Rapidly-rising food prices and growing demand for all land-based commodities, like palm oil and biofuels, are driving an intensive global land hunt that threatens the rights of hundreds of millions of local people living in tropical forests, according to a report released today by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).
The growing competition for tropical forests comes as recognition of land and resource rights largely stagnated in 2010-despite new commitments through governments and climate change initiatives to support tenure rights and determined efforts by Indigenous Peoples and other forest communities to secure their lands, according to the analysis presented at RRI's Ninth Dialogue on Forests, Governance and Climate Change in London.
The ninth RRI Dialogue takes place on 8 February 2011 in London, UK. The RRI Dialogues are designed to foster critical reflection and learning on forest governance, the rights of forest communities and Indigenous Peoples, and forest tenure in the context of global action to combat climate change. Since July 2009, they have been held in London and Washington D.C., US, with regionally-focused events, for instance in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in October 2010, co-hosted by the Environmental Economics Policy Forum for Ethiopia.
In a press release (Tuesday, 8th February, 2011) RRI leaders note that the lack of progress in 2010 stands in sharp contrast to the fact that recognition of indigenous and community ownership and management doubled between 1985 and 2000, and then rose about 5 percent per year through 2009.
"The lack of progress at the global level in 2010 was doubly disappointing," said RRI Coordinator Andy White. "On one hand the necessity of secure rights is now widely promoted by climate change negotiators and development specialists, yet on the other, the rate of recognition is not at all keeping up with the rate of large commercial land acquisitions-so called 'land grabbing'."
According to the World Bank, the rate of commercial land acquisitions jumped over 1000 percent in 2009.
Calls for governments to strengthen forest rights
The report calls for governments globally to strengthen forest rights and governance as a necessary step both to build a foundation for effective investments in forest-based climate change mitigation and to halt further erosion of land rights that is inadvertently perpetuating corruption and social exclusion.
The RRI analysis, titled PUSHBACK: Local Power, Global Realignment, also includes troubling evidence of a backlash-at times violent and repressive-against efforts by indigenous groups and forest communities to assert their rights to lands where many have lived for centuries. The RRI report finds a "disturbing tendency of some governments to roll back hard-won local land rights and, in some cases, to criminalize advocates." Now that forest lands are increasingly valuable-for agriculture, carbon and biofuels, there is greater pressure from investors and less interest by many governments to recognize local land rights.
The RRI report did find important areas of progress in 2010. Rural forest communities in Mexico, Kenya and India, for example, scored significant victories in securing greater control of local lands. But the report also shows the need to read the fine print of laws and policies that purport to establish tenure rights. For example, RRI's analysis of 36 tenure regimes in 15 tropical forest countries found that a third of them do not allow communities to engage in commercial logging. Moreover, RRI found tenure regimes in four Central African countries still allow the state to appropriate lands without offering any compensation.
Incentive for preserving carbon contained in tropical forests
Another major issue in 2010 involved the continuing efforts, advanced at international climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, to draft a global accord that could provide a financial incentive for preserving the carbon contained in tropical forests.
RRI praised the fact that more indigenous groups and community forest organizations have been invited to participate in the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) process, and notes this "seat at the table" is a major step forward for the world.
"We must stop the destruction of forests around the world if we are to solve the threat posed by global climate change, but it must be done in a way respects the rights of people who live in and around these forests," said Gregory Barker, British Minister of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, who spoke at the RRI event.
IISD RS will publish a summary report of the proceedings. Please visit http://www.iisd.ca/ymb/rri/dfgcc9/ on Wednesday, 9 February, for the report.
For more information, please visit www.rightsandresources.org.