Global climate agreements and associated funding mechanisms tend to ignore the knowledge and experience accumulated in conventional aid interventions over several decades. The consequences are particularly pronounced in authoritarian regimes, where marginal population groups may be subjected to technocratic development plans in the name of global climate goals and social safeguards are difficult to monitor.
The article examines the implications of climate‐related interventions for ethnic minority communities in the highlands of Vietnam, as they are caught in the conflicting development logics between the international donor community, vowing to defend their interests, and the Vietnamese government administration.
The study builds on a comprehensive household survey on REDD+ activities and livelihoods in two districts (three communes) in upland Lao Cai province in northern Vietnam. The survey was supplemented with in‐depth interviews with villagers, extensive talks with governments (People's Committees) at provincial, district and commune level, and various observations and interviews across the province.
The study finds that embeddedness is of key importance. However well‐intended climate‐related interventions may be, they cannot alter crucial conditions of social organization and governance. In the highlands of Vietnam, climate‐related funding tends to be aligned with a long series of government programmes for their transformation and the assimilation of ethnic minorities that have continued since 1975. Despite the international focus on “social safeguards”, ethnic minority people lose access to forest resources while most are trapped in poverty. The findings add to a growing literature that is critical of REDD+.
Current economic growth priorities have negative social and cultural impacts of such magnitude that they go beyond acceptable trade‐offs, and also threaten the very objective of climate‐mitigation projects. Both the basic safeguard instruments (a rights‐based approach, the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process, and a broad range of stakeholder engagements) and the global standards enshrined in the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) are in practice set aside by the authoritarian state. This tends to be commonly available knowledge, and it would seem that international donors observing the mandate of global climate deals have become insensitive to rights. In order to secure continued backing to global climate‐related funding mechanisms, however, improved monitoring is urgently needed.