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Consent or Coercion?

The proponents of the climate plan REDD (“Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation”) face obstacles in seeking consent from traditional indigenous communities, which almost invariably inhabit the forests targeted by the program. But if genuine consent is to happen, critics say, advocates of a forest-conservation project must not be allowed to coerce or bribe a community into participating, withhold potential negative consequences, or attempt to gain approval after the fact.

In UN-speak this principle is known as “free, prior, and informed consent,” and it’s enshrined in, among other conventions, the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Cancún agreement has yet to require that UN-sanctioned REDD projects require such consent.

To judge by complaints of affected indigenous communities over the past few years, REDD-related projects have violated the principle in at least seven nations — the number is probably far higher. Panama may have to join the list. At a 2007 meeting in Berlin, the World Bank approved a draft of the nation’s REDD plan, which targeted lands inhabited by indigenous communities. But leaders of those communities reportedly learned of the meeting after the fact, suggesting that Panama itself may have violated the “prior” in “prior consent.”


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