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Carbon commodification in the Peruvian Amazon: The Kichwa People’s Struggle Against Territorial and Climate Destruction

Radical Ecological Democracy 1 Aug 2022

As the consequences of climate change continue to upend people’s lives all over the world, the feeble actions to address and mitigate it continue to allow emissions in the global north, or centre, and offset them in pursuit of supposed emissions neutrality in the global south, or periphery. Not surprisingly, these market-based instruments have failed to show any positive results given their origins in savage capitalist logics (Fletcher et al., 2016). Moreover, these instruments often allow for violations against the socio-ecological and cultural fabrics of the peoples-territories targeted by climate change mitigation measures. This is the case with continuing practices of dispossession of Indigenous Peoples’ territories around the world to justify biodiversity conservation actions and the implementation of climate change mitigation mechanisms.

This article discusses the challenges being faced by the Kichwa people of the northern Amazon in Peru, specifically in the San Martin region. The populace of this area, represented by the Ethnic Council of the Kichwa Peoples of the Amazon (CEPKA), the Federation of Kichwa Indigenous Peoples of Chazuta (FEPIKECHA) and the Federation of Kechwa Indigenous Peoples of the Lower Huallaga of the San Martin Region (FEPIKBHSAM), has been fighting for years against the invisibilisation and even criminalisation of the role played by their local communities in favour of forest conservation and the fight against the ecological and climate crisis.

In the last decade, projects to commodify and market carbon have been established in the San Martin region of Peru. In the Kichwa territory there is a REDD+* project which is rooted, firstly, in a system of Natural Protected Areas based on a colonial and exclusionary conservation model that operates without consent, and secondly, in discourses and practices that undermine traditional territorial governance and reveal a disastrous distribution of benefits. Through this confrontation between a REDD+ project and the territorial demands of the Kichwa people, we show that carbon commodification, aligned with neoliberal policies, namely a combination of privatisation, financing and appropriation (Leach and Scoones, 2015), should not be the model to follow in the fight against climate change with full respect for human rights and the important contributions of Indigenous territorialities. Meanwhile, the Kichwa people continue to be ignored as rights holders over their territories, as is the fact that strengthening their own local governance systems could be a fundamental step in the fight against climate change.

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