About half of the world's land is collectively held. Most of that land is not legally recognized under national laws, and even less of that land is formally documented with a land title.

In a recent commentary, Peter Veit, Director of the Land and Resource Rights Initiative in the Governance Center at World Resources Institute, makes a strong environment and development case for securing indigenous and community lands. Veit recently sat down with WRI Vice President for Communications Lawrence MacDonald to talk about his research on community and company procedures for acquiring formal land rights.

They discuss the many ways land rights can be secured. Much of the indigenous land in the U.S. is registered in a government cadaster and documented with a formal title to prove ownership. But in much of Africa, Asia and Latin America, significant amounts of community land is not registered or documented with the state.

"Most collectively held land is held under customary tenure arrangements, which means it's vulnerable to be taken," Veit explained. "If the land is contested, a title or certificate is much more likely to hold weight in a court of law."

One of Veit's recent reports investigated the rate of deforestation on tenure-secure indigenous land in the Amazon. "To my surprise we saw significantly lower deforestation rates on tenure-secure indigenous land than on similar, but not secure forestland," Veit said. "What we found were rates that were two to three times lower."

In 2015, 193 member nations of the United Nations made commitments with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). "What we're finding is that progress on the SDGs is very uneven," Veit said. "Overall, we're not making the progress we need to achieve these goals by the target 2030 date."

There is a need to think about new approaches to achieving the SDGs. "One strategy would be to help communities secure their land rights," Veit explained. "That would help advance  several SDGs. Tenure security is not a silver bullet, but it is fundamental to achieving positive sustainable and development outcomes." Veit also notes that very few Nationally Determined Contributions (to address climate mitigation) include tenure security as key to achieving their outcomes, while five SDGs recognize land as critical to achieving them.

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