A colonial mechanism to enclose lands: A critical review of two REDD+-focused special issues : Joanna Cabello and Tamra Gilbertson

This review essay critiques two REDD+-focused special issue journals: Environmental Science and Policy, ‘Governing and Implementing REDD+’, and Forests (2, 2011). This is an effort to address the varying assumptions from the academic journals – that REDD+ can be fixed with more governance, finance and/or community engagement – through a critique of the wider neoliberal climate regime, issues of ‘governance’ as an unproblematised category, and by exploring, from de-colonialist and environmental justice perspectives, the issues of real participation and sustainability. We conclude that REDD+ is framed within an epistemological understanding of forests and lands which supports the domination of nature by humans for economic profit, regardless of financial input, governance and/or participation from communities, and therefore will not be a successful means of climate mitigation or forest protection. In addition, the essay stresses the goal that any climate change policy should include: keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and devising just and effective ways to protect the environment, lands, forests and peoples. Finally, emphasizing that deforestation is a complex socio-political and economic event, the article strongly voices other knowledges opposing REDD+ projects, which are largely marginalized in these discussions, especially those from Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities.

The REDD proposal allows the powerful capitalist countries to maintain their current levels of production, consumption and, therefore, pollution. They will continue to consume energy generated by sources that produce more and more carbon emissions. Historically responsible for the creation of the problem, they now propose a “solution” that primarily serves their own interests. While making it possible to purchase the “right to pollute”, mechanisms like REDD strip “traditional” communities … of their autonomy in the management of their territories.- Letter from the State of Acre, October 2011 In defense of life and the integrity of the peoples and their territories against REDD and the commodification of nature 1

A loud silence prevails within the debate on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancing of carbon stocks (REDD+). Although thousands of people are directly affected by REDD+ projects around the world and continue to resist these projects, their voices are silenced by elites who categorically believe that REDD+ will not only protect remaining forests and mitigate climate change but also, at the same time, be a lucrative business opportunity. This belief is rooted in the same structures and interests which made it possible for polluters to avoid any real actions for reducing emissions at source and brought about the privatization of greenhouse gas through carbon trading.

Although the REDD+ architecture is still being debated in the United Nations climate change negotiations, many projects are already underway in the global South. Proponents believe not only that REDD+ can help mitigate climate change but also that it will provide enough funding to address a wide range of deeply entrenched forest conflicts. These issues range from land tenure and land rights to concessions, extractive industries, road building, large-scale infrastructure projects, community involvement, governance and transparency, land use change, biodiversity protection, agricultural practices, land use changes and so on.

While REDD+ is being designed and implemented as the premier international package to address deforestation and forest degradation, the underlying structural challenges in trying to ‘fix’ current unsustainable forestry and land practices remain unaddressed. Many proponents of REDD+ tend to gravitate towards the belief that although there are inherent problems with REDD+, they can be solved by securing large sums of money in order to improve ‘governance’, safeguards, and/or increase local communities’ participation. However, these arguments are framed within a specific epistemological understanding of forests and lands: the domination of nature by humans for economic profit. Market-mechanisms and institutions frame cultures, politics and ‘other’ cosmovisions, which understand nature as a central part of human beings, as non- modern or unproductive, pushing communities into the dominant epistemological ideal of constant economic growth (Walsh, 2010).

Above all, REDD+ is aimed to set in motion a new commodity: carbon stored in forests and soils. Grassroots groups, activists and social movements have pointed out that these entrenched issues will not be solvable through a one-size-fits-all REDD+ package, and that REDD+ is being constructed in a way that is likely to exacerbate existing social, economic and structural problems in the South. As the Indigenous Peoples from the Armador Hernández region in Chiapas, Mexico, declared, in August 2011, in relation to REDD+, ‘we call [out to others] to be alert to the double intention of these programs, dispossessing us while changing our culture with the purpose of disorganizing us and neutralize our resistances’ (Otros Mundos Chiapas, 2011).

Meanwhile, the REDD+ debate has also entered the academic circles, from which understandings about the inclusion of forested lands into the carbon markets are being influenced. This review essay is based on two recent REDD+-focused special issues in academic journals. The special issue of Environmental Science and Policy, ‘Governing and Implementing REDD+’, centers largely on the complexities of governance and implementation. More specifically, this issue looks into models for carbon payments to communities, methodological analysis of past and current experiences, and the dilemmas of carbon accounting and monitoring, to name a few. It also brings insights from case studies in Peru, Uganda and Brazil. All contributions from this special issue advance the argument, in different degrees, that REDD+ can and should be fixed or improved. The special issue of Forests (2, 2011) is also largely centered on governance issues, especially in Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica and Peru. The articles of this issue analyze ways to improve governance, assess the economic conditions that shape forest management, and the role of decentralization and REDD+ as a governance mechanism, to name a few. Again, the authors, scholars in social science and business studies, concentrate on ways to improve REDD+. Thus, we consider it important to engage with these debates in an attempt to unpack some underlying assumptions.

This review essay divides its critiques into three sections covering cross-cutting themes. First, we take a look at the wider neoliberal climate regime from which REDD+ emerges in order to contextualize implementation challenges and threats as well as to understand why REDD+ is being pursued so enthusiastically. In the second section, we reflect on the issue of ‘governance’, with a focus on the role of the World Bank. The review will conclude by exploring, from de-colonialist and environmental justice perspectives, the issues of participation and sustainability, especially as related to Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities. This paper aims to dispute the frameworks from which the two mentioned special issues are analyzed and to challenge the consistent conclusions of the authors which tend to undermine their own research.

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