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Respecting rights, delivering development: forest tenure reform since Rio 1992

This report evaluates the progress achieved in forest management by indigenous people and local communities, which was set as a key objective at the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It presents new findings and identifies what needs to done to protect global forest areas and ensure their contributions to social, environmental and economic development.

The paper argues that the amount of forests recognised as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities has increased globally from 10 per cent in 2002 to 15 per cent in 2012; in developing countries the increase has been from 21 to 31 per cent. It observes that the majority of governments continue to resist large-scale recognition of community land rights and many deny that indigenous peoples have any claim to their customary lands. Citing examples from Africa and Asia, the paper shows that no new areas of community rights have been recognised in the last several years.

In the past, governments have sought to keep forest lands in state hands, but there is a growing push to sell or lease state lands in the interest of rapid economic development. As the world’s demand for timber, metals, meat, grains, oils and biofuels has soared, the pressure to sell has extended to many commonly owned resources, including pastures, wetlands and forests. Large-scale land acquisitions have escalated and common lands are most highly prised by national and international investors. The report emphasises that without reversing this increasing demand, there is a substantial risk that civil conflicts will grow, resources will be squandered, forests will be lost or degraded, and indigenous peoples and other local communities will continue to suffer in poverty.

The report’s recommendations for global leaders include:

  • place tenure rights at the centre of the Rio+20 conference and other global development agendas
  • include the issues of secure tenure and rights as an underlying conditions for green growth
  • implement a new model of rights-based and community-led conservation
  • provide support for African countries to advance the recognition of community tenure rights
  • build innovative private-public partnerships to finance forest tenure reform.