REDD+, Forest Tenure and Indigenous Peoples' Rights

Photo:UN-REDD Programme

Since its inception in 2008, the UN-REDD Programme has supported inclusive, gender-equitable policy formulation and decision making for national and sub-national REDD+ processes. This approach is based on the recognition that the people who live within or in close proximity to forests, and whose livelihoods depend directly on forests, are best positioned to protect and sustainably manage them. Their perspectives and proposals deserve primary consideration. To underpin this approach, the UN-REDD Programme has integrated representatives from indigenous communities and civil society into its national programmes and processes, ensuring their full and effective participation.


More concretely, the Programme has pioneered rights instruments, such as protocols for “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” (FPIC) and the design of Grievance Redress Mechanisms (GRM), to advance indigenous peoples rights with respect to decision making and participation in climate and forest policies and measures. In parallel, national REDD+ stakeholder platforms have become instrumental in fostering participatory policy dialogues, as well as developing inclusive national strategies. The Programme has also helped communities and indigenous peoples to advance the demarcation and monitoring of their own territories and to use such information towards community-based land and forest planning. Drawing on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, the Programme promotes the importance of recognizing collective tenure rights, while at the same time reinforcing the legitimate tenure rights of local communities and indigenous peoples. An upcoming information brief will reflect further on this topic.


National REDD+ efforts, supported by UN-REDD, have consistently shown promising results. In Colombia, the full and active participation of indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples in national policy processes reached a milestone in 2018 with the release of the national strategy on forests (Bosques, Territorios de Vida) and the advancement of the national development plan. These two key national policy streams effectively recognize indigenous peoples' rights and their relevance in forest issues. They are models of best, inclusive practices for other countries. For this, UN-REDD also joined forces with other EU funding initiatives supporting identification and implementation of model community-based forestry approaches. The lessons of the national participatory policy process were collected, systematised and disseminated, so as to inspire and facilitate the efforts of other nations and stakeholders.


In Ecuador, indigenous peoples are recognised as priority stakeholders in the implementation of the REDD+ Action Plan. PROAmazonía, the forerunner REDD+ programme in the country with financing of $53 million US from the Green Climate Fund, has provisions to ensure that the majority of programme actions must have the participation of indigenous peoples. As a result, having indigenous peoples at the forefront for REDD+, coupled with government commitment to an inclusive REDD+ agenda, has yielded a rights-based approach to REDD+ actions and investments in Ecuador.


In Vietnam, efforts to promote the development rights of ethnic minorities have yielded exciting outcomes. Most prominently, a High-Level Ethnic Minority Development Forum was convened for the first time in August 2018 and was attended by the Deputy Prime Minister who recognised the need for specific policy and investment approaches in forest lands and in ethnic minority communities.


UN-REDD is also disseminating lessons learned from national efforts on land tenure governance to the international constituency of development co-operation.  In Tunisia, the lessons learned from participatory gender-sensitive mapping of state forest lands were showcased at the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference in Washington, DC. The UN-REDD Programme also facilitates regular dialogue and South-South exchanges through the online discussion group (‘Dgroup’) on REDD+ and Forest Governance.  Featured topics on forest tenure, indigenous peoples, community forestry and gender spark active exchanges of views and experiences. Among the highlights were introduction and perspectives on Zambia’s new community forestry regulations and experience sharing on the forest tenure assessment completed in Honduras.


As the international effort for REDD+ reaches a milestone first decade, it is clear the recognition of indigenous peoples and local communities as essential stakeholders in national REDD+ processes has gained widespread traction. This is a significant achievement for indigenous delegates and activists who have tirelessly advocated for their cause. This promises to yield more inclusive and robust policy and programme responses to the global forest and climate crises.


However, there remains a significant gap between the goals and aspirations of national stakeholder participation platforms and institutional instruments to support indigenous peoples’ rights and the reality faced by many indigenous communities in REDD+ partner countries. There is need for the policy reforms and inclusive mechanisms to be fully deployed and sustained in the longer term. Yet, many land and resource rights defenders find that their livelihoods, their forests and, most critically, their daily lives remain under threat from competing interests and powerful forces that operate outside the bounds of legality and formal governance systems.


As we look forward to the next decade of REDD+, scaled up efforts to institutionalize respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities will be needed to ensure that policy commitments are realized and that people are protected and empowered to sustainably manage the landscapes on which their livelihoods, and the stability of the earth’s climate, so urgently depends.