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Secure Customary Land Rights Fights Climate Change

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

Land rights and climate change - the connection is real.

This past June the UN recognized the Dayak Iban community of Sungai Utik Indonesia for their dedication and success preserving their environment and way of life by awarding them the prestigious Equator Prize for 2019. The recognition supported the ability of the community to continue their work of protecting an estimated 1.31 million tons of carbon within a 9,500-hectare (almost 21,000 acre) customary forest from wealthy, vested and influential corporate interests.

After a 40 year campaign, the government of Indonesia granted ownership of these lands, which includes more than 7,500 hectares of rain-forest, to the indigenous tribe. The title is held by the customary community. Under Indonesian laws, customary communities are recognized as those which an indigenous people have occupied for generations - in this case, 130 years. This is only the beginning as over seven million hectares are held by indigenous communities in Indonesia.

Rain-forests, as a critical part of a balanced eco-system, are a key component to combat climate change. These rain-forests, for the most part, are located in countries where corporate players hold an impressive amount of power with links to government ministries which put profit before protecting the planet. One only needs to see the deforestation taking place in Brazil with the support of the current government in the name of economic development regardless of the global environmental consequences. It is no accident that in Brazil, indigenous tribes’ rights to customary land are routinely ignored. This is not limited to Brazil. Indigenous peoples are routinely denied their land rights in India.

In an important report, the authors found a significant reduction of deforestation rates on land held by indigenous communities, but that resistance to granting legal recognition of customary land rights adversely affects the ability of the community to protect the land.

Legal recognition of customary land rights is not just a land tenure issue. It is linked, like so much else, to climate change. It is no longer relevant to place land policy, management and administration into a silo and simply computerize existing systems. That is the easy way out and does not address the very real problems of implementation because of deliberately vague laws and regulations which serve vested interests and the status quo.

We can’t do business this way any longer.

This analysis clearly shows the importance of securing indigenous rights to customary land which accounts for over 290,000 million metric tons of stored carbon.

Securing customary land rights for indigenous people is an important component in the climate change struggle that can’t be ignored or separated into a discrete project without taking into consideration tangential but important consequences.

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