Land Forum 2023
Christian Bobst
2 / 9 / 16 November 2023

HEKS/EPER Land Forum 2023

The Land-Based Carbon Market: Perspectives from the Global South

The HEKS/EPER Land Forum 2023, held online in three sessions on 2/9/16 November, focused on the land-based carbon market. Speakers gave perspectives from the Global South on if and how this market could be used without violating land and human rights, and on radical alternatives for climate justice beyond carbon colonialism. Please find here a summary of the event, including video recordings of all three online sessions.

Key Messages

The 2023 Land Forum aimed to gather diverse viewpoints on the land-based carbon market, which was reflected in the at times contrasting outlooks of the speakers. A central divide emerged among the keynote speakers, with some seeing the carbon market as a financial instrument with the potential to mobilize additional funds for communities in the Global South. In contrast, other speakers argued that the market functions as a colonialist tool, relieving the Global North of its climate crisis responsibilities and reinforcing the capitalist system, all while compromising land and human rights.

A recurring concern – and likely the most common ground among speakers – was the recognition of serious land and human rights risks and violations associated with carbon market projects, including a disregard for local culture, traditional land use and governance structures. Concrete examples of land and human rights violations were cited from different countries in Latin America and Africa, illustrating issues such as land grabbing. Alongside calls for improved safeguarding standards and for local communities to gain sovereignty in carbon projects, others deemed the market inherently unimprovable, entrenching unjust and colonial power structures.

The predominant focus on the CO2 metric within the market was criticized for contributing to misinformation and misstatements regarding carbon neutrality. In addition, it is seen as increasing the risk of so-called “false solutions” such as monoculture plantations, neglecting the importance of prioritizing biodiversity, food security and climate resilience — critical considerations, especially in the context of the multiple and interconnected crises we are facing. The invited experts suggested a move away from offsetting or carbon neutrality claims towards mere contribution claims, as well as a shift to alternative indicators emphasizing various ecosystem services and invested labour efforts.

The discussion expanded to explore ideas for systemic change, with some suggesting a fundamental rejection and departure from the current carbon market system due to its perceived continuation of colonial structures and ineffectiveness in addressing the climate crisis. Alternative solutions suggested involved reforms to the tax system, aiming to limit illicit financial flows to tax havens, and strengthening state climate funds to support indigenous communities in protecting their territories. The speakers further underscored the importance of local resistance in the Global South, where oppressed communities voiced their concerns, and the need for sound strategies to further advocate for these communities’ rights. Please find the full report of the HEKS/EPER Landforum as a PDF here.

Sessions: Summary and Recordings

Understanding the System: The Land-Based Carbon Market and its Impacts on the Ground (Session 1, 02 November 2023)

The first session provided participants with a foundational understanding of the essential processes, stakeholders, and diverse perspectives surrounding the land-based carbon market. The session emphasized contrasting opinions on the market, with one keynote speaker highlighting its potential to mobilize funds for climate projects and the other keynote speaker criticizing it as colonialist, lacking positive impacts on climate change and hindering a fundamental change of the current economic system.

Two specific project examples from Sierra Leone and Uganda underscored how varying contexts and project conditions can result in distinct carbon market situations. While one case demonstrated the adverse effects of carbon investments on communities and the perpetuation of land grabs, the other project showcased farmers expanding their coffee-agroforestry activities and gaining additional income from carbon-related initiatives.

Session 1 en français  // en español  // em português 

Improving the System: Avoiding Land and Human Rights Violations, Strengthening Climate Resilience (Session 2, 09 November 2023)

The emphasis of the second session was on exploring ways to improve the existing carbon markets, focusing on land and human rights violations in the first part. While the case of the Colombian Amazon underscored significant violations of land and human rights in REDD+ projects, neglecting the sovereignty and rights of indigenous communities, the Cambodian case argued for stringent safeguarding standards and grievance mechanisms to ensure Free, Prior, Informed Consent and empower local communities in decision-making.

In the second part, the session explored ways to enhance incentives, proposing a mindset shift away from offsetting towards prioritizing emissions reduction and pricing the remaining carbon emissions – based on the social cost of carbon – in order to fund community-based interventions for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Additionally, it emphasized moving away from a sole focus on the carbon metric, and instead value alternative indicators that promote projects which help address the multiple and interconnected crises we are facing by valuing biodiversity, food security and climate resilience.

Session 2 en français  // en español  // em português 

Changing the System: Alternatives towards Climate Justice, beyond Carbon Colonialism (Session 3, 16 November 2023)

The third session started by exploring alternatives for climate justice beyond carbon markets, examining financial flows outside market mechanisms. The discussion emphasized the intersection of tax justice and climate justice, proposing the closure of corporate tax loopholes to generate funds for climate action. A call was made to overhaul the international tax system, driven by political will and people power. The session also examined the distribution of public funds for local climate action, with Brazil's National Climate Fund serving as an example. The importance of community adaptation projects, prioritizing indigenous territories and restoring native forests for net-zero goals, was underscored.

The second part critically examined the carbon market and drew parallels with past colonial developments. Contextualizing the climate crisis within colonial history portrayed carbon markets as perpetuating a new form of colonialism that neglects the rights of local and indigenous populations. The focus then shifted towards advocating for fundamental system change, amplifying grassroots struggles worldwide, to strengthen the rights of the defenders of forests and lands, that are fighting for a change in power dynamics and supporting them through legal, media, and organizational strategies.

Session 3 en français  // en español  // em português 

What is the HEKS/EPER Land Forum?

Since 2017, the annual HEKS/EPER Land Forum has been raising relevant questions regarding land use rights of indigenous and traditional communities, with a focus on how these communities can be strengthened in their efforts to claim and secure their rights and to have access to land and natural resources, in particular in the face of climate change. “Right to Land and Food” and “Climate Justice” are two priority areas of HEKS/EPER’s work.