Image courtesy of Climate Connections

REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation + other sustainable forest practices, is supposed to connect indigenous knowledge with climate science. It creates “financial incentives” to keep carbon in the forest by placing price-tags on Nature and her processes and supposedly uses local knowledge to do so. Values are based on the ability to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. The idea is to take money from developed, polluting countries and transfer it to carbon-neutral or negative countries in the developing world, yet REDD+ is a commercialization of Nature, which defies indigenous values.

Legalizing Pollution

With REDD+, companies are allowed to continue to pollute as long as they purchase carbon offsets. As long as they have enough carbon offsets, they can continue to pollute and destroy the surrounding environment. This goes against the indigenous values of respect for humankind and Mother Nature. It “undermines the resilience of local social-ecological systems.” Also, with REDD+ it is unclear who “owns” the carbon and should receive the benefits. While it is supposed to assert the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People, in reality a key element of the Declaration, “free, prior and informed consent” is, for the most part, ignored. REDD+ is also supposed to address local and indigenous rights, but that is rare during project implementation.

Listening to Indigenous Wisdom

As Tom Goldtooth, an indigenous rights advocate, said, REDD+ and other forms of commodifing nature can be seen as the conflict of “money centered Western views and indigenous life-centered views.”  He also points out that “with this development model, indigenous people continue to be displaced from their lands, cultures, and spiritual relationship to Mother Earth and destruction to the life-sustaining capacity of nature and the ecosystem that sustains us and all life continues as well.” Instead, he suggests that we take a human rights-based approach to make development truly sustainable.

Rights of Nature, which is supported by many indigenous people, is a better alternative to green economy schemes such as REDD+. Rights of Nature not only recognizes Mother Earth and her ecosystems as a living being–not a commodity–but also grants her the right to live free of harsh treatment and to maintain life-supporting processes. These rights would make polluting illegal and would allow indigenous peoples to continue to live sustainably, as they have for centuries, on their land.