The delegates from nation states all over the world convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 2012, for a conference on sustainable development held by the United Nations. There they debated the path to a sustainable future, made plans to solve the global climate change crisis and vowed to push forward the global agenda of ensuring environmental equity for all. They discussed “The Future We Want” document designed to protect the environment, solve global poverty and provide just and equitable growth. The paper will seek to assess the extent to which proposals laid down in “The Future We Want” risk infringing upon the rights of the local people.
Since humans are ecologically embedded beings, environmental issues have a direct impact on human rights. Because of humanity’s dependence on the natural environment and its resources, environmental degradation and climate change can often negatively affect the enjoyment of social, economic, political, civic and cultural right. The United Nations resolution stated that climate change has a direct and an indirect effect on the exercise of human rights. Environmental politics has moved away from a narrow eco-authoritarian viewpoint and therefore, incorporates elements of cultural, social and economic justice. On the other hand, humans are irreversibly distorting the way in which the planet functions, with potentially disastrous consequences.
The release of GHGs causes increased atmospheric temperature, which in turn causes dangerous shifts in weather and ecosystem patterns. These changes could have a catastrophic outcome of the human race. Finding a pathway to a sustainable future is, therefore, significant. Indigenous people have inhabited the lands since time immemorial and live in some of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the world. Their cultural, social, and spiritual practice is based on a relationship built on respect for their cultural surroundings, making them arguably the most sustainable communities in the world. This makes their involvement in the global environment arena pivotal to abating climate change.
This paper begins by examining the current issues related to deforestation and desertification, and forest governance. It will then examine the interaction of indigenous people with the forest and how institutions affect their relations. The paper will finally explore “The Future We Want” and its general weakness in relations to mitigation of deforestation, and then conclude by pointing out impacts of these strategies to indigenous people.
Deforestation and desertification
Desertification is the degradation of land caused mostly by human activities and climatic variation (Geottlich, 2013). Fragile topsoil makes the environment susceptible. As a human endeavor puts stress on the ground, the soil chemistry modifications, making it vulnerable rainfall. When wind and rain swish away the topsoil in processes referred as erosion, the land becomes unable to sustain agricultural production. Human survival depends on n the existence of topsoil. Therefore, its depletion is a threat to human security.
Desertification is triggered by a mixture of natural events as well as man-made practices resulting in land degradation. Deforestation has a similar effect of not only increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and temperature, but also reducing the ability of the ground to absorb water and to subvert the topsoil. Fires may also become more recurrent as the environment becomes drier, causing more deforestation and the release of carbon dioxide, eventually; it is a complex, self-reinforcing cycle that results in human security disaster.
The threat of desertification manifests in various ways. Sustainability, the ability of the future generation to access resources that are obtained by the present generation, is undermined by desertification; the reduction of forest area reduces the amount of fuelwood and vegetation for future generation. Besides, desertification makes it hard to engage in agricultural production (Geottlich, 2013). The lack of trees and vegetation adjusts the hydrological cycle. Groundwater rejuvenate is reduced due to swift run-off (Coe et al., 2009). The reduction in the quantity of transpiration from trees and evaporation from vegetation eventually brings about a discount in rainfall and surface water.
As surface water is exhausted, more and more individuals option to the pumping of groundwater of which it is nearly 3% renewable (Fearnside, 2006). An imbalance between water supply and demand brings about a positive feedback cycle whereby as water becomes limited, competition over the resource is elevated, resulting in more rapid extraction. Pumping water at a rate higher than the rate of recharge implies that finally the supply will run dry or will simply be too expensive to abstract anymore (Coe et al., 2009). With the exhaustion of natural resources, the sustainability model is not upheld, and the lifestyle of the future generation is threatened.
Desertification has a significant impact on the hydrologic cycle. Instead of runoff seeping into the ground, it runs off to a downstream location, thus, leading, evaporation, and transpiration. When there is reduced water table, as well as precipitation, plants die, and the life cycle is preserved as a decrease in groundcover enables further run-off (Coe et al., 2009).
