- Research shows that the rights of the numerous indigenous groups in the Amazon are crucial to help curb global warming.
- Trading in CO2 emissions prevented by protecting forests instead of cutting them down has been possible since 2008 under a UN mechanism called REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries), but there are complications.
- Marked by lackluster regulation for years, since the CO2 market under REDD+ (or its predecessor REDD) was introduced, “carbon cowboys” have popped up in the remotest corners of the tropics, trying to profit from the growing trade in CO2 emissions.
Elizabeth Apolinar enjoys her job as a lawyer in the bustling center of Bogotá these days. But now and then she misses the traditional life she used to lead deep in the heart of the Colombian jungle.
Apolinar is originally from a community called the Sikuani. The Sikuani people are a pueblo indigena, an indigenous people, one of about 100 indigenous ethnic groups in Colombia. These groups are represented by Apolinar’s employer: La Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), or the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples in Colombia.
Most Sikuani — numbering about 20,000 according to Colombia’s Ministry of Culture — lead an impoverished and isolated existence in the middle of the vast Amazon rainforest. The trees provide timber for building houses and firewood for cooking. The fruits of the forest are gathered and animals hunted. The community also grows a little cassava on small plots of land.
The Sikuani rarely come into contact with the rest of Colombian society. To visit her family, Apolinar has to fly over the impenetrable jungle in a small plane. “Many people in my village don’t even speak Spanish,” she says.
Yet in the fall of 2013, the indigenous community received a visit from representatives of the Colombian company Mediamos, who offered them a contract to manage the carbon stored in the Sikuani’s rainforest for thirty years. If the Sikuani were to protect the forest, the contract stated, then Mediamos could sell the resulting reduction in carbon dioxide (C02) emissions on the international market. There was a lot of money to be made in this business, the company said, and the Sikuani would share the profits.
But does carbon trading really work that way?
The function of the mechanism
Trading in CO2 emissions prevented by protecting forests instead of cutting them down has been possible since 2008 under a UN mechanism called REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries). The idea behind REDD+ is simple. A community in a developing country with abundant forests on its land enters into an agreement with a non-governmental organization or property developer. Together they draw up a plan for protecting the rainforest from illegal logging, for example by hiring forest rangers, or finding alternative sources of income for the community.