Time is right for global focus on forest land rights


By Mark Kinver, Environment reporter, BBC News – http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29254051

Date of publication: 
19 September 2014

Without recognised land rights, indigenous peoples’ way of life could be threatened, warn campaigners

Recognising the land rights of local people could provide cost-effective protection for many of the world’s tropical forests, a report says.

But existing initiatives to tackle deforestation were poorly suited to deal with the issue, it added.

However, there was an “unprecedented opportunity” to act as more nations were willing to acknowledge indigenous peoples’ right to own and control land.

Recognizing Indigenous and Community Rights: Priority Steps to Advance Development and Mitigate Climate Change will be presented at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

The document, produced by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and [Tebtebba], the Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, warned that growing pressure for land and resources was threatening the long-term future of communities that depended on tropical forests for their livelihoods.

“As customary owners and stewards of large areas of the world’s forests and drylands, threats to the rights of these communities place undue risk on the ecosystems that must be preserved to mitigate climate change and provide global environmental benefits,” it warned.

But it said that the plight of some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities was being more widely recognised, presenting an “unprecedented opportunity” to act.

Helping hand

“There are countries, such as Indonesia, where the government has suddenly said there is a need to respect local land rights,” explained RRI co-ordinator Andy White.

“However, there is no mechanism to provide support, nor the technical assistance necessary. The issue of land rights has always been the poor stepchild to all of the other global initiatives.”

Campaigners have had a long-standing suspicion of climate mitigation schemes, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd), saying indigenous communities would not benefit, or possibly be worse off.

Redd schemes offer financial incentives to encourage governments and companies in developing countries to offset their CO2 emissions against forest protection, conservation and afforestation projects.

However, campaign groups feared that without recognised tenure rights to their land the schemes would leave indigenous communities vulnerable to exploitation or eviction.

Mr White told BBC News that he was hopeful that a new mechanism – the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility (ILFTF) – would help increase the clarity and security of the communities’ rights.

The facility, which has received US $15 million of funding from the Swedish government, will provide funding and technical support for tenure reform projects in developing countries.

“It is linked to existing international infrastructure to ensure it does not duplicate what is already available,” he said.

It is expected to establish a small number of pilot projects in early 2015 before becoming fully operational in 2016.

However, RRI research suggests that the majority of forests in developing countries are still owned by national governments.

But Mr White explained: “We are hoping that by being more supportive of the governments that are willing to lead and demonstrate the positive outcomes then the laggards will take note and see that it can be done.

“That is why in the early days of the tenure facility we want to focus on the countries that are willing to move again.

“We hope this will see other nations listening and willing to learn and move ahead and take similar types of reform in the future.”


New Fund to Build on “Unprecedented Convergence” Around Land Rights

Inter Press Service (IPS)

18 September 2014

WASHINGTON – Starting next year, a new grant-making initiative will aim to fill what organisers say has been a longstanding gap in international coordination and funding around the recognition of community land rights.

The project could provide major financial and technical support to indigenous groups and forest communities struggling to solidify their claims to traditional lands. Proponents say substantive action around land tenure would reduce growing levels of conflict around extractives projects and land development, and provide a potent new tool in the fight against global climate change.

“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value. But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain.” — Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The new body, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, is being spearheaded by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington-based coalition, though the fund will be an independent institution. The Swedish government is expected to formally announce the project’s initial funding, some 15 million dollars, at next week’s U.N. climate summit in New York.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a prerequisite for much needed sustainable investments.”

As Gornitzka indicates, recent research has found that lands under strong community oversight experience far lower rates of deforestation than those controlled by either government or private sector entities. In turn, intact forests can have a huge dampening effect on spiking emissions of carbon dioxide.

This is a potential that supporters think they can now use to foster broader action on longstanding concerns around land tenure.

Governments claim three-quarters

National governments and international agencies and mechanisms have paid some important attention to tenure-related concerns. But not only have these slowed in recent years, development groups say such efforts have not been adequately comprehensive.

“There is today an unprecedented convergence of demand and support for this issue, from governments, private investors and local people. But there remains no dedicated instrument for supporting community land rights,” Andy White, RRI’s coordinator, told IPS.

“The World Bank, the United Nations and others dabble in this issue, yet there has been no central focus to mobilise, coordinate or facilitate the sharing of lessons. And, importantly, there’s been no entity to dedicate project financing in a strategic manner.”

According to a study released Wednesday by RRI and Tebtebba, an indigenous rights group based in the Philippines, initiatives around land tenure by donors and multilaterals have generally been too narrowly tailored. While the World Bank has been a primary multilateral actor on the issue, for instance, over the past decade the bank’s land tenure programmes have devoted just six percent of funding to establishing community forest rights.

“Much of the historical and existing donor support for securing tenure has focused on individual rights, urban areas, and agricultural lands, and is inadequate to meet the current demand from multiple stakeholders for secure community tenure,” the report states.

