Forests for sale: REDD+, conservation and the displacement of Indigenous populations

“REDD (schemes known collectively as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) will increase the violation of our human rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts.”

[1] International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) statement, November 2007


Photo: Mark Gudmens

Conservation is a dirty word in some circles, stemming from a lengthy history of further marginalizing already vulnerable populations. With (what should be) all eyes on the current quest to reduce atmospheric carbon emission rates, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is being pushed as an effective solution to the global carbon crisis. Despite inherent shortcomings, there is still time to ensure that it becomes a useful framework for all aspects of impact assessment and serves the needs of local communities directly affected by it.

Early Conservation efforts

The conservation of “wilderness” for the benefits of developed nations is not a new idea, with early political powers in North America designating huge tracts of land, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, as National parks [2]. By restricting the ways these areas were occupied and using a colonial framework of conservation and control, indigenous presence was erased from the landscape and historical territories grabbed by colonial settlers in order to “protect” western visions of nature [3].

Modern Environmental Conservation efforts

Over 20 percent of the planet’s surface is currently protected through conservation efforts by a handful of BINGOs (Big International Non-Governmental Organizations) [4]. Corporations, like Conservation International (CI), are altruistic in appearance, seeking to protect key global biodiversity hotspots [5]. Under the aegis of conservation, vast tracts of land in the global south have been deemed ecologically important and removed from the stewardship of local indigenous populations, to the detriment of both systems and with no strong social impact assessment (SIA) in place [5]. Additionally, these displaced persons are rarely compensated, becoming further marginalized in the name of conservation.

Thus, the overarching rubric of conservation continues to focus on notions of preservation of the wilds for the betterment of developed nations with little consideration to the indigenous populations that shaped these landscapes through thoughtful stewardship and symbiotic, sustainable relationships.

Enter: The next generation of environmental conservation and REDD+

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) was conceived of during the early push for global solutions to climate change, specifically during the 2005 COP-11 in Montreal, Canada [6]. This video, produced by the REDD desk, gives a brief description of how the program is supposed to incentivize the protection of global forests in the name of carbon offsets for developed nations and international organizations.

Despite the mention of protection for local indigenous communities and opportunities for participation throughout the EIA process, indigenous groups are mistrustful of the proposed REDD+. Due to a lengthy history of marginalization and displacement through colonial domination, many populations in developing nations have chosen to fight the implementation of a program they feel will only serve to line the pockets of rich Westerners and contribute little to actual reductions in carbon emission rates.

A pilot project conducted in Nepal found that the benefits of REDD+ were not fairly distributed between all members of a given community [7]. Although there were evident positive effects of the program, such as meaningful public participation, there is a need for a strong system of social safeguards in order to protect the indigenous populations that live in the regions [7]. Other authors criticize the “top-down” approach of the current REDD+ system and argue for a wider role for indigenous stakeholders in order to protect communities at the local level [8].

In order to create a framework that actually does what it was intended to do, REDD+ social safeguards must be designed with several keys concepts in mind. The importance of a bottom-up approach to the sustainable management of these new spaces is crucial to the success of REDD+. Further to this, a clear and well defined social impact assessment (SIA) that considers the needs of the local communities before the wants of international institutions must be equipped with the power to challenge decisions made by forces removed from the landscape.


[1] The International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) The 13th Session of Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC SBSTA 27, agenda item 5/REDD Accessed online February 10, 2015.

[2] Vaccaro, I., Beltran, O., and Paquet, P. A. 2013. Political ecology and conservation policies: some theoretical genealogies. Journal of Political Ecology, 20. 255-272. Online

[3] Robbins, P. 2012. Political Ecology; a critical introduction, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

[4] Dowie, M. 2010. Conservation Refugees. Cultural Survival; 34, 1. Accessed January 22, 2015. Online

[5] Survival International. November 14, 2014. Parks need peoples. Survival International Report. Accessed online February 6, 2015

[6] Agrawal, A., Nepstad, D. and Chhatre, A. 2011. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Annual Review of Environmental Resources, vol. 36, p. 373-396. Accessed online February 6, 2015.

[7] Maraseni, T. N., Neupane, P. R., Lopez-Casero, F., and Cadman, T. 2014. An assessment of the impacts of the REDD+ pilot project on community forests user groups (CFUGs) and their community forests in Nepal. Journal of Environmental Management. Vol. 136, p. 37-46. Accessed February 6, 2015.

[8] Corbera, E. and Schroeder, H. 2011. Governing and implementing REDD+. Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 14:2, p. 89-99.