Indigenous peoples and other local communities have long argued that they play a central role in safeguarding more than half the world’s land, including much of its forests. The world’s leading climate scientists agree.
In its new Special Report on Climate Change and Land, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes the importance of securing community land for climate change, writing “Insecure land tenure affects the ability of people, communities and organisations to make changes to land that can advance adaptation and mitigation (medium confidence). Limited recognition of customary access to land and ownership of land can result in increased vulnerability and decreased adaptive capacity (medium confidence). Land policies (including recognition of customary tenure, community mapping, redistribution, decentralisation, co-management, regulation of rental markets) can provide both security and flexibility response to climate change (medium confidence).” The IPCC is the internationally accepted authority on climate change. Its reports have the agreement of the world’s leading climate scientists and the consensus of participating governments.
Indigenous peoples and other communities from more than 40 countries and representing more than three-quarters of the world's tropical forests quickly released a statement in support of the IPCC’s recognition.
The Science Is Clear: Indigenous Groups and Communities Are Critical for Fighting Climate Change
The benefits of tenure security extend far beyond the climate, too. Tenure security helps indigenous peoples and communities protect their land from intruders like illegal loggers or miners, and from expropriation by governments or big businesses. Secure land rights create powerful incentives for indigenous peoples and communities to invest in the management of their lands by providing them with confidence they will benefit from their long-term investments. Land is a source of local livelihoods and subsistence, and as such, tenure security is critical to indigenous groups’ and communities’ wellbeing and very existence. And there are countless ecosystem services that indigenous and community land provides society overall, from pollination and nutrient retention to climate and water flow regulation to soil erosion prevention.
Challenges to Securing Indigenous and Community Land Rights
The IPCC report acknowledges that secure land rights do not alone guarantee improved forest management and calls for a range of “policies that enable and incentivize sustainable land management for climate change adaptation and mitigation include(ing)… empowering women and indigenous people.” In addition to strong and secure land rights, measures that empower indigenous people and communities include providing them with performance payments or other positive economic incentives; establishing strong procedural rights such as access to information, participation and justice; and building local capacity so that communities’ representative bodies can be powerful agents for change.
Strengthening indigenous and community land rights is not commonly thought of as a climate mitigation and adaptation strategy, but the IPCC report is clear: These groups are critical for the world to have any chance of holding global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). National policymakers and international development agencies must heed the IPCC’s call and strengthen land tenure for indigenous peoples and communities.