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Failure to secure forest dweller rights risks carbon emissions spike, report says

by Rina Chandran | @rinachandran | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 2 November 2016 00:01 GMT

Pygmies hunt for monkeys in Semiliki national park rain forest, Bundibugyo district, west of Uganda's capital Kampala, August 8, 2006. REUTERS/James Akena/File Photo

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"The global community needs to recognise the scientific evidence: keeping tropical forests intact prevents carbon emissions"

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI, Nov 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Securing the land rights of indigenous people and forest dwellers is crucial to keeping global rises in temperature below the agreed 2 degree Celsius threshold, according to a report.

Community forest lands from Brazil to Indonesia contain at least 54,546 million metric tons of carbon, equivalent to four times the global carbon emissions in 2014, according to analysis by the Rights and Resources Initiative, Woods Hole Research Center and World Resources Institute.

Without secure rights for the communities that live in these forests, there is a risk that the people will be displaced and the lands destroyed, releasing the carbon into the atmosphere, said the report published on Wednesday.

"The global community needs to recognise the scientific evidence: keeping tropical forests intact prevents carbon emissions, and forest peoples do the job better than anyone else," Katie Reytar, a research associate at World Resources Institute, said in the report.

"We need to take concrete steps toward recognising rights, before global warming reaches the breaking point."

A landmark agreement struck in Paris last year committed nearly 200 countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 with the aim of limiting the rise in the global average temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Deforestation contributes about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and 58 percent in Latin America alone.

In tropical forests where indigenous and community land rights were recognised and protected, deforestation rates were two to three times lower, the report said, citing research.

One tenth of the total carbon contained above ground in tropical forests is in collectively managed forests that lack formal, legal recognition, the report said, based on "conservative estimates" from 37 countries.

But from Brazil to India, indigenous people and traditional forest dwellers struggle to protect their lands, while neither Indonesia nor the Democratic Republic of Congo legally recognise the rights of forest communities.

In India, indigenous people hold legal titles to only about 5 percent of the land they have lived on.

Brazil loses the equivalent of two football fields of rainforest every minute, mostly due to illegal logging.

Tenure security is a far more cost-effective means of achieving climate mitigation targets than other carbon capture and storage measures. It is also proven to reduce poverty and inequality, as well as conflict, the report said.

Conserving forests is crucial to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, ambitious targets set by U.N. member states last year to end poverty, hunger and inequality by 2030.

"Without secure land and forest tenure and the protection of customary rights, international efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and keep the global rise in temperature below the two-degree threshold will remain a struggle," the report said.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit to see more stories.)

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