“[T]he amount of capital invested in implementing community tenure reform initiatives must be increased, and more targeted and strategic instruments established.”

As of last year, indigenous and local communities had some kind of control over around 513 million hectares of forests. Yet governments continue to administer or claim ownership over nearly three-quarters of the world’s forests, particularly in poor and middle-income countries.

From 2002 to 2013, 24 new legal provisions were put in place to strengthen some form of community control over forests, according to RRI. Yet just six of these have been passed since 2008, and those put in place recently have been relatively weaker.

Advocates say recent global trends, coupled with a lack of major action from international players, have simply been too much for many developing countries to resist moving aggressively to exploit available natural resources.

“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on indigenous peoples and a member of the advisory group for the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, said in a statement.

“But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”

Unmapped and contested

Experts say the majority of the world’s rural lands remain both unmapped and contested. Thus, the formalisation of land tenure requires not only political will but also significant funding.

While new technologies have made the painstaking process of mapping community lands cheaper and more accessible, clarifying indigenous rights in India and Indonesia could cost upwards of 500 million dollars each, according to new data.
Until it is fully up and running by the end of 2015, the new International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will operate on the Swedish grant, with funding from other governments in the works. That will allow the group to start up a half-dozen pilot projects, likely in Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and Colombia, to begin early next year.

Each of these countries is facing major threats to its forests. Peru, for instance, has leased out nearly two-thirds of its Amazonian forests for oil and gas exploration – concessions that overlap with at least 70 percent of the country’s indigenous communities.

“If we don’t address this issue we’ll continue to bump into conflicts every time we want to extract resources or develop land,” RRI’s White says.

“This has been a problem simmering on the back burner for decades, but now it’s reached the point that the penetration of global capital into remote rural areas to secure the commodities we all need has reached a point where conflict is breaking out all over.”

The private sector will also play an important role in the International land and Forest Tenure Facility, with key multinational companies sitting on its advisory board. But at the outset, corporate money will not be funding the operation.

Rather, White says, companies will help in the shaping of new business models.

“The private sector is driving much of this damage today, but these companies are also facing tremendous reputational and financial risks if they invest in places with poor land rights,” he says.

“That growing recognition by private investors is one of the most important shifts taking place today. Companies cannot meet their own growth projections as well as their social and environmental pledges if they don’t proactively engage around clarifying local land rights.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp
The writer can be reached at cbiron [at] ips [dot] org


Sweden Backs New Global Fund To Secure Community Land Rights

By Megan Rowling, Reuters – Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/r-sweden-backs-new-global-fund-to-secure-...

18 September 2014

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sweden plans to announce at the U.N. climate summit next week funding of around $14 million for a new body that will provide grants and expertise to help indigenous peoples and forest communities secure rights to their land.

The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will become fully operational from 2016, and will support projects proposed by local people and governments to reform land rights in developing countries.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” said Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a pre-requisite for much needed sustainable investments,” she added in a statement.

The initial donation from the Swedish government will pay for three to four test projects next year, which are likely to be located in Cameroon, Indonesia, Colombia or Peru. The facility will be set up as an independent organization governed by representatives from indigenous peoples, community and civil society groups, donors and business.

Bryson Ogden, a private-sector analyst for the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global coalition working on forest policy reform, said such a mechanism to provide capital and technical advice to solve the problem of insecure community land rights had been missing previously.


Where indigenous and other groups claim customary ownership of land and forests, but that is not legally recognized, it can lead to conflict with governments and businesses. That is often costly for investors, local people and ecosystems, experts said.

In Peru, for example, where U.N. climate talks will take place in December, more than 60 percent of the country’s Amazonian forest has been granted to oil and gas concessions. These concessions overlap with four indigenous territorial reserves, five conservation reserves and at least 70 percent of all native communities in the country.

According to RRI research, the rights of indigenous peoples and communities to own and control their lands are formally recognized in at least 513 million hectares of the world’s forests, equaling roughly a third of forests in lower and middle-income countries. But governments still claim control of over 60 percent of developing-world forests – including many of those also claimed by local people.

So far three major initiatives led by the United Nations and the World Bank, including the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme, have pledged around $1.64 billion to prepare for an international market in forest carbon. If that same amount of money was used to expand official recognition of land rights for communities and indigenous groups, it could help protect 450 million hectares, the RRI said on Thursday.

Recognizing land rights “is a cost-effective way to help prepare countries and the world to implement these forest-based carbon mitigation schemes,” Ogden said in an interview. It is also “a human right for these marginalized people”, he said.

Advances in technology mean land can be mapped increasingly cheaply, and studies show that forests managed by communities store more carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, than those that are not, Ogden said.

“The forests and other non-industrialized land hold value” as stores of carbon, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and an advisory group member for the new land tenure facility.

“But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)