Salvaging the United Nations Redd Program against the Backdrop of International Human Rights Violations

By Hammond, Joshua | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Salvaging the United Nations Redd Program against the Backdrop of International Human Rights Violations


Hammond, Joshua, Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) is an intergovernmental framework designed "to reduce forest emissions and enhance carbon stocks in forests while contributing to national sustainable development." (1) Deforestation--the permanent removal of forest cover--contributes significantly to global carbon dioxide emissions. (2) This, in turn, contributes to global climate change which adversely affects the livelihood of indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities. REDD allows for nations and private stakeholders to offset their own carbon emissions by purchasing carbon stock stored inside forests, and, in effect, keep them standing.

However, nearly ten years after its launch, critics have scrutinized REDD for its impracticality. Additionally, many critics have recently shifted their critiques towards the program's unintended consequences. This sector of critics argues that, despite its many potential environmental benefits, REDD effectively permits violations of the international human rights of many indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities worldwide. (3) Herein lies the conundrum, illuminated by a particularly bizarre tension in which the program's widespread benefits also impose significant, countervailing costs.

Ultimately, the United Nations (UN) must prioritize safeguarding the international human rights of indigenous peoples while simultaneously striking a balance between REDD's program efficiency and transparency. In the face of financial adversity, socio-cultural confusion, and lower political bargaining power status, indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities must proactively assert their political voices. This must occur first locally and regionally as an entryway to national and international negotiations. Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities must first identify what they perceive as negative inflictions on their rights and sovereignties at a grassroots level. This Article posits that indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities can garner international attention, funding, and support by cooperating closely with public and private entities that have mutually invested interests in REDD. Together, these forces can direct their efforts towards targeted application of local, national, and international legal frameworks that provide clarity, uniformity and a more likely avenue for change and enforcement. (4)

Part I of this Article traces the origin and purpose of REDD. Part I also examines the program's significant role in implicating political and socio-cultural issues and its effects on indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities. Part II addresses international laws and regulations that seek to protect the international human rights of indigenous peoples. Part III analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of Brazil's national mitigation strategies, which are unassociated with the UN and REDD altogether. This section also compares Ecuador's REDD-stamped national strategy to that of Brazil's, and lends particular focus to the widespread neglect of international human rights effectuated by emissions reduction plans in both of these Amazon countries.

Part IV of this Article offers suggestions that can not only enhance the existing REDD framework, but can also provide an avenue by which the voices and demands of indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities are not stifled. Finally, Part V of this Article concludes by refraining the juxtaposition between REDD and the international human rights of indigenous peoples in order to demonstrate how the two are intertwined.

I. The UN REDD Program and REDD+

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) tasks itself "to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. …

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