This may be one of the nerdiest Greenpeace blogs you’ve ever read. I’m in Columbia, in a big conference center, where people talk all day long. Is this how we save the forest, you ask? Shouldn’t I be on a speed boat blocking timber shipments? The reason why Greenpeace is so effective is that we do both. We take bold action forcing destructive companies to change course. We do first hand research on the ground uncovering scandals and proposing solutions. But we are also present where important decisions are being taken by powerful institutions and governments, often unnoticed and far from media attention – but with profound impacts on forests and forest communities around the world.

 Fifty something governments are attending the World Bank’s “Forest Carbon Partnership” meeting here in Columbia, to discuss how REDD could work.  “REDD” stands for “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation”. It’s the new buzzword in the world of forests. It acknowledges that in order to save the climate, we need to save our forests too, because a significant part of global emissions is caused by deforestation. Forests are not only home to countless plant and animal species and provide livelihoods for millions of people, they also store large amounts of carbon. REDD seeks to find ways to incentivize governments to protect their forests instead of cutting them down for short term profit. That sounds like a really good idea.

 I wish it were only that easy. For this to work, certain conditions need to be in place, lets call them “Safeguards”.

We need to ensure that natural forests are really protected. That may sound like a no-brainer, but indeed there are people who like to equal an intact natural forest with a monoculture plantation – because the latter also contains carbon. Some would also like to reward logging companies for chopping ancient trees in primary forests a little more carefully. Hence the need for a “natural forest safeguard”.

 We also need to guarantee that the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are fully respected, and that they are benefitting from forest protection schemes. Otherwise REDD can result in yet another ‘land grab’ where local people end up being expelled from their own forests.

 The most important root causes of forest destruction often lie in bad governance, corruption and the lack of law enforcement. If these problems are not tackled, we will not improve the lot of the world’s forests and of the communities who depend on them.

 I meet Soikan Meitiaki from the Massai community in Kenya. Soikan works for Mainyoito Integrated Development Organisation, he is an expert in community forests. “Climate change is already destroying livelihoods”, he tells me.

 I wonder what our campaign for strong safeguards means for Soikan and his people. He says “Our rights are not being respected, people are losing their land, are being evicted. Safeguards mean sustainability. Indigenous peoples have been the custodians of natural forests for centuries. Safeguards strengthen our rights and ensure benefits for indigenous peoples. We need land rights and tenure security, and we need to be able to give free, prior informed consent to what happens to our land.”

 Soikan is here to represent indigenous peoples, along with colleagues from Asia and Latin America. He gives the World Bank credit for including them in these discussions, it is important to be able to voice concerns. “But we also need to see tangible progress for us, and that’s been rather slow”, he adds.

 While governments are debating, indigenous people from Columbia are holding their own meetings across the hall, discussing ways to defend and secure their rights and to protect the integrity of their forests in the face of new REDD programs. The “lack of safeguards” comes up often.

 And here in Colombia we (Greenpeace) have just announced a REDD safeguards consultation (Forests & People First) that we are inviting all stakeholders to participate in. We hope that “Forests & People First” will draw the attention back to the issues that really matter and that governments will eventually see the forest – and not just the carbon, or the money.

 “The stronger the Safeguards, the better the programs, and the lesser the conflicts”, Soikan concludes. I agree. I really like the name of his organization. “Mainyoito” means “rise up”.

 Read our consultation paper “Forests and people first” here: