Land Rights are Human Rights: Contributing to Fighting Climate Change

By Nerina Muzurovic

The panel at the side event at COP22. ©IFAD/N. Muzurovic

At an event sponsored by the Netherlands, held at the COP22 in Marrakech on 15 November 2016, the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Ms Lilianne Ploumen, discussed ways in which climate change can be effectively fought through securing indigenous and community land rights.

Learning from indigenous communities

Evidence shows that securing indigenous and community land rights is one of the key actions to fighting climate change, said Lilianne Ploumen. Local communities—specifically, indigenous communities--have been key in governing land in a way that’s sustainable. “There are a couple of reasons for this,” she said. “They know that their land not only belongs to them, but their kids. Not only do they have a lot of knowledge about the land, but look at it from the potential that it has for everyone.”

Protection of the forest is a large part of the climate change agenda. Statistically, land governed by indigenous communities shows much slower deforestation—indicating the deployment of practices that could be studied and learned from. Interestingly, worldwide, some 50 per cent of land is protected by local and indigenous communities, despite the fact that this group only owns 10 per cent of the land. “People don’t own the land, but they still take responsibility for it,” she said. “This is also something we can learn from.”

Certainly, said Ms Mina Setra, the indigenous approach to land management is defined by long-term thinking. In the forest in West Kalimantan, one elder in the community said, “We have to protect the land. To indigenous people, land is mother. Land is owned by the ancestors. We are only guardians, and we have to protect it for future generations.”

Results and benefits

This approach brings with it concrete results: satellite imagery of forestlands in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia clearly shows that deforestation is two to three times lower in areas with secured land tenure for indigenous peoples. “If you secured land rights, you would save emissions,” said Ms Helen Mountford, of the World Resources Institute (WRI). In fact, estimated benefits of saved emissions through secured land rights could be as much as US$ 30 billion. “Carbon benefits make this worth doing,” she said.

Land rights are also crucial, when it comes to investment in agriculture, said USAID’s Eric G. Postel. “Without land rights people do not invest,” he said.

Moving forward, said Ms Lilianne Ploumen, the Netherlands—which has the world’s highest percentage of registered land (99 per cent) – is keen to share its organizational knowledge. New technologies, including satellites, offer unprecedented opportunities for giving indigenous peoples control over their land, and thus improve the global environment. The project is a crucial one, she emphasized: “Land rights are human rights,” said Ms Lilianne Ploumen.

Sources cited: 

World Resources Institute. 2016. Report on Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs. The Economic Case For Securing Indigenous Land Rights in the Amazon. Page 55.

Oxfam, International Land Coalition, Rights and Resources Initiative. 2016. Common Ground. Securing land rights and safeguarding the earth. Page 39.

Read more: