Environmental Democracy and Forest Carbon (REDD+)

Article excerpt


In December 2012, I participated in a pro bono legal consulting trip to Vietnam and Cambodia for an international NGO that was planning REDD+ projects in Southeast Asia. While there, we met with numerous national, regional, and local government officials. A Vietnamese forest anthropologist, Dr. Binh Tran, and I spent time in prospective REDD+ villages interviewing local people about their knowledge of and participation in REDD+.

Both Vietnam and Cambodia have actively engaged with REDD+ and have launched projects seeking to sell credits on the voluntary market. (153) Both have prepared Readiness Preparation Proposals (R-PPs) to obtain funding from the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). (154) These proposals seek funds to ensure effective consultation with affected citizens; each nation has suggested hundreds of thousands of dollars for ED procedures as part of multimillion-dollar REDD+ Readiness requests. (155) For example, preliminary stakeholder consultations in Cambodia have been guided by "two key objectives" of empowerment to engage in REDD+ and access to information on REDD+, stressing that the process should be "transparent," "inclusive," "iterative," "timely," and "adequately resourced." (156) The Cambodia R-PP addresses the third principle of environmental democracy by stressing that responsible parties should be "held to account" with a clear complaint mechanism and conflict resolution mechanisms. (157) They seek funds to translate aspirational ED norms into concrete programs. (158)

It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the complex political milieus in which REDD+ operates in both nations. But each faces challenges in implementing REDD+ in a truly democratic way that respects local people's rights. As one example, both Vietnam (159) and Cambodia (150) have been criticized in reviews on resource development under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), to which they are both signatories.

A. Vietnam

The UN--namely UNDP, UNEP, and FAO--the World Bank (via the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility), and other entities are working with NGOs and businesses to prepare nations to participate in the international REDD+ market. (161) Vietnam has submitted and had its R-PP approved to qualify for World Bank FCPF funding; combined, the UN and World Bank have spent about $8 million on REDD+ in Vietnam thus far. (162) Based on its pilot projects, Norway granted Vietnam $30 million to finance REDD+. (163) One study estimates that REDD+ could generate $80-100 million per year in the nation. (164)

Local Management Boards or People's Committees could be granted land tenure and thus permission to enter into REDD+ deals, but only with explicit permission of the national government, following national guidelines. (165) In certain selected provinces, Vietnam is developing Provincial REDD+ Management Units to carry out the details of REDD+, including "participatory planning." (166) Devolution of land rights has included attention to the specific rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations. (167) It is not clear, however, how much say the local people would have in negotiating REDD+ schemes, given the strong hand of the central government and lack of capacity at the local level. (168) That is to say, the State manages all forestland on behalf of the people and has developed a complicated hierarchy of managerial responsibilities for forests. (169) In my interviews, it was clear that local and provincial forestry officials had little latitude to carry out programs or policies that were not devised or approved by central government officials.

Vietnam was the first nation under the UN-REDD Programme to launch REDD+ in the field and the first to conduct and evaluate an FPIC process. (170) Despite the fact that "Viet Nam has progressed further with its national UNREDD Programme than any other partner country," they had still not approved a national REDD+ program, even as the government and NGOs were piloting projects and claiming to secure FPIC for REDD+. …