Will a UN Climate-Change Solution Help Kuna Yala? (National Geographic)

08 Dec Will a UN Climate-Change Solution Help Kuna Yala? (National Geographic)

Faced with sea level rising, one indigenous community weighs a plan to mitigate climate change.

In northeast Panama’s lush tropical forests, a sovereign indigenous comarca is raising the same question that delegates at the Cancún climate conference are raising about a plan for avoided deforestation: how is REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) supposed to work? Will it work in practice? And what would work better? Their answers may sway the fate of the plan in Panama and beyond.

 By Ruxandra Guidi


In October 2008, the encroaching seas, combined with two weeks of unusually high tides and storm surges, flooded a majority of the islands, ruining schools, subsistence crops, and wood and straw homes. When the waters finally receded, residents, fearing they would eventually have to abandon their island homes, began discussing a difficult contingency plan: relocation to the only other land in their territory, the sacred mainland bonigana.

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But now it appears they may lose even this haven, if certain interests have their way. In April 2007, without informing or consulting the Kuna, representatives of the Panamanian environmental ministry met with World Bank officials in Berlin to claim the bonigana.


The Panamanian constitution protects the Kuna’s relationship to the land and their rights to administer their resources. But if the industrialized countries prevail in Cancún, Panama’s REDD plan could undermine that protection. It could encourage the nation to administer the bonigana as a carbon offset, providing incentives to prohibit the Kuna’s millennia-old forest traditions and resource management, including practices such as selective clearing for sustainable agriculture and for relocation. …Go to article.