The challenges of implementing REDD in Bolivia
Researcher and PhD candidate Cecilie Hirsch examines the challenges of implementing the international climate change mitigation initiative REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) in the Bolivian context, and focuses on the role of civil society and social movements in the shaping of environmental policy.
Luis Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Launched in 2008, the United Nations REDD Programme is a climate change mitigation collaborative initiative focused on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries. Put simply, REDD is designed to provide economic incentives to developing countries with important forest areas in return for their environmental stewardship. The idea of REDD was initially to value the forest’s store of carbon and provide financial rewards for developing countries to preserve forests and compensate for lost forest related income. Though in principle the idea may seem fairly straightforward, issues such as governance, funding, land rights and ethics have made REDD extremely contentious.
Hirsch is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) at the University of Oslo, doing her PHD degree at Noragric at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB). Her research is part of a larger project (BOREDD) which examines the role of civil society in environmental governance and climate change policy making.
With colleges at SUM the topic of REDD emerged as an interesting area to do research on, especially due to the Norwegian engagement and support to REDD. Hirsch, who has been involved with Bolivia since 2007, found the Bolivian context especially interesting as there seemed to be quite ambiguous positions regarding the international REDD initiative. The government’s strong position against REDD was brought to international attention at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún 2010, based on the declaration of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, celebrated in Bolivia half a year earlier. However, the same year the country officially signed the United Nations agreement to implement REDD (UN-REDD), causing confusion about their position.
- I wanted to see how the idea of REDD was reshaped in the Bolivian context, and the focus of my research project was to look at the role of civil society in environmental governance and policy making using as a case the implementation of UN-REDD, she tells.
- However, with the skeptical attitudes towards REDD in Bolivia little happened with the actual implementation of the UN-REDD program. Therefore, I decided to tweak my investigation more towards mapping the interests and concerns of stakeholders regarding forest and climate policies (with an emphasis on indigenous organizations, civil society and NGOs) and their interaction with the state and different networks, says Hirsch.
Confusion and skepticism
In her first article on the subject Hirsch explores why and how REDD has been contested in Bolivia, and she draws the lines to how international ideas and efforts are reshaped at the national and local levels, in the context of both neoliberal policies and international forces on the one hand, and the turn to the left in Latin America and the social movements’ focus on holistic models for nature-society relations and environmental justice on the other.
- Is there anything resembling a consensus in Bolivia regarding REDD?
- In short, no. While it is well known that REDD remains controversial in Bolivia, the complex and sometimes seemingly contradictory positions espoused by the state and civil society groups, such as environmental NGOs and indigenous organizations, are not easily understood. Despite having signed the UN-REDD agreement, the position of the Bolivian government remains firmly against carbon markets and offset programs, which it sees as mechanisms imposed by rich nations to evade their own responsibilities. However, the position against carbon markets is shared by many, says Hirsch, who has done fieldwork in Bolivia in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Bolivia is one of the eight countries which make up the Amazon River basin and is endowed with large forest areas (48 % of territory) and a great wealth of natural resources. However, Bolivia also faces a variety of challenges such as poverty, inequality, fostering economic development and a changing climate. As is the case with many developing nations, Bolivia is often seen as facing the dilemma of having to balance economic development based on natural resource extraction and the expansion of the agricultural frontier, land and distribution issues and environmental protection. However, unlike dominant conservationist discourses, Bolivia places a great deal of emphasis on the concept of Mother Earth in which nature is considered a rights holder.
- How well informed is the Bolivian public with regard to REDD?
- For both indigenous organizations and local communities, this varies according to what initiatives and positions they have been exposed to. There was an attempt to inform indigenous and peasant organizations about the UN-REDD program in 2009-2010 in the design phase. However, with little capacity and resources only a few meetings were held, and mostly only with the leadership of the organizations. A strong component in the UN—REDD program was to be capacity building in civil society and consultation with relevant areas and organizations. At the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Bolivia in 2010, as a meeting place between states and civil society, a strong position against REDD was formed, and the Bolivian government promised to bring the views from the conference to the international climate negotiations. The Bolivian organizations had given their support to REDD programs prior to the conference, as long as they were not connected to carbon markets. At the conference, indigenous organization from other countries (such as CONAIE from Ecuador) and radical environmental networks from other countries that were strongly against any form of REDD played an important role in forming the final declaration against all REDD projects.
