Under the umbrella of the Land Dialogues series, the third webinar of this year’s series “Carbon markets and Indigenous lands : The importance of free, prior and informed consent” took place on September 14th, 2023. The webinar drew in a little under 500 participants and featured panelists from Indigenous leaders to academics. The series is organized by a consortium of organizations, including the Land Portal Foundation, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Tenure Facility.
The webinar was organized around four main themes:
- From a legal perspective, what are carbon markets and what are the main issues and challenges around them?
- From a community perspective, what have been community experiences with carbon markets? Have they worked for communities thus far?
- Why is free, prior and informed consent important when it comes to projects that affect Indigenous and local communities? Has its presence or absence has had a significant difference in outcome?
- What are the challenges for Indigenous and local communities, in terms of owning their own data, or knowing what’s being used for, when it comes to carbon offset projects?
Thin-Lei Win, journalist, Food Systems and Climate Change, moderated the panel, which featured the following speakers:
- Levi Sucre Romero, Coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB)
- Marisol García Apagueño, Secretary of the Federation of Kichwa Indigenous Peoples of Chazuta Amazonas (FEPIKECHA)
- Marco Aurelio Chávez Coyoy, Legal Department Coordinator, Community Forestry Association of Guatemala Utz Che’
- Katherine Lofts, Senior Research Associate, Canada Research Chair in Human Rights, Health, and the Environment at McGill University
Please see a brief recap of each of the four main themes of the full captivating conversation.
From a legal perspective, what are carbon markets and what are the main issues and challenges around them?
Katherine Lofts: Simply defined, a carbon market is a trading system in which carbon credits are sold and bought. These carbon credits are generated when entities (such as communities or states or other jurisdictions) remove or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.Companies or individuals or other entities can then purchase these carbon credits through the carbon market and use them to compensate for – or “offset” – their own greenhouse gas emissions. One tradable carbon credit equals one tonne of carbon dioxide or the equivalent amount of a different greenhouse gas.
When it comes to the issues and challenges, carbon credits are not doing what they claim to be doing and carbon markets and surrounding practices are infringing on the rights of Indigenous and local communities. To date, most of these interventions – these nature-based solutions or land-based mitigation initiatives – have unfolded in areas that are customarily held by Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and Afro-descendant Peoples. Even in cases where land rights are acknowledged, rights to the carbon stored on those lands and rights to tradable emission reductions that come from carbon are seldom explicitly defined in the law – so the legal frameworks are not in place to manage and address this trade in carbon. Given that communities hold customary rights to at least half of the world’s land area and thus a significant proportion of the terrestrial carbon sink, this failure to adequately recognize their rights and the role that they play in global climate mitigation poses major risks for Indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as for investors and governments alike.We are not seeing the rights of Indigenous peoples being robustly upheld in the context of carbon markets – and this includes the right to self-determination, land and resource rights, rights to participation and consultation, and the right to FPIC.
From a community perspective, what have been community experiences with carbon markets? Have they worked for communities thus far?
Levi Sucre Romero: As a Costa Rican, I have experience with carbon markets with Indigenous Peoples since 1997, through the national system that the Costa Rican government has for payment of environmental services, with a tax charged on fuel in the country. It is a little different from the global carbon market. In this one we have the experience of having started with the REDD+ consultation, which should create the enabling conditions for the country to enter a carbon market. These conditions include consultation under free, prior and informed consent on the benefit sharing plan, based on the fact that it must be inclusive and based on the monitoring and evaluation of the investment made in the carbon framework. This has been going on for the past ten years. We built a national REDD+ strategy between the government of Costa Rica and the Indigenous Peoples that created the enabling conditions for the carbon market, but this is a particular case in the region, normally no one has completed the whole process that meets these conditions. In the Central American and Mesoamerican context where I work, there are very negative experiences with the carbon market, because when REED+ failed, companies started to buy carbon markets from companies in two ways: Firstly, they tried to cover the conditions of the inhabitants by means of a "High Integrity Carbon Market Certification" that falls short in identifying the rights of the Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Furthermore, they have reached communities through brokers, by creating fraudulent contracts. It is necessary to see it in different dimensions in Mesoamerica, so we can say that Costa Rica is a successful case, being a great exception in the region.
Why is free, prior and informed consent important when it comes to projects that affect Indigenous and local communities? Has its presence or absence has had a significant difference in outcome?
Marisol García Apagueño: In 2001, two protected areas were created inside Quechua territory, but without any prior or informed consent. They took away our ancestral territory and at the moment, we cannot get within one kilometer of that area. We are concerned because, for example, when my brothers have gone hunting, people will get the meat that they retrieved out of their hands and burn it. They take away our food and we need to to nurture our families. The people who have created these preserved areas are the Peruvian government, but the Peruvian government does not respect international conventions and international agreements. They are taking away the rights of Indigenous Peoples and now they're telling us that we cannot have free transit in that area due to the law of protected areas, but there was no free prior and informed consent. The only thing we want to get back is our standard of living and we want our rights to be recognized as well as the integrity of Indigenous Peoples to be placed at the forefront. For example, I cannot go into a house just because I want to. They cannot do this just because they represent this state. They have to start respecting that we are human beings. Indigenous Peoples are human beings and we have rights under international human rights.
What are the challenges for Indigenous and local communities, in terms of owning their own data, or knowing what’s being used for, when it comes to carbon offset projects?
Marco Aurelio Chávez Coyoy: This is a situation that is repeated in many communities and towns. This is generated by the lack of spaces for community participation, but above all the generation of information without considering the cultural aspects of the communities such as language, workshops are held in urban areas, outside of the communities and this is intended to be taken as a consultation process. It would be essential to make sure that access to information and informed consent would be a right for our community. This should be within a type of system which would allow us to systematize information and make sure that the information is contextualized, so that it can be given in our own native language in a way that allows communities to have full access to this information. This kind of process would help support the kinds of issues that happen when Indigenous Peoples don't have the ability to participate fully in the processes that concern them.