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Pace of global land rights reform is slowing, says new report

Logging in Papua New Guinea

Logging vehicles operate in a concession in Papua New Guinea. Governments still overwhelmingly claim ownership of forest land, the report states. Photograph: Paul Winn/Gree


Powered by article titled “Pace of global land rights reform is slowing, says new report” was written by David Hill, for on Friday 14th February 2014 15.57 UTC

The amount of land owned or designated for use by indigenous peoples and local communities is increasing but at a slower rate than past years, according to a report by global coalition Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

“[The area of land] increased by a larger amount between 2002 and 2008 than between 2008 and 2013,” the report states. “The amount of forest land secured for community ownership since 2008 is less than 20% of that secured in the previous six years.”

This is just one of several major claims in the report, titled Lots of words, little action, launched in London last week, and based on a sample of an estimated 85% of forests in lower and middle-income countries.

Other major claims include:

• Over 513 million hectares of forest are held by indigenous peoples and local communities, but “governments still overwhelmingly claim ownership of forest land … over 61 percent of the total … in 2013”;

• “24 legal frameworks recognizing some form of community forest tenure” have been adopted in a sample of 27 countries since 2002, but only four of these recognize true ownership, just six were adopted post-2008, and not one of those six recognise ownership at all.

“While there were many encouraging pronouncements last year – from courts, governments, and some of the world’s largest corporations – unfortunately, progress on the ground remains very limited,” the report states.

Some of these pronouncements are listed in the report and include:

1) A series of major legal victories in courts around the world offering the “potential to reverse the global slowdown in recognition of community land rights. More than any time in recent history, judges supported local communities in securing their land and natural resources in 2013.”

2) A “surge in international commitments to community land rights in 2013” made by the G8, UN agencies, the World Bank and the EU.

3) “Unprecedented” commitments to “more ethical standards” and a “more progressive agenda” from “industry leaders”, including Coca Cola, Nestle, Unilever, Asia Pulp & Paper, and Wilmar.

The report acknowledges that “this is all good news – but only words.” It states that implementing these commitments “may prove difficult” for corporations, and that the “prospects for translating new commitments [by governments] into impacts remained unclear in 2013”:

[T]he overriding picture in 2013 remained one of continuing resource grabs by local elites and corporations, aided by governments eager to give away land to investors on almost any terms.

The report features several case studies, including one on the growing “roll call of people killed for their land rights activism” and another on Peru where land conflicts are described as “reaching a crisis” and threatening to “undermine [the country’s] status as an honest broker” as the host of the UN climate talks in December this year.

“Peru is in the midst of a series of corrosive and unresolved disputes over forest lands,” it states. “Before hosting the global climate talks, Peru should act to prevent forest exploitation, including for hydrocarbons, when such exploitation conflicts with the rights of communities, including the rights of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.”

RRI’s Jenny Springer, speaking at the launch in London, suggested that one reason for the slowdown in land rights reform was “the global upsurge in land grabbing”, with increasing pressure on land and natural resources and governments seeking investment.


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