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Kathleen Birrell and Lee Godden

The impending impact of climate change upon human communities has elicited a call for ‘climate justice’, particularly to achieve justice for those most vulnerable to climate change and its consequences. The negotiation of global climate change agreements, including the Paris Agreement and the recent Global Environmental Pact, is increasingly engaged with critical intersections between climate change and human rights. The broader concept of ‘benefit-sharing’, as a means of providing defined content to human rights claims, is now central to rights discourses in this context. In international agreements, however, notions of ‘benefits’ and ‘sharing’ presently lack the critical definition, detail and specificity necessary to facilitate the realization of human rights for Indigenous and local communities. The re-articulation of rights as ‘benefits’ to be ‘shared’, moreover, risks the commodification of a previously moral imperative, subordinating human rights aspirations to global political and corporate agendas, as well as to national interests. This article provides a critical examination of the concept of ‘benefit-sharing’, its manifestation in REDD+ and other international regimes as a putative tool for the pursuit of climate justice, and its utility for Indigenous and local communities in the pursuit of robust rights protections.

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Kathleen Birrell, Lee Godden and Maureen Tehan

The rapid emergence of carbon markets internationally, and rising concerns about the impact of such schemes on Indigenous and local community interests, rights and traditional knowledge, present a strong need to examine legal regulation, protection and promotion of equitable outcomes for the effective engagement of Indigenous peoples and local forest subsistence communities in climate change mitigation. This is particularly so in the context of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD and REDD+ as it later became known) – a scheme that will significantly affect the ‘property’ rights and interests of such communities. The pace and enthusiasm for investment in, and implementation of, this scheme necessitate scrutiny of the foreseeable consequences at a local level, including the potential of this global project to act as a form of neo-colonialism, co-opting Indigenous and local community interests where the value of the carbon ‘offset’ may not accrue to local inhabitants of the forested areas. Accordingly, this paper seeks to present a series of fundamental questions raised by the programme, particularly in respect of differing conceptions of property, as it uniquely relates to and impacts upon Indigenous peoples.