Deforestation is recognized as the most widespread human impact in watersheds (Afrane et al., 2006). It is also extensively studied both in the temperate and tropical regions and its effects recognized as increased annual runoff to reduced infiltration rates. Forest and vegetation cover have a direct impact on increasing evapotranspiration in temperate regions where soil moisture is not limiting.However, clearing the forests results in a rise in short duration runoff (Coe et al., 2009). These changes take up to 30 years for the watershed to return to its original hydrological regime after the disturbance assuming reforestation occurs (Coe et al., 2009). The increased rate of deforestation in tropical Africa years can be credited to the natural and social-economic stability in the region (Afrane et al., 2006). First, tropical forests are cleared to create additional land for farming, grazing and fuelwood.
Moreover, to settle and absorb pressures of the ever increasing population (Afrane et al., 2006). There are land use has changed from traditional cultivation methods to intensive land cultivation and mechanization (Afrane et al., 2006). Due to intensive cultivation, land degradation cycles are repeated annually and the opening up of areas more often through forest clearing completes the cycle. For example, Kenya’s clearing nearly 20% of natural forest for tea plantation, this reduces streamflow by 11%. This occurs because greater care had been taken to minimize soil erosion during the period of plantation (Afrane et al., 2006). By the time the tea bushes gave sufficient complete cover, the annual water consumption was virtually unchanged compared to natural forest (Afrane et al., 2006). It is to note that the recovery period was relatively shorter due to poor soil and water conservation measures undertaken by the developers during the initial stages.
In areas struck by poverty, women have negligible access to assets, making them less adept of acclimatizing to environmental changes and leaving them at a disadvantage (Geottlich, 2013). Desertification is directly or indirectly related to migration pattern. Once the environmental condition is conducive to survival, the only option is to migrate or remain destitute. Consequently, migration puts a strain on other economic sectors. For instance, increased migration from country to city puts economic pressure on low-income neighborhoods (Geottlich, 2013). In addition, desertification poses a threat to global food security. Rural area is the agricultural engine of the country. Anytime there is a drought, the country is vulnerable to food shortage and civil unrest. Lastly, a decrease the availability of scarce natural resources inevitably results in raising tension between domestic or international competitors. Such pressure increases the possibility of instability (Geottlich, 2013).
Spanning almost the globe, the Americans contain a broad range of forest types; from the frozen forests of the North of the dense Amazon. The world’s largest remaining area of tropical rainforest (Fearnside, 2006). Deforestation has been pronounced within the continent with the highest global rates of loss-8 million hectares a year. This is not evenly distributed among the states; within North America, some forest cover is nearly the same as in the 90s. However, this is rapidly decreasing in Latin America where annual deforestation rates range between 0.3% in Bolivia to 2.4% in Honduras (Fearnside, 2006). In the Amazon, a region nearly the size of England has been converted to other uses over the past four decades. If the business continues as usual, 50% more will be lost causing countless species to become extinct and global temperatures to rise (Fearnside, 2006).
While the initial instinct may be to place strict protection upon those remnants of forest left. This approach fails to recognize that forests are a significant source of revenue, a livelihood and a habitat both in developed and developing countries. $145 billion is generated annually in wood production and another $12 billion in nontimber forest products. Within Canada alone, the timber trade provides 1 in every 15 jobs and brings $20 billion to the treasury (Fitzsimmons, 2004). With data such as these, it would be naïve to expect any country to turn illustration production forest into strictly protected areas. Such actions are often only an option for countries wealthy enough to sacrifice valuable land. In Mexico, nearly 12 million people inhabit the forests, many in abject poverty. Fences and fines for these people are not a viable option.
There are three claims to forests. First is that the state owns the forest. The second claim is that forests are a global resource and that all people have an interest and right to them. The third application is for indigenous people who claim traditional tenure rights. The current reality of forest governance is that it involves a great deal of contestation between state and people. Scholars such as Schwartzman and Zimmerman (2005) make the argument that current forest governance, especially in tropical areas, reflects policies reminiscent of colonialism. During this period, the state refused to recognize claims by forest depend on the communities that the land was theirs. This revealed today in a way in which states claim ownership of forested areas and exploit these areas for resources.
Brando and his colleagues (2010) argue that the state continues to claim ownership and control over forested areas, despite the state being unable to exercise efficient management of the forest. Concerning these, three trends should be noticed. First, there is a decentralization of forest management. Second, private companies increasingly exert control and lastly, forests are increasingly being seen as a market mechanism. Frequently, the eviction of people from and subsequent destruction of forests is often the result of large-scale commercial activities and economically led initiatives that come with the implicit or explicit backing of the state. The use of forceful measures to control forest use is part of the history of countries and continues today.
