1. Introduction

United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the Copenhagen Accord reasserted the importance of reducing emission from deforestation through REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus) in developing countries and urged developed countries to provide financial support for this climate change mitigation effort. UNFCCC also decided to establish Copenhagen Green Climate Fund as an operating manager of the financial mechanism to support projects, policies and activities related to climate change mitigation in developing countries, including REDD-Plus (UNFCCC 2009).

Forest sector has been regarded as one of big contributors of greenhouse gases that caused global warming. IPCC in its synthesis report states that forestry has contributed about 17% of total anthropogenic GHGs emissions, more than emission from transportation sector which only 13.1% (IPCC 2007, p.5). Accordingly, reducing emission from deforestation becomes important component in the global mitigation effort because this measurement has the potential to reduce emission significantly, quickly and cheaply (Bond et al. 2009, p.vii). Moreover, Nicholas Stern in his review on the economics of climate change stated that preventing deforestation is a cheap measurement to cut the emission from non-energy sector, compared to other option of climate change mitigation (Stern 2006, p.13).

More than just reducing the emission from deforestation, REDD+ promises many extra benefits such as enhancing the protection of biodiversity, soil, water, poverty alleviation and improving forest management and governance (Brown 2008, p.109). However, beside its benefits, the implementation of REDD+ also poses many potential problems, particularly to the indigenous peoples and forest dependent communities whom their livelihood, tradition and culture are depend on forest resources. A range of risks related to REDD+ threaten indigenous people including land and property rights, fairness of financial distribution and possible eviction from their land.

Indigenous people ought to be considered in the REDD+ negotiation and other forestry programs because for indigenous people, forests are homes and place for them to earn a living. Based on the data, there are approximately 1.5 billion indigenous people who are directly and indirectly dependent to forest resources (World Bank 2008, p.15). Goldberg and Badua (2008, p.59) in their article titled ‘Do People Have Standing?’ depicts the dilemma faced by indigenous people whether they should support the efforts to protect the forest for reducing the emission, or strive against it. This dilemma arises because on the one hand, this effort could preserve their land and forest, but on the other hand, this effort may threaten their rights, customs and culture.

2. Forest, Indigenous People and REDD+

Indigenous Child in Brazil (Source: http://www.greenpeace.org)

The challenge in the discussion about REDD+ and indigenous people is to make clear the definition of indigenous people and to determine who are included in this group of people. There was a convention about indigenous and tribal people in 1989 conducted by International Labor Organization (ILO), but this convention did not clearly define who indigenous and tribal peoples are. However, the indigenous people can be identified by using some criteria. According to ILO (1989) and Lyons and Mayall (2003, p.72) the indigenous people are those who: first, identify their self as indigenous peoples. This self-recognition is considered as basic criteria of the indigenous peoples. Second, they hold their own culture and tradition which are different from other communities of the national population, such as language, customs and rituals.

Third, they have their own social organization and political systems in their community. And fourth, Indigenous people are who has lived in certain area for a long time with historical continuity or before new comers colonized or “invaded” their area. In this paper, the term of indigenous people is limited to the indigenous people who live in forest area and who depend on forest resources for their livelihood, tradition and culture (ILO 1989; Lyons and Mayall 2003, p.72).

Indigenous people, climate change and forest are interrelated in a number of ways. First, a great number of Indigenous people are forest dweller and dependent on forest resources. According to the World Bank, the number of indigenous people who are completely dependent on forest resources are approximately 60 million people, other 350 million people are very dependent on forest, and about 1.2 billion are dependent on agro forestry (World Bank 2008, p.15). Many forests in tropical region are dwelled by various inhabiting communities and considered as the richest diversity of inhabiting peoples. At least 1,400 different indigenous peoples are living in tropical forest area. (Commission Européenne 1994 in Macchi 2008, p.39).

Indigenous people have maintained and managed the forest for a long period of time. There are many traditional knowledge in indigenous people communities that can support the conservation and sustainable forest management which potential to support the implementation of REDD+. Their experience and traditional knowledge could play significant role to support climate change mitigation efforts (Scheliha and Christophersen 2009).

