World Rainforest Movement

REDD+ in Central America: it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission


This text is an initial attempt to understand the dynamics of development and implementation of REDD+ projects in Central America (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), by exploring patterns or similarities in each country, and the role of various international cooperation agencies and non-governmental organizations. REDD+ is promoted in the region mainly by multilateral institutions like the World Bank, donor agencies from northern countries and international NGOs, as a crucial mechanism in the fight against deforestation and climate change. However, its implementation reveals a different reality.

Guatemala stands out among the Central American countries with the government carrying out national REDD+ implementation processes in partnership with cooperation institutions. The largest and most expensive process in Central America is happening in this country. The history of REDD+ in Guatemala starts in 2009, when the World Bank fund to promote this mechanism, the Forest Carbon Partnership Fund (FCPF) (1) donated US $200,000 to Guatemala to develop a National REDD+ Preparation Proposal (R-PP). This document was approved in 2011, and the FCPF immediately disbursed another donation in the amount of US $3.6 million to the Guatemalan government. Additionally, and importantly, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) donated US $5 million and US $44 million, respectively. In April 2014, the Guatemalan government received even more money when it signed the technical cooperation agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), an entity that operates as an FCPF implementing partner. Guatemala obtained US $250 million from the IDB.

Guatemala has committed to reduce twelve million tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide), over half of which the Guate-Carbon project aims to “absorb.” Each ton of carbon “absorbed” can be sold to companies or countries that are polluting elsewhere. This project covers the largest contiguous forest region of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, in the state of Petén. However, industrial oil palm plantations continue to expand next to REDD+ projects in Petén (2). It is important to stress that Guatemala is one of the first experimental laboratories for ecosystem service offset projects. In 1998, the US energy company Applied Energy Services (AES) signed an agreement with the NGO CARE to invest in forest conservation projects in the highlands; the project would “offset” emissions from the construction of a 183-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the United States (3).

Another major enterprise of this kind in Guatemala is the REDD+ project “Forests for Life” in the Sierra del Lacandón which covers 202,865 hectares and is funded by the European Union and the German government through its International Climate Initiative. Its proponents intend to sell credits from this project on the voluntary carbon market or other carbon offset schemes.

At the same time that this staggering REDD+ investment is happening, there have been complaints about the Archila family’s influence within the Guatemalan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, in particular regarding layoffs of half of the staff of the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP, for its acronym in Spanish). The Archila family has large investments in the Guatemalan extractive industry, (4) revealing the true interests behind organizational and political conservation decisions: such decisions should in no way affect mega-projects that dispossess lands.

While REDD+ implementation has perhaps been slowest in Honduras, according to official data, the government of Porfirio Lobo (heir of the 2009 coup) has nonetheless publicly stated support for its implementation. This is despite opposition from community organizations, who denounce the lack of spaces for free, prior and informed consultation on this process. This is no novelty, given that from 2003-2004 the Honduran government approved the Property Law with support from the World Bank. The Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH, for its acronym in Spanish) denounced that this law was harmful to indigenous communities and lands and violated the right to consent stipulated in ILO Convention 169. This law paved the way to implement REDD+, seeing as it violates the collective nature of property by promoting dissolution of the communal land ownership system.

According to data from the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, 760,000 hectares of Honduran Mosquitia lands have been titled (5). These lands were previously communally managed, yet now communities must obtain titles for them as cooperatives or private associations in order to access REDD+ funds. This has created an accelerated process of land privatization, driven by the perverse incentive of offset mechanisms.

In the case of Nicaragua, there is emphasis on the largest forest region in the country, located in the Autonomous Regions of the Northern and Southern Caribbean Coast (RACCNS). This region is home to over 67% of the forests in the country, as well as Miskita, Mayangna Ulwa, Rama, Garífuna and Creole peoples. Overall, there are over 600,000 people in the RACCNS region, and the region represents 27% of the Nicaraguan territory. The World Bank’s FCPF has invested a total of US $3.6 million to elaborate the national emissions’ scenarios and reference levels (quantification of emissions) the design of a forest monitoring system; the implementation of a system to monitor, report on and verify CO2 emissions; and the ongoing consultation processes and environmental and social strategy review (6). Despite all this, there has been no confirmation of a broad informative and consultation process with forest populations in the RACCNS region.

