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Securing indigenous and community land rights in the future we want

April 5 2015

Securing land rights for indigenous peoples, such as these members of the Xingu tribe, pictured in Brazil, is critical to alleviating poverty (Photo: Rights and Resources Initiative)
Explicit inclusion of secure land rights for local communities and indigenous is key to “leaving no one behind” in global Sustainable Development Goals.

By: Jenny Springer (RRI)

Land rights were a key part of the agenda at the Post-2015 Inter-Governmental Negotiations on SDGs and Targets held in New York recently. Inspired by the ethos that the world must “leave no one behind”, United Nations (UN) member states met to discuss an ambitious new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets for countries around the world to achieve by 2030.

The post-2015 development agenda will define what governments aim to achieve in a world in which more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25 USD a day

Explicit language on indigenous land rights still needed

The current draft of the SDGs includes targets on ownership and control of land and natural resources, a critical foundation for reducing poverty and enhancing food security, women's rights and ecosystem conservation. However, a notable omission in the current draft is explicit language on the land and resource rights of the estimated 1.5 billion indigenous peoples and local communities who govern at least 6.8 billion hectares of land around the world through community tenure arrangements (PDF). 

Including indigenous and community land rights will further align with and ensure the SDG targets do not fall below existing international agreements such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (PDF) and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure.

Moreover, experiences from around the world demonstrate how recognition of community land rights have contributed to alleviating poverty while increasing food security and protecting critical ecosystems from climate change and natural disasters.

Protecting and conserving forest ecosystems 

In relation to ecosystem and climate goals, communities have proven to be highly effective at protecting and conserving forest ecosystems. In the Brazilian Amazon, for instance, the deforestation rate is 11 times lower in community-managed forests than in surrounding areas. In Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, it is 350 times lower. 

In addition, community forests often store more carbon than non-community forests – 36 per cent more per hectare (PDF) in indigenous community forests in Brazil, for instance. Taken together, the limited formally recognized community-managed forests store at least 37.7 billion tons of carbon (PDF), the equivalent of 29 years of emissions from every passenger vehicle on earth. 

Indicators must include local communities and indigenous peoples

The indicators used to track progress towards the SDGs targets must also be disaggregated to include local communities and indigenous peoples, in order to fully reflect values of community land ownership. Country representatives in the UN are rightly concerned about ensuring that targets are feasible and can be measured effectively.

In response to this concern, a group of organisations working on land, including IWGIA, have just released a technical brief on land rights indicators for women, men, indigenous peoples and local communities, demonstrating clearly that such indicators are "meaningful, universal, and feasible, and that they capture fundamental realities affecting key stakeholders at the heart of the SDGs."

Jenny Springer is director of global programs for the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), where she oversees RRI's global analytical team.

Edited by Annemiek Wilson / IWGIA



Read the full blog post here.