Indigenous people and forest
Studies initially suggested that indigenous communities’ ability to preserve forests was weakened as they grew in numbers and begun to integrate with the mainstream market-based society. Nevertheless, recent studies have started to distinguish the integral role that indigenous people play in protecting forests. According to Brando (2010), native people can have a place in the dominant society and maintain protection of the forest. In areas where deforestation does occur, it is largely the result of external encroachment on indigenous land. Schwartzman and Zimmerman (2005) have made arguments that deforestation and forest degradation is less likely to occur if indigenous peoples are successful in obtaining legal recognition of their land and in enforcing legal restriction to forest exploitation. There is now a consensus in a discourse that native lands are effective in curbing deforestation as Brando and his colleagues (2010) argues that they are the most efficient stewards of the rainforest.
Deforestation in Amazon forest has been a major issue over the past decades (Schwartzman and Zimmerman, 2005). From a growing to an expanding agricultural industry, there is a diversity of features that drive deforestation. While awareness of deforestation and its consequences has been increasing, the Amazon has historically been viewed as a barrier to economic growth, and governments (McSweeney, 2006) have supported its destruction. In the past three decades, 17% of the Amazon has been converted from forest to other land uses. Each year areas of forest equivalent to the size of New Jersey are The ramifications of deforestation are significant as the Amazon Rainforest provides a number of environmental benefits and ecosystem services, containing over 20% of the world’s species. Deforestation threatens species’ diversity in the Amazon and poses a significant threat to global climate change. Deforestation hinders the ability of the forest to sequester CO2 and causes large amounts of carbon to be released into the atmosphere. Besides, deforestation threatens the livelihoods of the communities that inhabit the forest as their resources are taken away, and they are forced to give up their ways of life (Schwartzman and Zimmerman, 2005).
Deforestation in the Amazon has become a global issue, and the consequences are felt on both the local and world level. However, these effects age differently for each community (Schwartzman and Zimmerman, 2005). There exists a high variability in results across different social, geographic and economic situations. The rural inhabitants are the ones most adversely affected because deforestation has harmful effects on the diet and health of the communities residing in and around the forest. Besides, loss of forest land and environmental degradation deplete the resources that communities depend on to survive. The decline in the supply and value of forest resources leads to an increase in costs of maintaining their lifestyle. As forest supplies become scarce, both household income and productivity decrease. For instance, men have to travel further to hunt or obtain other employment. As this happens, the burden of the family is increased, and productivity of subsistence farming decreases. The ways of life of these communities are significantly threatened by the environmental impacts of deforestation.
The international community also experiences the consequence of deforestation, but in a different manner. Global effects come in the form of decreased biodiversity and climate change because of a reduced capacity to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Therefore, the international community is working towards developing effective policies to reduce deforestation and climate change. However, many of the conservation solutions have been highly debated due to the potential adverse effects they would have on local communities.
The natives rely on the forest for survival while the international communities derive their benefits solely from the fact that these forests exist and provide various environmental services. The externalities of deforestation for the international community are different from those of the local communities. This means that the optimal level of conservation would be different for each group. These differing interests present a problem for determining who needs should weigh more in establishing the socially optimal level of maintenance.
Issues in mitigation measures
It is presumed that 70 million indigenous people wholly depend on forests for their livelihood (Karsent et al., 2007). Avoided deforestation includes strategies to prevent the degradation and destruction of forested areas to preserve biodiversity and avoid the emission of Greenhouse gasses. This refers to the relatively new strategy of Reducing Emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). The concept behind REDD is that nations are incentivized into preserving their forests through assigning forest a carbon value, based on the notion that forest stores carbon. Countries are then compensated in monetary terms by other nations, for preserving their forest depending on the extent to which they do so (Karsent et al., 2007). ‘The Future We Want’ briefly recognizes the significant role forest play in climate change and sustainable development. The section on forest opens with;
We highlight the social, economic and environmental profits of forests to people and the contribution of sustainable forest management to the subjects and objective of the conference’ (The Future We Want, 2012)
Here the emphasis is on the role the forests play in their service to people rather than on their integral role in ecosystems and biodiversity. It makes no explicit reference to the integral role indigenous and forest dependent people play in the preservation of forests. The admittance of commitments to the preservation of forest communities is worrying considering that more than 2 billion people interact with forest for their daily needs. ‘The Future We Want’ to make specific reference to avoided deforestation mechanism and to REDD when it states that;
We note the significance of ongoing initiatives such as Reducing Emissions from Forest Degradation and Deforestation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forest and improvement of forest carbon stock in developing countries’ (The Future We Want. 2012).