As for Costa Rica, REDD+ implementation has been led by Fonafifo (the organization that administers the Payment for Ecosystem Services system), and funded by German International Cooperation (GIZ), the United Nations REDD Programme (UN-REDD), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), and mostly by the World Bank’s FCPF. Additionally, Costa Rica received US $1.1 million for its national indigenous peoples consultation plan. Overall, funds for the REDD+ strategy in Costa Rica are estimated at US $12.5 million.

Implementing REDD+ in Costa Rica has been particularly controversial, however, due to the violations of indigenous peoples’ rights to free, prior and informed consent under ILO Convention 169. On several occasions, indigenous organizations have reiterated the need for real dialogue on REDD+ implementation in their territories. In October 2015, about 400 indigenous people demonstrated at the Presidential House to make known their rejection of REDD+. Unfortunately, their demands for transparent consultation were not heard. In February 2016, the government considered the pre-consultation phase with indigenous peoples to be complete, claiming that 95% of the consultation plan had been implemented. In response, on July 1st, approximately 400 people were present at the Indigenous Bribri Territory Development Association (ADITIBRI) in Suretka, for the public Declaration of the Bribri Territory of Talamanca Free of REDD+ (7).

The proposed REDD+ national strategy in El Salvador is to prioritize Increased Forest Carbon Stocks, mainly by transforming subsistence agricultural practices. It also encourages emissions reductions through existing forest ecosystems in the country (mangroves, other natural forests and agroforestry systems like shade-grown coffee plantations) through REDD+ projects.

El Salvador receives funding from the FCPF, with the World Bank acting as trustee. The Climate Change Committee of the National System of Environmental Management (SINAMA, for its acronym in Spanish), established in 2012, acts as the governing body for the REDD+ Strategy. That same year, the document containing El Salvador’s National REDD+ Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) was also drawn up.

But doubts and discontent quickly arose. In May 2012, 23 indigenous organizations and communities of the National Salvadoran Indigenous Coordination Council signed a letter to the World Bank FCPF Coordinator at the time, Benoit Bosquet, demanding rejection of the R-PP that the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources had sent to initiate REDD+ projects. This letter states rejection of the R-PP because “its design neither considers nor incorporates the concerns or needs of El Salvador’s indigenous peoples, in terms of impact and adaptation to climate change; and the process to prepare it did not include free, prior and informed consultation with such peoples, according to international indigenous law.” (8)

Finally, the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights in Panama is not very different from the rest of the region. There are serious complaints about the right of access to information regarding REDD+ implementation. Since 2008, when the National Council of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP, for its acronym in Spanish)— an entity promoting the REDD+ strategy and approach—began alleged consultation workshops, there has been serious criticism.

By 2010, UN-REDD had disbursed US $5.3 million to create the National Strategy, with the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD) in charge, and with support from German International Cooperation (GIZ) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In 2013, the National Kuna Congress (highest-level organization of the Kuna-Yala indigenous peoples) rejected the REDD+ implementation process in Panama, considering it to be in violation of ILO Convention 169 due to the lack of information and transparency in the process. (9) In 2013, the National Council of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP, for its acronym in Spanish) also pulled out of the REDD+ negotiations because they were denied Free, Prior Informed Consent, for which they filed a complaint to the UN. COONAPIP later agreed to resume dialogue. (10)

REDD+: more violence against forests, territories and communities

After reviewing some of the facts from each country’s experience with REDD, we have found some similarities in the processes:

• 44% of Central American forests are within areas inhabited and used by indigenous peoples (11); hence each country has great interest in carrying out REDD+ projects in those territories;