Second, forests and its inhabitants are vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Since a long time period, forest ecosystem has been adapting to its surrounding climate and temperature. If those surrounding conditions change, forest ecosystem will be dreadfully affected. Vast area of forest could be lost because of these changes, which in turn can exacerbate the climate change. Hence, there is an urgent need to take strategic action to mitigate as well as adapt to the climate change. (Streck et al. 2008, p.4)

Third, forest sector is expected to play a significant role in mitigating climate change. Forests have the potential to absorb or act as a ‘sink’ of global carbon emission and have ability to store a large amount of carbons for a long period of time (Streck 2008, p.5). These have become consideration of the governments to create a policy that include reducing emission from deforestation in the global effort to mitigate climate change in post-2012 climate regime.


Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) is a set of objectives and actions to reduce the emission from forest destruction and has been negotiated under the umbrella of The UNFCCC (Silvestrum 2009). The basic rationale of REDD+ is to reward through incentives to the countries, projects, or communities who can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from deforestation (Angelsen 2008, p.viii)

REDD+ provides opportunity for developing countries to get financial incentive as a compensation for their effort to conserve their forest. This opportunity can be seen from the commitment of some developed countries which has declared at Copenhagen to provide 3.5 billion dollars to encourage the implementation of REDD+ over the next three years (Brown 2010, p.240). Furthermore, recently in The Oslo Climate and Forest Conference 27 May 2010, some developed countries has promised to provide more than 4 billion dollars to support developing countries in protecting their forests for emission reductions (MacDougall 2010).

Formal discussion about REDD+ under auspices of UNFCCC is started at the eleventh Conference of the Parties (COP 11) and since that time, the concept of REDD has been debated and experienced some changes. The first concept of Reducing Emission from Deforestation (RED) with single D was suggested through a proposal submitted by Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea which both are members of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. In their proposal, the two nations suggested that preservation of tropical forest can be sponsored by the carbon market. Despite this, their proposal also stated that RED mechanism could support developing countries to achieve sustainable development through their effort to cut emission from forest (Wainwright 2009 cited in Evidente 2009, p.487).

Slightly different with the previous proposal, in 2006, Brazil proposed that reducing emission from deforestation should be achieved through a public fund mechanism instead of relying on carbon market. Public fund in this context means that the fund comes from donation from developed countries for developing countries. This based on the argument that RED scheme is not an effort to offset the emission from industrialized countries, but as a positive incentives for developing countries to reduce their own emission.

In the following debate, there are critiques to the proposal that only focuses on deforestation. Some countries suggest to add forest degradation in REDD scheme. Afterwards, during the climate talks in Ghana, August 2008, this discourse come to an idea to integrate the effort of reducing emission from deforestation, forest degradation, sustainable forest management and conservation in one package and then come to the term REDD-plus (Wainwright et al. 2008 cited in Evidente et al. 2009). For practical reason, in this essay, the term REDD will also include REDD-plus.

Position of Indigenous People in REDD+ Negotiation

In order to safeguard their rights, Indigenous people show a big effort in term of getting the acknowledgement and place in REDD+ negotiations. When Conference of Parties (COP) 13 held in Bali, The large number of indigenous people ask the forum to recognize and mention explicitly the indigenous people rights in the REDD decision. Their effort was not fully successful at that time but at least they succeeded to persuade the UNFCCC to put the term of indigenous people in the preamble of COP 13 decision 2/CP 13 that stated: “the needs of local and indigenous communities should be addressed when action is taken to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries” (Griffith 2009, p.7).

Although the REDD+ decision could affect them directly and indirectly, indigenous people are only observers and has only limited role in the negotiation and decision making process of UNFCCC. They advocated to improve their position to ensure that they can effectively influence the decision making process like what they had in other convention like UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and UN convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Unfortunately, the parties did not approve this demand and just give opportunity for their representatives to be observers in the UNFCCC meetings which means that they do not have voting rights in the forum (Griffith 2009, p.9). However, although their engagement is very limited, at least, the current international discussion about REDD has include a greater attention and focus to the indigenous people rights than any other policy negotiated under the UNFCCC in the past (Barnsley 2008, p.31).

