REDD Rag to Indigenous Forest Dwellers

The story of REDD unfolding in Chiapas is one that we at GJEP have been following closely, and documenting through articles, photos, videos, and analysis. This report from IPS aligns with our own findings. We’ve added a few photos of our own to the original IPS article.
– the GJEP team

The Lacandon jungle canopy. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

REDD Rag to Indigenous Forest Dwellers
by Emilio Godoy

Cross-posted from IPS

MEXICO CITY, May 10 (IPS) – The implementation of a forestry programme against climate change in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas poses a threat to indigenous people in the state, non-governmental organisations warn.

The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme “will alter indigenous culture, will commodify it, giving commercial value to common assets like oxygen, water and biodiversity,” Miguel García, general coordinator of Maderas del Pueblo del Sureste, an NGO founded in 1991 that supports indigenous people and rural communities and defends the environment, told IPS.

“Under an ecological pretext, the social fabric is being broken down and resentment of and confrontation with the Zapatista grassroots supporters are being accentuated,” he added, referring to the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), a Chiapas-based left-wing guerrilla group that defends indigenous rights.

The programme, initially launched in 2008 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the U.N. Development and Environment Programmes (UNDP and UNEP, respectively), is aimed at conservation of biodiversity and boosting carbon storage in forests by supporting developing countries financially and technically, to either prevent deforestation or regenerate forests through afforestation.

The government of Chiapas is keen on REDD as a means of mitigating the consequences of climate change in the state, one of Mexico’s poorest.

At the end of the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in early December in the southeastern Mexican resort of Cancún, the international community reached an agreement on the new version of the programme, REDD+.

Gustavo Sánchez, head of the Mexican Campesino Forest Producers’ Network (Red MOCAF) told IPS, “There are regions of Chiapas where land ownership is a problem, which makes implementation of REDD+ difficult. What is needed first and foremost is an effort to spread information,” so that local people can give or withhold free, prior and informed consent.

REDD+ is one component of the Climate Change Action Programme for the state of Chiapas (CCAPCH), launched in 2009, which is at the public consultation stage in a territory that is among those most exposed to the effects of climate change, such as torrential rain and flooding.

Mexico emits 709 million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Chiapas’ CO2 emissions are 32 million tonnes a year, arising mostly from soil use, deforestation and farming.

One million of the state’s population of nearly 4.8 million are indigenous people, belonging to seven ethnic groups, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

REDD+ would affect areas inhabited by the Lacandon, a people originally from the southeastern Mexican state of Campeche and from Guatemala, who settled in Chiapas around the end of the 18th century and are mainly supporters of the EZLN.

The EZLN took up arms in Chiapas Jan. 1, 1994 to fight the discrimination and abject poverty suffered by Amerindians in Mexico. After a few skirmishes with the armed forces and an inconclusive dialogue with the government, from 2006 on the guerrilla group withdrew into the Chiapas jungle.

In 2003, the 40 pro-Zapatista municipalities adopted an autonomous form of organising themselves in five “caracoles” (seashells).

“Practical ways of making sustainable use of the forests are essential,” Tatiana Ramos, head of the Mexican office of Conservation International (CI), a U.S.-based NGO that runs three environmental projects in Chiapas, including acting as consultants to CCAPCH, told IPS.

“What has been lacking is the sharing of information and building the process so that participants may take a leading role,” she said.

The Mexican Congress approved a Law for Mitigation of and Adaptation to Climate Change in December, 2010.

One month earlier, the governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines, together with the then-governors of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger and of the Brazilian Amazon state of Acre, Arnobio Marques de Almeida Junior, signed an agreement to trade carbon credits, to be earned by reforestation of degraded lands.

In 1971, the Mexican government ceded 614,321 hectares to a group of Lacandon people in what is now known as the Lacandon jungle, who engaged in talks with successive administrations, especially at the state level.

Seven years later, the federal government decided to create the Montes Azules (Blue Mountains) Biosphere Reserve, with an area of 331,200 hectares, which overlaps with the Lacandon territory.

Mexico has 65 million forested hectares, of which only 6.5 million hectares are covered by timber exploitation permits issued by the Secretariat (Ministry) of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT).

According to the authorities, 150,000 hectares of forest a year are lost in Mexico, but environmental organisations estimate that the rate of deforestation is above 500,000 hectares a year.

“They are ignoring the rights of other peoples that have been harassed and displaced. They will have neither land nor occupations, because under the REDD mechanism, they cannot sow maize, otherwise they will forfeit the economic benefits,” García complained.

The villagers of Amador Hernandez are under threat of eviction due to REDD, because they lack formal title to their land. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

The government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón is designing the national REDD+ strategy, planned to begin in 2012. The programme is presently under way in 10 countries.

The issue “is broader than running a huge programme, or meeting particular carbon dioxide levels or emission cut targets, because it involves the institutional architecture and opportunities for citizen participation,” Sánchez said.

Mexico’s is one of the eight pilot projects under the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), an alliance of 28 nations, NGOs and international organisations that funds the reduction of emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation.

Under this scheme, Mexico will receive 3.6 million dollars on completing the project, according to the latest FCPF report in February. Five pilot projects will be set up to test the REDD+ programme.

“The government is assessing whether or not it is feasible. An important point is that no project can be launched unless the safeguards within the programme are respected. If there are organisations that feel the safeguards are not being applied, it is essential that they make their views known,” Ramos said.

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