Photo courtesy Broddi Sigurðarson. Indigenous New Zealanders celebrate their country endorsing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

At the December 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, treaty negotiators agreed to include recognition of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the proposed draft agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. If approved, the new climate treaty would be the first international environmental law to maintain that indigenous peoples must express their “free, prior, and informed consent” for any conservation program to proceed within their territory. (In a promising move, the precautionary brackets on this controversial text were removed in Bonn earlier this month.)

The inclusion of “free, prior, and informed consent” would, theoretically, protect indigenous peoples from unfair treatment in the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) deals that are under way as part of international climate agreements. Many indigenous peoples organizations are concerned that groups may be coerced into REDD benefit-sharing agreements or forced off their land entirely.

Due in large part to opposition from the three countries that had not adopted the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—Canada, New Zealand, and the United States—the draft climate treaty states only that safeguards “should” be followed and merely “notes” that the UN has adopted the declaration.

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free prior informed consent, indigenous peoples, REDD, UNFCCC