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Deforestation & Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Published: May 18, 2012, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

SBSTA Session Bonn, Germany – Indigenous Peoples’ concerns on Deforestation

The International Indigenous Peoples’ forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) is meeting in Bonn, Germany during the current intergovernmental session where the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and technological Advice (SBSTA) ** is convened to consider proposals and recommendations for explaining the factors that promote and drive deforestation in bioculturally sensitive regions in the world. Participants in the IIPFCC ad hoc sessions have drafted and presenting recommendations to government delegations on deforestation, Monitoring Reporting and Verification (MRV) of adverse effects, and a safeguard information system.

Still unable to sit at the table for discussions to enter into colloquy or directly present recommendations, the IIPFCC participants from many different indigenous organizations and communities press their diplomatic efforts with representatives of governments.


In its 17 May statement intended for the SBSTA session being held in Bonn, Germany the consensus position being offered on deforestation asserts that the survival of indigenous peoples in forests depends on a healthy forest. The consensus position goes on to argue that development activities (monoculture tree planting, mining, construction of large dams, large scale infrastructure projects including roads, and illegal logging of precious wood) are responsible for the pervasive deforestation. The IIPFCC also argues, “unsustainable demand and consumption of natural resources…” should be considered significant factors in deforestation. Concerned that SBSTA’s consideration of factors causing deforestation may be the sole consideration, the IIPFCC stated that deliberations concerning factors that drive deforestation, “cannot be separated from policy and legal reforms aimed at the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights to land, territories, resources, traditional knowledge” and broader rights to live and survive. Noting that states’ governments and businesses often claim to identify the application of traditional knowledge and traditional ways of living as the driving factors that cause deforestation, the IIPFCC asserts that such “erroneous” claims are simply evidence of an effort to undermine indigenous peoples’ rights as recognized under international law.


The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s “REDD Development Dividend Task Force meeting in January 2011 in Manila, the Philippines described the MRV as the “central issue in the Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) negotiations.” The UNFCCC Conference of Parties meeting in Cancun, Mexico (2010) mandated a way to measure green house gas and CO2 emission levels along with forest condition levels through a “transparent monitoring system.”  Notably, the people most directly concerned with deforestation and greenhouse gas levels remain marginalized by states’ governments–indigenous peoples.

The IIPFCC offered several recommendations that featured the importance of “Indigenous peoples’ full and effective participation in developing, planning and implementing MRV activities….” The consensus document argues that indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge systems, local knowledge and resource management practices should be “fully acknowledged and respected” to make contributions to strategies and solutions. Of particular importance to the MRV question is the IIPFCC proposal that indigenous peoples engage the process through “independent review and active engagement…through a parallel review based on traditional knowledge” supplemented with technical assistance and financing.


Finally, in their message to SBSTA the IIPFCC urged that the body formulate stronger guidance to states’ governments so they can align their policy and laws with international laws and in particular the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Since many indigenous people do not have legal or political recourse for redressing grievances with the state government the IIPFCC urges that the SBSTA encourage formation of mechanisms that are independent and accessible for complaints.

These recommendations are consistent with previous submissions to other intergovernmental mechanisms, but as always, SBSTA remains a distant interlocutor. Indigenous peoples representatives remain very much on the margins even as there is considerable effort to engage in dialogue with states’ government representatives and leaders of SBSTA.

** Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) meets at least twice each year to develop recommendations and advice to states’ government members of the Conference of Parties that acts as the decision-making body on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The SBSTA is a subordinate body that provides advice on matters of science, technology and methodology and it offers guidelines for improving standards of government communications and greenhouse gas and CO2 gas emission inventories.

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