Sharp divisions have emerged over the forestry agreement at Cancun which faces opposition from various indigenous people's networks around the world and forest rights campaigners in India. Ironically, projects on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus (REDD-plus) face opposition in Mexico itself.

Some groups of indigenous people in Oaxaca are set to file a case against the Mexican government for forcibly extending the REDD project for another 30 years, said Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America director of ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration). People who had accepted the Environmental Services Programme (ESP) in Mexico, part of the REDD projects, were slowly finding out that while ownership of land was preserved with them, they lost control over it. Some years ago, communities in Oaxaca wanted to cancel their agreement with the government, but they discovered that it was a priority area for the ESP. REDD was implicitly a market mechanism, said Ms. Ribeiro. “We need to recognise that the people who depend on forests are preventing a catastrophe.”

Shankar Gopalakrishnan from the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, India, said REDD threatened the rights of indigenous people and forest dwellers, and it could exacerbate conflict. It could become a way of locking down forests by the government and private interests. In the jungles of Ecuador, where REDD was being touted as a saviour, people protested as it violated their collective rights.

Marlon Santi, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador said: “For us, REDD is against Mother Earth. REDD cannot change anything. The North has a duty to us and it is an environmental and social debt. They cannot use forests as a commodity to have carbon offsets.” The ESP took away the traditional rights from people and they could not use the forest.

Tom B.K. Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, says there is no way to stop REDD from dividing forest communities by luring them with money. “We are protesting this detrimental investment with a clear market orientation.” However, REDD-plus is becoming the new mantra for sustainable development. Geared to achieve broader human development goals, the programme's intent is manifold, according to Antonio G.M. La Vina, lead negotiator for the Philippines and Dean, Ateneo School of Government, Manila University.

Speaking at Forest Day at Cancun organised by the Center for International Forestry Research, he said REDD-plus now encompassed human rights and broader governance objectives and policy reforms, strengthening it from the initial aim of climate mitigation strategy. To make it attractive to developing countries, REDD-plus had not only development objectives but also governance reforms that were important for the mechanism's efficiency. From being a purely market driven mechanism, REDD-plus incorporated integrated development strategies, he said.

Mexico too seems keen on REDD-plus. Elias Freig-Delgado, Minister for Finance and Climate Change is clear that REDD-plus should include a carbon price, and apart from environmental and social benefits, it should attract significant levels of investment from abroad. REDD-plus is sending the right signal with its mix of social obligations and financial benefits for the investors.

Yemi Katerere, head of the United Nations-REDD Programme Secretariat, said REDD was operating in 29 partner countries, of which 12 were receiving financial support. The current net contribution for REDD is $ 92 million.

Markets will enter in the scheme of things, as without them it is hard to catalyse private investment, said Leslie Durschinger of Terra Global Capital. It would require $17 billion to $ 33 billion a year to reduce deforestation emission by 50 per cent by 2030 and there would be a funding gap, she estimated. At present, the investment size is small but is poised for growth on the supply-side. Standards, however, are important. The private sector needs a good robust investment in environment, and the State of California is the first to include REDD-plus as an offset mechanism, making it the first REDD-compliant market.

Will all this brilliant economics and strategy work to save the planet, will REDD-plus deliver? As one of the participants at Forest day, Andrew Taber said: “Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.”

The Rainforest Foundation Norway and the Rainforest Foundation United Kingdom (FERN) maintained that threats to indigenous peoples and natural forests remained. Major decisions on how the scheme would be funded and how both ‘safeguards' and deforestation would be monitored remained unresolved. Importantly, the REDD agreement asked that countries receiving compensation for protecting their forests provide information on how they respected the environmental and social safeguards, though there was no agreement on how these reports would be made, or monitored and verified, they said.

There was a fundamental split between parties over whether to permit REDD finance generation through a carbon market, which would allow developed countries to buy forest carbon credits through REDD rather than reducing their carbon emissions at home, they added.

However, experts believe that if forests are not commodified, the world may lose them altogether. Dr. Markku Kanninen from CIFOR clarified that REDD could not stop deforestation, could only reduce it and help countries do it better. The land tenure issue varies from country to country and indigenous people who have been marginalised for centuries will not believe that a new policy will help them. On the plus side, payments for REDD are performance based, and that is crucial.