By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sweden plans to announce at the U.N. climate summit next week funding of around $14 million for a new body that will provide grants and expertise to help indigenous peoples and forest communities secure rights to their land.
The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will become fully operational from 2016, and will support projects proposed by local people and governments to reform land rights in developing countries.
“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” said Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a pre-requisite for much needed sustainable investments," she added in a statement.
The initial donation from the Swedish government will pay for three to four test projects next year, which are likely to be located in Cameroon, Indonesia, Colombia or Peru. The facility will be set up as an independent organization governed by representatives from indigenous peoples, community and civil society groups, donors and business.
Bryson Ogden, a private-sector analyst for the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global coalition working on forest policy reform, said such a mechanism to provide capital and technical advice to solve the problem of insecure community land rights had been missing previously.
Where indigenous and other groups claim customary ownership of land and forests, but that is not legally recognized, it can lead to conflict with governments and businesses. That is often costly for investors, local people and ecosystems, experts said.
In Peru, for example, where U.N. climate talks will take place in December, more than 60 percent of the country's Amazonian forest has been granted to oil and gas concessions. These concessions overlap with four indigenous territorial reserves, five conservation reserves and at least 70 percent of all native communities in the country.
According to RRI research, the rights of indigenous peoples and communities to own and control their lands are formally recognized in at least 513 million hectares of the world’s forests, equaling roughly a third of forests in lower and middle-income countries. But governments still claim control of over 60 percent of developing-world forests - including many of those also claimed by local people.
So far three major initiatives led by the United Nations and the World Bank, including the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme, have pledged around $1.64 billion to prepare for an international market in forest carbon. If that same amount of money was used to expand official recognition of land rights for communities and indigenous groups, it could help protect 450 million hectares, the RRI said on Thursday.
Recognizing land rights "is a cost-effective way to help prepare countries and the world to implement these forest-based carbon mitigation schemes," Ogden said in an interview. It is also "a human right for these marginalized people", he said.
Advances in technology mean land can be mapped increasingly cheaply, and studies show that forests managed by communities store more carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, than those that are not, Ogden said.
“The forests and other non-industrialized land hold value" as stores of carbon, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and an advisory group member for the new land tenure facility.
"But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”
(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)