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August 04, 2014
Indigenous Rights Help Prevent Deforestation
    by Robert Kropp

A report by the World Resources Institute and the Rights and Resources Initiative concludes that autonomous decision-making by native peoples results in improved community benefits and greater carbon storage.

About 11% of global greenhouse gases (GHGs) are emitted through deforestation and other land use. The dire state of the world's rainforests may be most pronounced in Indonesia, which “ranks third in total global greenhouse emissions--behind China and the United States--due to the uncontrolled clearing and burning of its rainforests and peatlands,” according to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).

“The international community agrees on the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” states a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). “With 13 million hectares of forest cleared every year, such efforts are critical to curbing climate change before it reaches a dangerous tipping point.”

However, the report continues, there does exist a proven method to lessening deforestation and its effects on the climate. In nations such as Brazil, where the rights of indigenous peoples are honored in certain territories, “legal recognition and government protection have helped indigenous communities resist deforestation pressures and maintain healthy forests: rates of deforestation were 11 times lower in community forests with strong legal recognition and government protection than in other areas of the Brazilian Amazon.”

Yet according to the report, “Governments, donors, and other climate change stakeholders tend to ignore or marginalize the enormous contribution to mitigating climate change that expanding and strengthening communities’ forest rights can make.”

The report provides five recommendations to strengthen climate mitigation through the enhancement of the rights of indigenous peoples:
1. Provide communities with legal recognition of rights to their forest;
2. Enforce community forest rights such as mapping boundaries and expelling trespassers;
3. Provide technical assistance and training to forest communities to improve sustainable forest use and market access;
4. Engage forest communities in decision-making on investments affecting their forest; and
5. Compensate communities for the climate and other benefits provided by their forest.

“With at least 37 billion tonnes of carbon safely stored in community forests around the world, strengthening community rights is good for the climate and good for people,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President & CEO of WRI. “Every head of government, minister and climate negotiator should pay attention to this important, if often overlooked strategy to address climate change. It’s an approach to climate action that should be right up there with REDD+ or increasing energy efficiency.”

The United Nations Collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) "is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development." It allows companies and governments in developed countries to purchase offset credits to finance reforestation projects that reduce GHG emissions in developing nations.

“Research has shown time and time again that clear and secure property rights for indigenous peoples and local communities have greatly boosted the capacity of countries to achieve national-level forest protection and restoration,” said Andy White, Coordinator of RRI. “For us to get serious about curbing climate change, we have to get serious about respecting the rights of local communities to the lands they live and depend on.”


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