Environmental Democracy and Forest Carbon (REDD+)

65 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2014 Last revised: 5 Jun 2014

See all articles by David Takacs

David Takacs

University of California Hastings College of the Law

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

Suggested Citation

Takacs, David, Environmental Democracy and Forest Carbon (REDD+) (March 12, 2014). UC Hastings Research Paper No. 103, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2424286 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2424286

David Takacs (Contact Author)

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

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