REDD+: Promoting Sustainable Forestry or Carbon Colonialism?

Yet another group of indigenous people have united to rally against the implementation of REDD+ in their region. Global deforestation and degradation produces around 17% of the world's carbon emissions, and REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, aims to decrease carbon emissions by protecting forests through funding from governments or private sources for projects that would essentially pay countries to limit the logging of their forests.

REDD+ has raised concerns of indigenous peoples since its formal inception at the 2010 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and on March 29th a new indigenous group spoke out against REDD+. At the 2013 World Social Forum (WSF), a gathering of international social movement organizations, Africans from Nigeria, South Africa, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Mozambique, Tunisia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania launched a No REDD in Africa Network. The Network aims to protect Africa from "carbon colonialism", calling REDD+ "a carbon offset mechanism whereby industrialized Northern countries use forest, agriculture, soils and even water as sponges for their pollution instead of reducing [their] greenhouse gas emissions."

While there has not yet been an agreement as to how to fund REDD+, the World Bank's involvement in REDD+, and their penchant for pushing carbon trading as a means of funding for carbon reduction projects, has caused major concerns with indigenous groups, who do not believe carbon trading will help protect their forests or reduce carbon emissions. If a carbon trading market system is used to fund REDD+, it would allow governments and private sources to purchase "carbon credits" in the carbon market, where the credit price correlates to the amount of carbon retained and not released from a certain area of forest. These investors would pay for this credit as a way of offsetting their own carbon emissions rates.

According to, a watch site that covers all REDD+ related news, one major concern with this type of market is that carbon trading does not really reduce emissions, as carbon is still being emitted by these nations and companies. Another concern is that other carbon credit programs are already experiencing difficulty in quantifying reduction in carbon emissions, which has created a "bubble" in the market and slowed the motivation to create more carbon credit programs. There has not yet been a suitable system to measure these amounts of saved carbon emissions, as it is difficult to monitor deforestation in real time and verify such carbon stores are not being released. Furthermore, REDD+ allows the opportunity for real estate developers or carbon traders with no actual interest in forest conservation, self-proclaimed "carbon cowboys", to gain rights to forest carbon by manipulating forest communities and indigenous peoples into giving up their rights to the carbon stores in their land. Once these "carbon cowboys" own these forest carbon rights, they can control the land and retain profits these indigenous people would otherwise receive for the carbon credits.

Representatives for indigenous groups also worry that a carbon market based on payments for "sustainable forestry" would bring massive amounts of money to their nations' Forest Departments, which are already highly prone to corruption. The massive funding from REDD+ to Forest Departments would attract criminals, who see these carbon markets as an opportunity for fraud, as such large-scale organized crime operations bribe or intimidate forestry officials, threaten violence against indigenous people in forest communities, and forge government licenses or documentation of land title. These criminals can then wrongfully claim land in order to receive the payments from REDD+, which were meant to protect the trees, or claim credits for forest that do not exist.

A speaker for the No REDD in Africa Network, Nnimmo Bassey, Alternative Nobel Prize Laureate, and former Executive Director of ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, discussed similar fears of REDD+ and its repercussions for the indigenous people of Africa. He called REDD+ a "new form of colonialism" that will lead to massive land grabs that "may constitute a continent grab." This fear of "land grabs" is reasonable because implementing a carbon market would cause further commodification of forests. Considering what happened to these nations when other valuable and internationally traded commodities were discovered on indigenous land, such as oil, gold and valuable minerals, this commodification could lead to a deprivation of property rights, or some believe even violence and genocide for the indigenous people of these nations.

Indigenous groups, like No REDD in Africa Network, have ardently protested against the implementation of REDD in their nations for good reason. REDD+ may have been a useful tool to bring media attention to the subject of reducing carbon emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation, and REDD+ has caused governments to confront their forestry corruption problems through REDD+ Readiness, the program in place in countries that anticipate REDD+ funding. However, such carbon market based programs have proved time and time again that they do not reduce carbon emissions, if anything they create incentive for ill-doers to manipulate a poorly regulated system, and to take advantage of indigenous people in forest communities. Not only does a carbon market program not make sense because it allows companies and countries to continue their practices and maintain the same carbon emissions levels, but it also incentivizes criminal activity in some of the forest areas that need protection the most.

Rebecca Berger, a 1L student at Maryland Carey Law, is a tree enthusiast.