3. The Implication and Possible Problem of REDD+ to the Indigenous People

Like many other options in climate change mitigation, the implementation of REDD could not free from the advantages and disadvantages or opportunities and risks, particularly to the indigenous people. Considering the differences in forest management and systems from one place to another, the negative and positive implication of REDD to the indigenous people will depend on where, who and how the particular REDD program is implemented. This section will discuss the possible risks and opportunity for indigenous people in relation with the implementation of REDD.

Possible Benefits and Opportunities for Indigenous People

The main goal of REDD+ is emission reductions to mitigate the climate change. So, if this goal is achieved, it will benefit all human beings in the world, including indigenous people who are most affected by the climate change (Barnsley 2008, p.47). More than that, REDD+ also offers various co-benefits for the indigenous people and forest dwelling communities such as providing new source of income and protecting their homes, livelihood and biodiversity.

New Source of Income

In the implementation of REDD+, indigenous communities may have the opportunity to earn money as additional source of income from direct financial incentive or from other kinds indirect revenue. This opportunity may come from the emergence of international carbon market or emission trading for financing emission reduction or offset projects. For example, if a company emits the emission more than its cap, they should buy additional carbon credits from other company that have the surplus of carbon credit. Alternatively, to offset the excess emission, the company can pay through financing the emission reduction programs conducted by the government or communities. This is where indigenous people can take the opportunity through their forestry activities and land management to provide the offsets and get payment from it (Barnsley 2008, p.25, 47).

This also shows that REDD+ bring a new hope in alleviating the poverty by providing financial incentive to rural and forest communities. The incentive is given as reward for their contribution in forest conservation. Furthermore, REDD may also enhances the equity of indigenous people and forest dependent people who are often lack of attention in most developing countries. (Brown et. al 2008, p.110)

Only limited experience exists to date regarding the implementation of REDD+. In a briefing paper of The International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), Viana (2009) gives an example of success stories of REDD pilot project namely the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve Project in Amazonas, Brazil. This project is claimed as the first REDD project that qualifies the standard of Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), and this project let the local communities and indigenous people get the entire benefits from the carbon markets through a forest conservation grant mechanism. Technically, each local community received debit card for receiving the money as a reward for conserving their forest. Moreover, the local community also gets sponsorship and donation for their organizational and social activities, such as education, health, communication and transportation.

Home, Livelihood and Biodiversity

Forests are homes as well as source of resources which directly support the livelihoods of Indigenous people. The loss of forest means they will lose their livelihood and will aggravate the poverty. Hence, any effort to protect forest such REDD+ will also support indigenous people’s livelihood (Parker 2008. P.14). Moreover, for indigenous people, forest does not only provide shelter but also provide variety of products ranging from timber to non-timber products such as fruits, nuts, coffee, rubber, and medicinal plants that can be used to meet their daily necessities or they can sell it for income generation (Scheliha and Christophersen 2009, p.19).

In addition, prevention of deforestation can also protect the biodiversity of forest. Biodiversity is important in helping indigenous people to adapt to the climate change. Scheliha and Christophersen argue that a wide-range of non-timber forest products is a key element of human adaptation to climate change, especially for indigenous people, as it reduces the risk such as hunger when some forest product or food are no longer available or become extinct because of changing climate. In addition, biodiversity also offers a wide-range of forest product for income generation for indigenous people who are usually poor and rely on forest resources for livelihood. Based on this example, it is reasonable that any effort for avoiding deforestation and forest degradation can safeguard Indigenous people’s homes and livelihood as well as alleviate their poverty. (Scheliha and Christophersen 2009, p.19).

‘Co-benefits’ debate in REDD+ negotiation

The inclusion of co-benefit to REDD+ scheme design is very debatable. For example, the opponent of this inclusion idea argue that the main focus and objective of REDD+ is to mitigate climate change, not poverty. Therefore, the step to be done is just to make sure that REDD+ would not detriment the poor people (Brown et. al 2008, p.109).

