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Benefits and sharing: realizing rights in REDD+

Kathleen Birrell and Lee Godden

Keywords: benefit-sharing; human rights; REDD+; Indigenous peoples; climate change; climate justice

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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