Deforestation is a primary contributor to global climate change. When the forest is felled and the vegetation is burnt or decomposes, carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere. An approach designed to stem climate change is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a global financial mechanism that requires intricate governance requirements to be met—a significant challenge in the developing areas. In Panama, the government is responsible for designing and implementing a national REDD+ strategy with support from multilateral organizations. This case study is built through the experience of a public hearing on the potential implementation of REDD+ in the highly contested Upper Bayano Watershed in eastern Panama. The Upper Bayano Watershed is composed of vast and diverse forest ecosystems. It forms a part of the Choco-Darien ecoregion, a global biodiversity hotspot, and is home to two Indigenous groups (Kuna and Embera) and populations of migrant farmers (colonos), all with different histories, traditions, and worldviews concerning forests and land management, often resulting in territorial conflicts. A major socioecological issue facing the region is deforestation, which is driving biodiversity loss and landscape change and threatening traditional livelihoods and cultures. The public hearing stimulates difficult discussions about access to land, tenure security, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, identity, power, trade-offs, and social justice. The case is designed to confront participants with the challenges of implementing ambitious, international, and often-prescriptive natural resource policies at local levels.

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