REDD+ are making progress towards genuine Environmental Democracy, they have a ways to go to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations towards communities in which REDD+ is launching. After explaining why genuine Environmental Democracy in REDD+ is currently impracticable — and perhaps impossible — I conclude that REDD+’s promised benefits nonetheless justify carefully continuing it. I suggest how REDD+ project developers can fulfill the legal exigencies of Environmental Democracy, both as a matter of equity, and as a pragmatic approach to maximizing benefits for human and nonhuman communities.
Keywords: REDD+, forests, environmental law, international human rights law, international environmental law, carbon offsets, climate change, sustainable development, Social License to Operate, biodiversity, Vietnam, Cambodia, environmental democracy, forest governance, Kyoto Protocol, Principle 10
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