It takes a village

Allison Silverman, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

In the world of UN climate negotiations – in which 194 official Parties and hundreds of observers and representatives from civil society and indigenous groups have different and complex agendas and priorities – meaningful progress to reduce emissions is a challenging feat. Ensuring that progress at through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) respects human rights and environmental integrity is even more so.

As negotiators were designing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Warsaw Framework at COP19 last year – which provides the basic rules for implementing REDD+ - an equally important process took place outside the closed doors of the negotiating rooms. A number of groups recognised the need to improve collaboration and the opportunity to influence the negotiations by working more strategically, by working together. These groups – the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, REDD+ Safeguards Working Group, and the Accra Caucus – have been engaging in REDD+ in the international arena. Their goal is to ensure that in protecting forests to prevent climate change, environmental issues such as biodiversity and water protection, as well as human rights, are protected and promoted.

Together, as a loose collaboration of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and civil society organisations focused on rights and advocacy, we discovered strength in numbers and a unity of purpose in promoting rights and environmental protection in REDD+. We recognised that there was much we could learn from each other, much to gain, and much work still to be done. We identified our role in advancing climate justice more broadly in the climate negotiations.

And so, we decided to form an informal, knowledge-sharing platform that we called the “Tri-Caucus.” One particular motivation for uniting was the concern that the decisions on REDD+ made in Warsaw on finance and accounting could result in countries ignoring the remaining work needed on REDD+ safeguards and drivers of deforestation. In response – as a loosely coordinated network of national and international activists, with a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s work on the rights dimensions of climate change, and on how forests and the rights of Indigenous Peoples and other local communities have been impacted – we agreed to push for stronger international policy and greater harmonisation with domestic laws.

During our first week in Lima, we advocated for the critical need for further guidance on the REDD+ “safeguards information system”, which will help to ensure that the REDD+ safeguards are actually addressed and respected, that they both do no harm, and that they provide added benefits, beyond carbon, to the forests, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and biodiversity. For us, the Cancun Safeguards were only the first step and most importantly will be how the safeguards are actually operationalised on the ground. Regrettably, negotiators did not agree on additional guidance here in Lima; however, we managed to secure continued discussions for next June, giving us additional opportunities to push on this issue, for community monitoring, and for stronger provisions for addressing drivers of deforestation.

On the broader land sector discussions under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), we are promoting a “rights-based approach” to comprehensive land use, by which we frame governance, rights and biodiversity in the post-2020 Agreement as core enabling conditions and push the negotiations beyond carbon accounting towards a stronger focus on adaptation and multiple benefits. We have also been promoting human rights in the Convention more generally, which is particularly important given the recent murders of environmental activists, who were killed because they stood up against the destruction of their natural resources.

In the case of the Tri-Caucus, the saying “it takes a village” is an understatement. To move the world, it takes a truly global, coordinated community. While we were disappointed that in one of the world’s biggest rainforest countries, Parties could not find a way to look past their differences to help protect forests and secure the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, we are now more unified and motivated than ever. While the final decisions are out of our control, we are able to more readily work together to influence REDD+ and land use, as well as to share our messages outside the formal talks.