Mitigating Climate Change Means Securing Community Land Rights, Says New RRI Report

Kelli Barrett

Although securing legal land rights for indigenous and local communities means more sustainable development and a stable global climate, the process is complicated, expensive and lengthy. But support for the issue has never been higher, says a new Rights and Resources Initiative report, and the time to act is now.

19 September 2014 |Recognizing community land rights is a cost-effective way to store carbon, alleviate poverty and protect forests. That’s according to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a NGO focused on the forest sector and land tenure reform.

The organization’s latest report highlights a growing movement for formal recognition of land rights to local and indigenous people saying there is great opportunity for it today. It’s referring to demarcation, registration and titling of lands, forests and natural resources to indigenous people and communities. The report, Recognizing Indigenous and Community Rights, Priority Steps to Advance Development and Mitigate Climate Change, was published this month in collaboration with Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples International Centre for Policy Research and Education), an indigenous peoples organization.

The opportunity RRI is referring to stems from a swell of support from a multitude of sectors. Private investors, companies, governments and developers agree this is a matter to prioritize. Reasons behind their solidarity on the issue varies but there is a general understanding, the report says, that securing local land rights will deliver a low-cost strategy to reduce forest carbon emissions. In Brazil, advocates claim strengthening these land rights would prevent 27.2 hectares of deforestation, which stores the amount of carbon emitted from Latin American countries and the Caribbean over a three year period.

It will also secure a sustainable supply of forest commodities. And there is the basic human rights aspect that forest populations rely on its resources for their livelihoods and deserve a say on how the land is managed.

The report notes that indigenous tribes have essentially managed their land sustainably with little outside financial help or government intervention.

But government recognition is increasingly becoming a necessity as illegal loggers and extractive companies pose a bigger threat to the people, forests and the carbon they store. One-eighth of the world’s forest is controlled by indigenous peoples. It contains nearly 40 billion tons of carbon-the equivalent to 29 times the annual emissions of all passenger vehicles on Earth, the report says.


Proper safeguards need to be put in place to ensure the land is managed sustainably. And in order for the global carbon   market to evolve to aid this process and for REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) to be implemented to help keep carbon locked in trees, secure land rights for indigenous peoples are required, the report says. This will also lead to impartial benefit sharing while avoiding land or ‘carbon’ grabs.

RRI estimates expanding demarcation, registration and titling twofold would cost roughly US $1.9 billion. Factoring in that secure land rights are a prerequisite for REDD-where US $1.64 billion has already been pledged and its estimated total costs will be in the tens of billions-the cost of titling is relatively inexpensive. Also by expanding these activities, 748 million people stand to benefit and 75 billion tons of carbon will be accounted for.

Ultimately, RRI’s report finds delivering clear and secure land rights for local communities and indigenous people is a win on multiple fronts. Acting on this opportunity, the report says, will secure the livelihoods of some of the world’s most marginalized people while simultaneously achieving climate and sustainable development goals.



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