Environment Minister and indigenous people discuss forest preservation
Minister of the Environment and International Development, Mr. Erik Solheim, was praised after a frank and fruitful dialogue with representatives from indigenous groups during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Many indigenous people are suspicious of the global forest initiative – REDD – and so the opportunity to meet the Norwegian minister was welcomed.
It is rare for government ministers to take part in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Mr. Solheim’s openness was appreciated, but the critique of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) was still clear and the level of concern high. The demand for real consultations and greater influence in national and international processes that affect them were at the core of many of the comments from indigenous peoples.
Mr. Solheim stressed that the forest initiative needs to be implemented quickly in order to avoid further the emission of climate gasses. Member and former head of the Permanent Forum, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, worried that quick implementation would be at the expense of indigenous peoples’ ability to influence their own lives and livelihoods. International measures against deforestation must take into account indigenous peoples’ traditional ways of managing the forest as well as their customary rights, the indigenous representative from the Philippines said.
Several of the panellists stressed the importance of having respect for and increased knowledge of traditional forest conservation methods. Disputed land rights are a challenge when it comes to the REDD-cooperation. One of Mr. Solheim’s main points was that having national legal frameworks with references to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the efforts of indigenous peoples will be crucial for the REDD-regime to succeed.Mr. Solheim assured the gathering that indigenous representatives will be invited to the Oslo Climate and Forest Conference on May 27. At this meeting the interim REDD+ partnership will be launched. This is a partnership between the rainforest nations and donors. Mr. Solheim assured the meeting in New York that indigenous perspectives will be included.
Several members of the audience wanted Mr. Solheim to elaborate on Norway’s position in relation to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its main pillar “free and informed consent”. Mr. Solheim said that consultations with indigenous peoples is a prerequisite for a successful REDD+ mechanism.
Other questions from the audience were about why the end document from COP-15 negotiations in Copenhagen didn’t refer explicitly to the rights of indigenous peoples. Mr. Solheim conceded that this had not been possible, but that Norway’s prime minister Jens Stoltenberg had raised this issue in his statement in Copenhagen.
After the meeting with Mr. Solheim, Norway received a lot of praise from the Permanent Forum for entering into dialogue with indigenous peoples about a difficult and contentious issue. Norway’s approach was, according to Vicky Tauli-Corpuz and other Asian indigenous representatives, an example for other governments to follow. Participation at a political level underscores the importance of the Permanent Forum.