Paris Agreement goals impossible without decisive action to protect forests rights

Thomas Rueters Foundations News
May 16, 2016
By: Helen Clark, United Nations Development Programme

When indigenous rights are recognised and enforced, communities successfully manage their forests - and make crucial contributions to climate change mitigation.

For indigenous and forest communities, insecurity of land rights perpetuates poverty, inequality and environmental degradation.

Strengthening land rights for those communities is essential but will also be critical to the fight against climate change.

Last year, major new global frameworks critical to sustainable development were endorsed by the international community. They included the 2030 Agenda and the associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. As the international community moves to implement these ambitious frameworks, there is the potential for a new era of co-operation around eradicating poverty, reducing disaster risk, spurring green growth, and significantly reducing inequalities.

However it will be impossible to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change without decisive action to protect the world’s forests. A growing body of evidence shows that when indigenous and community rights are recognised and enforced, communities successfully protect and manage their forests, making crucial contributions to climate change mitigation.

If we are serious about fighting climate change, then we must be serious about upholding the rights of the indigenous communities which live in and protect the world’s forests.

As with many development challenges, it is the poorest and most vulnerable members of society who face the greatest risks from having insecure land rights.

In some countries, indigenous peoples and forest communities face threats to their lives as they strive to protect their ancestral lands from logging, mining, and agricultural interests in the face of insecure or weakly enforced land rights. On average in 2014, one environmental defender was killed every week, and almost half of those were indigenous people defending their ancestral lands from outside interests.

Women are also adversely affected by not having secure land and tenure rights. Their rights may be denied by discriminatory laws and practices, leaving them dependent on men for basic economic survival and vulnerable to violence, poverty, and food insecurity.

These problems are particularly acute for rural women. Large-scale land acquisitions, land degradation including desertification and biofuel production are reducing the availability of fertile land for farming as well as also increasing competition for the marginal lands more likely to be allocated to women farmers.

These issues intersect with other inequalities, from poverty, illiteracy, poorer health, and low levels of education. All these may impact on women’s ability to participate in decision making and governance processes. In rural Latin America, only 25% of land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa, and to under 5% in Western Asia and North Africa.

Failure to address tenure security for women comes at a high price for development. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by twenty to thirty per cent in developing countries, and result in significant gains for countries’ food security and Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

UNDP’s 50 years' experience of empowering women and working with indigenous and local communities have convinced us that land rights across these groups are essential if the ambitious global goals set by world leaders are to be achieved.

Fortunately, new opportunities to increase the land and resources owned and managed by indigenous peoples and forest communities are emerging.

Technologies for mapping and land demarcation are improving and becoming more accessible. International and national human rights frameworks are being expanded and implemented. A growing body of evidence highlights the tangible environmental, social, and economic benefits of indigenous and community ownership of land, forests and resources.

Read more here.