In contrast, the proponent argue that delivering co-benefits to the poor such as indigenous people is a key factor of REDD to be succeed. This argument is considering on the fact that indigenous people are the immediate forest managers, who are often poor and very dependent to forest resources. The pro-poor policy will also reduce possible risk of rejection from forest communities to REDD+ effort. Moreover, there are moral argument that REDD+ has potentiality to improve the forest people well-being, promote sustainable development in rural areas as well as to address the interest of communities that has legitimate rights to forest and who might be affected by REDD+ implementation (Brown et al. 2008, p.109).

Possible Problems and Negative Impacts to the Indigenous People

In spite of those benefits, REDD+ may poses a range of risks to the indigenous peoples, or in a worst a case scenario, may cause harm (Griffiths 2008; Bond 2009). Some potential areas of concern that the implementation of REDD+ might negatively impact indigenous people include:

Loss of Access to Forest

There are concerns among indigenous peoples that their rights on land and territory will be disturbed by the establishment of some protected areas as a response to REDD+ (Fry 2008, p.177). These concerns is reasonable because of experiences in the past that indigenous peoples often conflict with the governments and private companies for access and manage the forest. For example, when the Indonesian government establish forest concession system (HPH) which gives private companies the rights to extract timber from particular concession area, the indigenous people in some area loss their rights to access and obtain forest resources for their daily needs or to get traditional medicinal plants in the concession area where has been inhabited by indigenous people for a long time period (Siburian 2004, p.130-131). The access of indigenous people to forest should become a concern because often, indigenous people are too poor to buy alternative foods and forest products when their access to forest is prohibited (Ravels 2008 in Silvestrum 2009, p.24).

Worse than access restriction issue, REDD+ may also lead to the eviction of the indigenous people from their area. Smith (2007, p.33) in his book titled The Carbon Neutral Myth gives a example from the violent eviction of The Benet, indigenous people in Uganda, as the impact of the declaration of Mount Elgon as a national park in 1993 and FACE (Forests Absorbing Carbon-dioxide Emissions) Foundation’s tree planting project in 1994.

In cooperation with the Uganda Wildlife Authoritity (UWA), FACE decided to plant trees on 25,000 hectares in the area of Mount Elgon National Park. The projects have forced local community of Mount Elgon to leave the protected area and prohibit them to get food and traditional material from the forest. Furthermore, the park rangers have killed more than 50 people in 2004. This experience shows a clear picture that mitigation measure can grab the land and caused exclusion of the indigenous people from their territory (Smith 2007, p.33).

This is contrary to The United Nations Declaration on rights of indigenous people that has assured the right of indigenous people to their land and access to it. Article 26 of the declaration stated that “Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use” (UNDRIP 2007).

Protest against proposed programs like REDD+ Source: Indymedia.org.au

Land and Carbon Rights

Another issue related to the implementation of REDD+ is that introducing carbon rights and entitlement over land will create new property and commodity associated with forest. This issue is related to the question of who should receive the incentives and who is authoritative to manage the forest. The Government of Western Australia (2005, p.1) defines the carbon right as the right to any benefit of carbon sequestration arising from a forested land that enable the holder to get money from the carbon market for greenhouse gas emission offsets.

Wollenberg and Baginski (2009, p.5) argue that market mechanism in carbon forestry tend to formalize the land rights which could disregard indigenous customary system and marginalize informal land rights holder. Ian Fry (2008, p.177) said that the problem of indigenous people is that often they do not hold formal tenure of their land and forest. Due to not having formal property rights, Indigenous people fear their rights to land will be compromised and they will get less benefit from the carbon market. Worse than that, when the carbon rights applied to the land occupied and used by indigenous people, this may enable one or a group of actor to exclude indigenous people from their land

These possible problems shows that tenure and property issue is not just a matter of relationship between person and land, but also social relation by which a person, a group of person or a company feel competent and entitled to eliminate and exclude others from opportunities to get benefit from a piece of land and the use of it (Macpherson 1983 in Saunders 2002). Inability to clarify the tenure right and allowing the market to define rights that are not acceptable to indigenous people and government may also lead to conflicts. Hence, it is necessary for policy makers and stakeholders of REDD+ to clarify these issue in the implementation of REDD+ to make it more effective, equitable as well as fulfill indigenous people rights.

