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Forest Peoples Urge Land Rights Action
Posted on Feb 24, 2014
By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network
This piece first appeared at Climate News Network.
LONDON—Forest people’s groups say many governments are failing to protect their right to their ancestral lands, and argue that this neglect is damaging efforts to slow climate change.
Their argument is supported by campaigners. Research by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) says the pace of provision of new legal protection for indigenous communities has fallen, despite an increase in professions of support by industry, governments and international initiatives like REDD+ and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
RRI says fewer new laws have been passed to protect indigenous land rights since 2008 than in the six preceding years, and the legislation that has been enacted is weaker.
Previous RRI research into 12 emerging market countries found that at least one out of every three hectares licensed for natural resource development overlaps with indigenous community land. When private companies acquire land and resources without first checking who lives there, it says, they expose themselves and their investors to substantial risk, as some level of conflict or business disruption often results.
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An RRI report, Lots of Words, Little Action: Will the private sector tip the scales for community land rights?, examines how land rights and attempts to mitigate climate change through REDD are linked.
One of its findings is that REDD+ initiatives are not yet translating into globally significant increases in the area under the ownership and control of indigenous peoples and local communities. Meanwhile, it says, the global forest area covered by industrial concessions is large and growing.
Global climate change efforts have a key role to play in securing the land rights of indigenous people and rural communities, it says. And when they are secured, that means less deforestation and more climate change mitigation.
Indigenous communities, it is argued, are unlikely to over-exploit forest resources. Their understanding of the forests as the place on which they depend encourages them to resist deforestation and the piecemeal exploitation and destruction of their fauna and flora.
Indonesia is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, chiefly because of deforestation for palm oil and other natural resource extraction. One group, the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), says those it represents claim 40 million hectares of the country’s rainforests. If they are given stronger rights over their lands, AMAN says, they will help the country to fight deforestation and reduce climate change.
Wide regional variations
The head of AMAN, Abdon Nababan, is urging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyon to formally implement a May 2013 Constitutional Court decision which declared unconstitutional a line in the country’s 1999 Forestry Law stating that customary forests are state forest. The Indonesian Government controls 96% of the country’s forests.
The RRI report also highlights a number of regional differences:
REDD+ promises to respect the rights of indigenous people and local communities to protect forests and to sell the carbon they contain as offsets to polluters seeking to meet emissions targets.
The United Nations is leading the negotiations for new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) intended to guide economic development and poverty reduction for the next 15 years. But RRI is concerned that no specific target for land rights has yet been set for the SDGs.
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