• To date, no country has carried out a broad and transparent consultation process with communities. There have been inadequate informative and consultation processes on REDD implementation with indigenous peoples of the region. To a greater or lesser degree, it is clear that there are conflicts and complaints about the lack of dialogue and representation, about corruption, and about other issues during development and implementation of REDD+ projects;

• Approaches and funding sources are similar. When it comes to REDD+ in this region, some of the names that keep appearing include: the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Fund (FCPF); the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); the World Bank (WB); the NGOs Rainforest Alliance, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF); and international cooperation funds from northern countries such as the German International Cooperation (GIZ). It should be noted that some of these international cooperation agencies, regional banks, NGOs and certifying companies have ties to projects that have been denounced for violating the right to consent under ILO Convention 169, and for pushing forward processes that are illegitimate or unknown by the community and local organizations where they operate;

• REDD+ proposals deepen the privatization of forests and territories, since they consider the only value of forests to be their capacity to absorb carbon, which can then be appropriated by private actors or those external to forests. REDD+ means that forests should be managed or kept unaltered from a conservationist standpoint. Consequently, forest-dependent communities cannot use elements from the forests for their traditional uses, and they lose control over their territories;

• Finally, this mechanism does not address the main causes of the climate crisis: the burning of fossil fuels; the model of large-scale production and consumption, which in Central American countries means monoculture (oil palm, sugarcane, pineapple); and other extractive mega-projects that are causing serious problems in the region.

Indeed, the direct problems that arise from not addressing the extractive production model as one of the main causes of climate change, has enabled the mining, forestry, oil, energy and agribusiness industries to continue expanding, with violent and painful costs throughout Central America. Our countries together constitute one of the most dangerous regions for people defending their territories. According to the NGO Global Witness, every 48 hours an activist fighting against the extractive model is killed. In 2015, 12 people in Nicaragua, 10 people in Guatemala and 8 people in Honduras were killed. REDD+ increases violence towards collective land ownership, the forests of Central American communities, and the right to consultation and self-determination of peoples.

Beyond this expansion, we see communities in all countries organizing against and resisting the privatization of lands and the restrictions put on their practices; and they are placing their bodies on the line to protect forests and collective lands and organization.

Henry Picado, Red de Coordinación en Biodiversidad,
Zuiri Méndez, Kioscos Ambientales,
Mariana Porras, Coecoceiba Amigos de La Tierra,

(1) The FCPF is a climate fund created with donations from 15 countries and administered by the World Bank, which finances REDD+ preparation activities and payment for performance. The FCPF promotes development of systems and policies conducive to REDD+ in countries with tropical and subtropical forests (such as making legal frameworks on forests and land ownership amenable to carbon and other related markets), and it provides payment to them based on their performance in emissions offsets. The FCPF became operational in 2008, and it complements REDD+ negotiations within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), by attempting to demonstrate how REDD+ can be applied at the country level.
(2) El Programa REDD+ en Guatemala genera diversidad de opiniones y resultados, Mongabay, March 2016,
(3) Idem
(4) Centro de Medios Independientes. (2016). La familia Archila detrás de los despidos de Conap
(5) PRISMA (2014). Mesoamérica a la delantera de los derechos comunitarios: Lecciones para hacer que REDD+ funcione.
(6) PRISMA (2015) REDD+ Jurisdiccional en Centroamérica: Oportunidades e implicaciones para pueblos indígenas y comunidades forestales
(7) Bribris: a people never conquered who are standing up to REDD, WRM Newsletter February 2016,;
Bosques para las comunidades no para el mercado. Miradas críticas sobre REDD,
(8) Civil society in El Salvador demands more than REDD+ from climate change negotiations.
(9) Panamá: ONU REDD viola principios de la propia Declaración sobre Derechos de los PP.II.
(10) Panama’s efforts to gain funding for standing forests roiled by indigenous opposition
(11) Nuevo mapa muestra cómo los pueblos indígenas de Centroamérica ocupan y resguardan gran cantidad de bosques, ríos y aguas costeras.