Fairness in Profit Sharing

Another possible risk threatened the indigenous people is about fairness in the share of REDD+ fund. Brown (2008, p.133) said that the increase of value on forest land because of the implementation of REDD may tempt the government and commercial interest to monopolize the profit from carbon rights as well as actively or passively ignore the rights of indigenous people to get financial benefit from the protection of forest. Mrilalini Rai (2009) argue that many REDD+ projects are administered by governments, large non-government organizations and international agencies which may use top-down management approach. This mechanism can cause the risk of unfair distribution of the fund and Indigenous people would have less access to the money as the reward for their role in the protection of the forest and biodiversity.

Moreover, the risk of indigenous people to experience injustice in the financial distribution is worsened with the corruption issue. Large new financial flow seems to bring new opportunities for corruption especially for countries that has a bad record on forest fund management in the past. Lovera (2008, p.6) in his briefing note released by Global Forest Coalition also shows this apprehension. The rapid enhancement of financial support for the reducing emission from deforestation could emerge the risk of misappropriation of the fund committed by elite either in government or in community level.

This argument is reasonable because some research on past policy on forest proved that corruption on forest sector often occurs. For example, Barr et al. (2010) in his study about the implementation of a reforestation scheme in Indonesia, namely The Reforestation Fund (Dana Reboisasi) run by Ministry of Forestry to finance reforestation and forest rehabilitation program, shows that since 1989 the Restoration Fund has had receipts of US $5.8 billion from various sources. Ten years later, the external audit by Ernst & Young revealed that billions of dollars was lost. This is evidence that there has been mismanagement of the fund. The corruption can be done in many ways such as marking up the cost as well as overstated areas planted. Since reformation era in 1998, Indonesian governments have taken steps to improve the financial governance by withdrawing the reforestation fund authority from the Ministry of Forestry to the Ministry of Finance and strengthening the Supreme Audit Institution to monitor public financial assets Barr et al. (2010, p.4-15).

What can be learned from Indonesian experience is that to make sure that in the implementation of REDD+ it is urgent to ensure that the corruption will not occur and the benefit of REDD+ would reach the people entitled to receive it. REDD+ should have a certain mechanism that prevent the corruption by strengthening the monitoring of the financial transactions in REDD+.

Socio-Cultural Impact

Another thing that sometimes forgotten in the discussion of the impact of REDD+ to indigenous people is about its possible impact to the social and cultural life of indigenous people. As discussed earlier that indigenous people has their own culture, tradition, customs and rituals which they hold firmly. Corpuz et al. (2008, p.32) stated that the designation of their forest to become carbon storage and used for emission trading, not only can obstruct the indigenous people to access the forest, but also can possibly prevent them to practice their tradition and customary system in managing the forest. Moreover, it can also prevent them to use the forest for traditional ceremony and ritual purposes.

Corpuz et al. (2008) also argue that some of indigenous spiritual and religious ceremonies are not being practiced anymore because of their exclusion from their forest and land. In addition, as many indigenous communities are having a sacred sites in the forest, it is possible that many of the area of REDD+ activities will be overlap with these sacred sites.

These possible risks are become the arguments of indigenous people who are afraid about the impact of REDD+ implementation, like what is expressed in the statement of the International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) at the COP 13th of the UNFCCC in Bali. They stated:

“REDD+ will not benefit Indigenous Peoples, but in fact, it will result in more violations of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. It will increase the violation of our Human Rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts. Under REDD, States and Carbon Traders will take more control over our forests.” (Forest People Program 2007)

In order to avoid these risks and pessimisms, it is necessary to find strategic steps in the planning and implementation of REDD+.

