REDD+ People: Interview with José Absalón Suárez Solís
Interview with José Absalón Suárez Solís, member of Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), a national organization working to defend traditional and collective rights of Afro-Colombian communities:
Q: What REDD+ work do you do?
We work together with other organizations to strengthen governance in ancestral territories in the Pacific region and in the inter-Andean valleys in Colombia. Our specific focus is on restoring traditional and collective rights to Afro-Colombian communities.
At the national and international levels, we proactively participate in formulating and sharing feedback on materials that the government is developing related to its REDD+ Readiness-Preparation Proposal (R-PP), National REDD+ Strategy, Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA), REDD+ communications strategies and the related policies for environmental and social safeguards.
We work on national and international issues related to the legal security of ancestral territories, the regulation of the carbon credit market, and the capacity to counteract and to mitigate the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. We also focus on the Afro-Colombian worldview or “cosmovision” as a guarantee for conservation and community participation in REDD+ decision-making. In addition, we are currently developing recommendations on Colombia’s R-PP that incorporate the Afro-Colombian cosmovision.
At a local level, we are helping communities understand and prepare for REDD+. In 2011, we began to organize events to educate and inform communities and their organizations about the REDD+ mechanism – e.g. how it works, who the relevant actors are, where decisions are adopted, the implications on community rights and how to organize in order to negotiate a REDD+ project. We also collaborate with communities to draft REDD+ materials and plans. Some notable materials we have worked on include a position document on REDD+ (unpublished), a communication strategy for the Pacific region, and a document about REDD+ safeguards from a local context using a bottom-up approach (in preparation).
Q: How did you get involved with this work?
The Instituto Latinoamericano para una Sociedad y un derecho Alternativos (ILSA), a Colombian NGO partner, informed us about the R-PP negotiations. We were interested in the process because it involves forests and territorial rights, two areas of our work. We then formed an alliance with ILSA, Bank Information Center (BIC), and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and organized several national events where we brought together communities, the government and the World Bank to discuss REDD+ and the R-PP.
Through these meetings and events, we learned more about the negotiation process, and created a work agreement with the government to incorporate our recommendations into the R-PP.
Later, with the same government and partner NGOs, we raised funds to hold workshops with communities to keep them informed about the negotiation process, advances, and to collect input for government REDD+ materials. We are currently working on recommendations and inputs for the National REDD+ Strategy and on the proposal for REDD+ environmental and social safeguards.
Q: What is your goal with your REDD+ work?
We work to strengthen community knowledge and understanding of REDD+ and its implications for Afro-Colombian rights, identity, territory and autonomy, and communities’ options for the future when it comes to REDD+.
We work to influence policy, regulatory frameworks and other government plans for REDD+ to ensure that they respect and maximize Afro-Colombian rights.
We build tools and mechanisms with the communities to ensure that REDD+ doesn’t threaten Afro-Colombian rights.
We identify the best ways for REDD+ to respond to and control drivers of deforestation and forest degradation.
We work to ensure the use of an environmental and social safeguards system in the country, based on United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), UN-REDD and Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) guidelines.
We help draw attention to REDD+ as more than just carbon, and highlight its value for other forest services and benefits.
We help strengthen the capacities of Afro-Colombian communities so that when they start negotiating a REDD+ initiative or project, their rights will not be compromised. This includes making sure that the benefits of REDD+ to communities are clear and fair, and include strategies to face the drivers of deforestation.
We work to draw attention to the importance of REDD+ as part of the solution to a huge global issue – climate change. This is vital because the current tendency is to focus discussions on REDD+ and not on climate change.
Q: What is the most important thing you have learned from your work?
This type of initiative is often started or led by outside groups. These groups must be inclusive and clear so that communities can understand the issues, give their opinions and propose strategies and methodologies for implementing REDD+ in their territories and based on their interests, needs and rights.
Q: What are your favourite REDD+ experiences?
One of my favourite REDD+ experiences was seeing our participation and influence make an impact on the R-PP. Our recommendations were taken into account and we got to see several months of effort reflected in a document that considers the potential effects of REDD+ on territorial rights of Afro-Colombian communities.
I am also happy that we are creating a REDD+ social and environmental safeguards proposal from the local point of view of the Afro-Colombian communities (the proposal is still in progress). With this, we look forward to providing a tool that Afro-Colombians can use to see and understand potential REDD+ risks and threats to their rights.
Q: What do you see as the future of REDD+?
The future of REDD+ is not yet clear. The tendency is to work on REDD+ initiatives with an eye toward carbon credit commerce. Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are all working on numerous REDD+ initiatives, but where are the financial resources? I see more speculation than reality.
In addition, REDD+ initiatives are mostly concerned (if not totally concerned) with the carbon business aspect, and they are not focusing on the main challenges – deforestation and forest degradation. Deforestation and forest degradation are driven by mining with heavy machinery, monocultures like palm, illicit crops, large-scale infrastructure projects, expansion of the agricultural frontier, irrational timber logging (forest resources) and extensive cattle ranching. Those issues merit more work in the future.