The explicit reference to REDD endorses its use as a tool to achieve sustainable management of forested areas. It strongly advocates REDD as a mechanism to be employed in the global environment.
Nations states promote a carbon-trading scheme as one of the most viable options to curb deforestation and environmental degradation. For instance, the Department of international development in England recommends changing the economic incentives facing the government: to make it more rewarding to preserve forests than to cut them down. Indigenous people have been opposing the notion of valuing forest simply for their carbon stock. Many are concerned that if the forest is brought into the carbon economy, then other invaluable functions will not be accounted for. Avoided deforestation proponents talk of co-benefits the scheme may bring; add on benefits that may come because of policy design. Frequently mentioned are the protection of biodiversity, poverty reduction, and the securing of the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples. It should be argued however that these are benefits in and of themselves and should not simply be a bonus to forest protection. These benefits will only be realized when forest are seen far more than just their carbon value.
Carbon offsetting refers to the process whereby the emission of GHGs is moved from one area where they are measured and monitored for another where they are not, usually as a result of activities to prevent emissions. The carbon market, which allows polluters to purchase carbon credits in order to continue emitting GHGs, is a prime example of carbon offsetting mechanism. Green economy initiatives such as REDD run the risk of operating in this way, thus permitting wealthy states and companies to continue to emit GHGs. REDD, therefore, does not succeed in reducing emissions into the atmosphere, but merely changes where and by whom. In doing so REDD and Avoided Deforestation mechanism, argue indigenous communities violate the principle of inter-generational justice.
The emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere directly causes a rise in global temperatures. According to Karsent et al., (2007) an increase in global temperature, would directly cause large sections of the Amazon to die off because of drought. A 20 C increase would lead to the death of 25-40% of the Amazon (Karsent et al., 2007). This shows that a moderate global temperature rise would cause the destruction of the majority forest, hence some grave consequences for the carbon market and carbon offsetting schemes. By allowing nation and organizations to emit such an enormous amounts of GHGs, global temperatures will continue to rise, and the protection of forest ecosystem will be futile.
In conclusion, the green economy initiative such as REDD are explicitly endorsed in the “future we want”. Consequently, indigenous people are likely to suffer violations of their rights to land, self-determined development, resources, and the right to their social, cultural and spiritual practice. The potential for these rights violates stem from a weak system of forest governance and a history of refusals to grant communal land tenure. Climate-related interventions risk exacerbating existing weaknesses and inequities that characterize the current forest management regimes. Studies suggest that the most effective approach to preventing deforestation and forest degradation is through enhanced security of tenure. Indigenous communities are based on a sustainable system of communal forest and resource management, which adequately protects forests from degradation.
The legal recognition and enforcement of indigenous rights to land and to manage sustainably their resources are the key to protecting forest. REDD is the most likely to force aboriginal rights and exacerbate social conflicts. Thus, the inclusion of REDD in “the future We Want” is the primary obstacle to the attainment of indigenous peoples’ rights and to the sustainable protection of forested areas.
Indigenous social, cultural and spiritual traditions are embedded in their relationship with the earth and, as a result, native people sustainably inhabit fragile and biologically diverse ecosystem, which they have historically conserved. There is a high risk that like measures to preserve forested areas, REDD policies will result in the eviction of the only people who have succeeded in truly living sustainably. If policies to curb deforestation and reduce GHG emissions are to be successful, and then the need to address adequately calls for the enforcement of indigenous rights paramount. These rights should be implemented not only because of the effectiveness they would have in protecting the forest. Neither for the benefits they would have to the wider community, but also because indigenous people like all other people have an unchallengeable right to existence, to freedom and to security of person.
Finally, little is known of the adverse consequence of policies designed to mitigate deforestation. Because of the pressing nature of this issue, policies are being implemented without the relevant impact assessment. There is, therefore, an urgent need for mandatory and comprehensive research into the effects of policies designed to protect forested areas. Given the high sustainable nature of indigenous communities, additional research should carry out to assess the potential effectiveness and the feasibility of implementing indigenous strategies to mitigate deforestation.
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