Issue 10: Rumours, Land-grabbing and REDD+

A group of cows feed themselves in the field

Looking from a high building to Burma

(Myanmar Version)


There is a children’s game, popular worldwide, often known by the politically-incorrect name of “Chinese whispers”.  A message is passed from one person to the next by whispering, and the final message is compared with the original.  Inevitably the final message is a garbled mis-representation of the original, much to everyone’s enjoyment.


Unfortunately, when talking about important issues like land-grabbing, such mis-representations are anything but funny.  Since it is impossible to communicate directly with the enormous number of stakeholders engaged on REDD+, relying on information being passed from one person to another is unavoidable.  But the result can often be the spread of misinformation, known more recently also as “fake news”.


There are many examples of this – for example, that REDD+ involves the sale of “carbon credits” (it doesn’t), or that it is a mechanism for developed countries to avoid cutting their own emissions by using carbon credits as offsets (it isn’t).  But one particularly harmful example of “fake news” concerns land-grabbing and REDD+.  So, let’s be clear on the facts.


  • Land-grabbing does occur in many countries and incidences of land-grabbing have increased in recent years;
  • Land-grabbing is a risk especially for rural communities who may have only customary tenure of their land and other natural resources unsupported by documentation;
  • Land-grabbing is a violation of those communities’ rights;
  • If land-grabbing occurs, the affected communities have few venues of recourse – there are no clear mechanisms by which land-grabbing is documented, and since it often involves influential individuals, there are few incentives, for the authorities, to address the issue;
  • However, under REDD+, the government is obliged to explain internationally on how it is (among other issues) respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities[1];
  • This means that the government will have to explain – again, internationally – on the measures it has taken to reduce, and ideally eliminate the risk of land-grabbing while implementing REDD+ activities;
  • Therefore, under REDD+, indigenous peoples and local communities will have greater protection than they currently enjoy.


REDD+ is currently the only international mechanism that carries obligatory reporting on safeguards such as respect for the “knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities”. Hence, rights-based organizations should view REDD+ as an opportunity to bring pressure to bear on the government to strengthen protection of rights, and their efforts should be focused on this.


Let’s remind ourselves that “Chinese whispers” is a children’s game that can provide a lot of fun and laughter. Spreading misinformation on the other hand is not a game. We should all ensure that we are properly informed before we inform others, as spreading wrong messages can generate insecurity and in the worst case do a lot of harm. And instead of whispering we should be loud and clear.


[1]Through submission of a “Summary of Information” on the Cancun safeguards, including safeguard “c” on respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, are being addressed and respected (UNFCCC Decision 12/CP.19)