World Bank ignoring forest communities?

5 April 2011

The World Bank has come under fire for its Inspection Panel’s decision not to investigate its forestry sector programme in Liberia, while new reports from civil society groups add to the backlog of criticism over the Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF).

In February, the Bank board approved an Inspection Panel recommendation not to investigate evidence that the Bank’s technical assistance programme for the Liberian forestry sector is causing harm to forest-dependent communities. The Inspection Panel instead supported the Bank management’s action plan to deal with the issues raised in the request. The request was submitted by Liberian NGO Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) and international NGO Global Witness on behalf of forest communities. It showed how projected benefits from logging operations for those communities had not materialised, and that the Bank’s forestry management system favours destructive logging over community forests and conservation. “The World Bank has turned its back on forest-dependent communities in Liberia by refusing to investigate these claims. Rather than playing a positive role in the future of Liberia’s forests, the World Bank is now central to their destruction,” said Jonathan Gant at Global Witness. Jonathan Yiah of SDI added that “At the moment, the Liberian people can’t be sure the Bank will take the steps necessary to fix the problems it has helped create.”

New criticism of the Bank’s FCPF, which funds developing countries’ national plans for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), has emerged (see Update 72, 68, 65, 60). A recent report by European NGOs FERN and Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) states that “what we see emerging is a game of ‘smoke and mirrors’, with the World Bank and recipient governments seemingly colluding with each other to mask the defects in FCPF operations.” The report concludes that “with key causes of forest loss not being addressed, failing consultation processes, a focus on measuring carbon at the cost of improving governance and a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of safeguards it is difficult to see how the national plans emerging from the FCPF … will contribute to reducing forest loss and respect for human rights.”

Two other reports critically assessing FCPF REDD planning initiatives in Cameroon were released in February. The first, published by FPP, argues that the FCPF planning activities “lack effective actions to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, miss solid data on the drivers of deforestation and gloss over critical land tenure, carbon rights and benefit sharing issues”. It also argues that in “the FCPF-related REDD planning process in Cameroon, the World Bank has not followed its own basic safeguard standards on meaningful prior consultation and the involvement of indigenous peoples and forest dwellers.”

The second report, published by international research organisation the Centre for International Forestry Research, focuses on inadequacies in national governance and institutional capacity, and argues that the process has been driven by elites and external actors with little focus on affected communities, wider stakeholders in the forestry sector, land rights and meaningful participation.   

In March, the Peruvian indigenous peoples’ organisation Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP), released a critique of the government’s REDD readiness proposal (RPP) submitted to the FCPF. The report analyses in depth how the RPP fails to meaningfully address land rights, indigenous territory, and land titling needs. It calls for a right for indigenous peoples to develop “Indigenous REDD” initiatives, “redefined in relation to our cosmo-vision and collective rights, as part of a right to decide and control the strategies of so-called ‘development’ in our territories and environments.”