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Debt, Nature, and Indigenous Rights: Twenty-five Years of Debt-for-Nature Evolution

By Jared E. Knicley

Debt-for-nature swaps are an innovative and potentially powerful mechanism for addressing the significant issues of indebtedness and environmental degradation in the developing world. Over the past twenty-five years, debt-for-nature swaps have evolved across many dimensions to their present-day typology of bilateral fund-generators that capitalize projects fairly describable as both “environmental” and “developmental.” Through a study of four representative debt-for-nature swaps, this Article analyzes the original conception of the debt-for-nature swap and the evolution of swap typologies as they relate to the conception and realization of indigenous rights. It further argues that while the trend in debt-for-nature swaps has been the increased participation of indigenous groups, the actual level of participation envisioned under debt-for-nature statutes is ambiguous and, thus, the level of protection of indigenous rights varies from swap to swap. The Article concludes by providing several procedural recommendations for improving the realization of indigenous rights under debt-for-nature swaps and by critically analyzing the potential evolutionary trajectory of debt-for-nature swaps with regard to impacts on indigenous rights.

Cite as: Jared E. Knicley, Debt, Nature, and Indigenous Rights: Twenty-five Years of Debt-for-Nature Evolution, 36 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 79 (2012).

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