4. Approaches to Reduce Possible Risks

There are several approaches that could be used to minimize possible risks to the indigenous people and in the same time achieve the objective of REDD+ including monitoring, transparency, land and property clarification, and the increase of the engagement of indigenous people in planning and implementation.

Monitoring and Transparency

In the implementation of REDD+, monitoring system will play a crucial role to make sure that the REDD+ fund is used in proper way and target. The Eliasch Review recommends a mechanism similar to Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to promote the transparency in the forest countries (Eliasch 2008, p.206).

The basic concept of the EITI is that companies announce how much money they give to the government, and the government also publishes how much money they received from the companies and how that money is used. After that, those two published report will be assessed by independent monitoring body or civil society for its accountability. This transparent publication and reporting system could be an alternative mechanism in carbon finance which may involve companies, governments and civil societies.

The implementation of similar mechanism like EITI in carbon finance will require the freedom and strength of civil society to ensure that the fund is managed properly and the benefit is distributed for the prosperity of all citizens. Consequently, the civil society should improve their understanding of the climate change, forestry and monitoring mechanism (Eliasch 2008, p.207).

Land Rights Clarification

Ian Fry suggests that if market mechanism is used in the implementation of REDD, it would need to clarify the land rights of indigenous people as well as ensure legal and institutional requirement to safeguard the rights of indigenous people and forest communities (fry 2008, p.178) Furthermore, Wollenberg & Baginski suggest that in spite of clarification of rights to land, it would also need to clarify the indigenous people rights to access forest resources such as timber and non-timber product and other ecosystem services provided by forest. This measure may avoid possible marginalization of indigenous people in the implementation of REDD (Wollenberg & Baginski 2009).

Involvement of indigenous peoples

Another key approach to reduce some possible risks to the indigenous people is to make sure their involvement in decision making process and in the implementation of REDD, in all level—International, national and local. This is because as a policy that related to forest, REDD can directly or indirectly affect communities who depend on forest resources. Their involvement in the decision making process is needed to give them opportunity to express their views and to make sure that any decision made will not harm them, rather than rely on state representatives in the UNFCCC to consider their fate. Their rights to involve in policy making are acknowledged by The UN Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous People (Article 18) that states: indigenous peoples have the rights to involve and delegate their representative to any policy making process that has possible impact to their life and rights (UNDRIP 2007).

Furthermore, Rai (2009) argue that any activities related to climate change adaptation and mitigation such REDD is doubtful to be successful if indigenous people and forest dependent people are not engaged and involved in the planning and implementation, or if their interest is not taken into account in the REDD program.

5. Conclusion

This paper attempt to show that mitigation effort is not only the issue of reducing the greenhouse gas emission but also an issue of social justice, fairness, equity and human rights. In addition, the discussion in this paper also implies that the idea of reducing emission from deforestation should not forget the fact that there are humans who live in forest area and depend on forest resources for their survival and livelihood. In fact, they have maintained and managed the forest for a long period of time.

The implementation of REDD+ promises much co-benefits beyond emission reduction. It opens opportunity for indigenous people to earn money from the carbon market by providing offsets of greenhouse gas emission through forest management and conservation. In addition, avoiding deforestation can also help them in protecting their land and biodiversity in the forest. However, the implementation of REDD+ has many potential problems to the indigenous people and forest dependent communities including possible eviction, loss of access to forest, injustice in profit sharing of REDD+ fund and obstruction of their spiritual and cultural activities.

Much more work needs to be done to make sure that the implementation of REDD+ will not harm the indigenous people. Monitoring and transparency of the finance can be a crucial step to avoid the misappropriation of REDD+ fund by elite and to make sure the indigenous people get what they deserve to get. The Eliasch review has recommended the use of a mechanism similar to the EITI to promote the transparency.

Despite that, there is also urgency to clarify the rights of indigenous people to their land and forest resources. Although their rights are guaranteed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People but in fact, they still experience marginalization in the forest management. Involvement of indigenous people in the negotiation and implementation of REDD+ is also needed to make sure that their interest is not ignored and the policy produced will not bring harm for them.


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