Mariel Aguilar-Støen: Better Safe than Sorry? Indigenous Peoples, Carbon Cowboys and the Governance of REDD in the Amazon

Published in Forum for Development Studies, 2017.


Indigenous peoples around the world and particularly in Latin America are struggling to strengthen their control over land and the territories they inhabit. The strengthening of rights has come as a result of multiple processes both at national and global levels, in which the role and responsibilities of states have been transformed. Transnational processes challenge the presumed association between nation-states, sovereignty and territoriality. One of these challenges comes from international initiatives such as Reducing emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). Global REDD in its broadness and national REDD in its uncertain early phases represent opportunities for private actors to negotiate with holders of land rights. In the Amazon, indigenous peoples’ territories, given their wide extension and that they are mainly forested areas, become interesting for all sorts of REDD actors. However, despite legal and rhetoric recognition of indigenous land rights, effective recognition is still lacking. In this paper, I will focus on one particular type of actor, so-called carbon cowboys – a term coined by journalists to signify actors who are willing to push the limits of established negotiation mechanisms to gain control over forest areas. I will focus on carbon cowboys’ practices and the responses from indigenous peoples in Colombia to highlight a common claim across the region, namely better state presence and regulation. The response from indigenous peoples’ organizations indicates that although territorial control is an important achievement, some form of state intervention is required to protect their rights in an uncertain REDD terrain.


Keywords: forestry, REDD, environmental governance, Colombia, state, political ecology

Published Jan. 20, 2017 10:42 AM - Last modified Sep. 27, 2022 1:02 PM