Later in 2011, due to the conflict between the MAS government and indigenous organizations from the lowlands about a road building project through the national park and indigenous territory Isobore Secure (TIPNIS), the capacity building and consultation phase of the UN-REDD program was never carried out. To add to the complexity, due to the positive experience of a regional indigenous organization from the lowlands of Bolivia that had been involved in a REDD pilot project with a national NGO called FAN, the mother indigenous organization CIDOB called for more REDD projects to their territories. They have also had close connections to the regional umbrella organization COICA, which is voicing support to REDD under certain conditions. Other communities have been contacted by suspicious independent private actors or organizations wanting to “buy oxygen” with contracts of 90 years, leading to skepticism at local level. In sum, there has been a lot of confusion about what REDD really is, also based on rumors and lack of arenas to discuss and to get informed about REDD.
- How do indigenous organizations affect environmental discourses?
- They affect the discourses by a variety of strategies, such as alliances with different actors and engagement in different arenas at different scales, as well as mobilizations. We can say that the indigenous movement in Bolivia in this case has formed two different positions. The first position firmly rejects all forms of REDD as they see it as part of a neoliberal agenda with carbon markets and offsets. This position forms part of the environmental justice movement and is reflected in the final declaration of the World People´s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010. The other position has been more reserved and pragmatic, analyzing possibilities with REDD, but firmly demanding free, prior and informed consent and the respect for indigenous rights, autonomy and territories, says Hirsch and continues:
- Keeping in mind that indigenous peoples have often seen the implementation of environmental or so called development projects as thinly veiled attempts to remove indigenous peoples from their land, the official recognition of indigenous land rights in various regions of the country has likely contributed to the endorsement of REDD by some important indigenous organizations, particularly in the lowlands. The indigenous conservation discourse has been related to access to natural resources and land (territory), to the rights of indigenous peoples, and it has also been a strategy to attract actors for support and funding to better control and protect their territories (such as NGOs, multilateral agencies and donors). Different alliances have been formed based on these positions, and they have attempted to influence the REDD debate both at national level and also at the international level (by participating in international arenas or in alliance with COICA).
- Are there any particularly contentious points from the perspective of the Bolivian state regarding REDD implementation?
- Unlike Norway and other states championing REDD, the Bolivian state leans towards a politics of climate justice rather than on a model of market solutions. This has led to what could be described as a Bolivian version of REDD. This position maintains that it is correct for nations such as Bolivia to receive international funding to combat deforestation, but that this funding should not be tied to carbon markets. The Bolivian state has also expressed concerns regarding national sovereignty and the monitoring of forests by international organizations in REDD projects, which it sees as safeguarding the interests of rich countries with neo-colonialist agendas implying foreign control over their forest areas. Bolivia has now presented their alternative model for forest and climate efforts, called the “Joint Mechanism for Mitigation and Adaptation for Holistic and Sustainable Management of Forests and Mother Earth”, which will not be tied to carbon markets and which acknowledges that forests have a diversity of functions and espouse important nature-society relations. Bolivia hopes for funding for this initiative through public mechanisms such as taxes, from the UN or bilateral donors, or even private donations (without conditions) It promotes integrated management of forest areas in indigenous territories, protected areas, municipalities and local organizations, based on an incentive system and capacity building, says Hirsch, and adds:
- It is important to note that this “Bolivian alternative to REDD” is still very much in a design phase and it’s still unclear what such an alternative would look like in practice. The program was presented in Doha last year, and according to the Bolivian delegation, the initiative was welcomed by developing countries, but resisted by the EU, Australia and Norway.
In the opinion of the Hirsch, it may however be unfair to be overly critical regarding the incompleteness of the Bolivian position, given that many important aspects of REDD itself remain unresolved.
- On the other hand it is also legitimate to wonder if this proposal truly represents a new approach to environmental governance in Bolivia, or if it remains an isolated attempt that will not affect larger national interests and challenge the structural causes of deforestation, such as the expansion of the agricultural frontier, extraction of natural resources (mining, oil, gas) in forest areas and infrastructure development. That being said, there are important forces both in civil society and within the government working for a model that can balance the variety of needs, rights and interests related to the access to, control of and management of forest areas in Bolivia, says Hirsch.