Big Ideas In Brief

Welcome to Big Ideas In Brief—a series of think pieces and commentary by industry-leading activists and academics from RRI who are scaling up efforts to protect human rights, achieve gender justice, and dramatically improve the self-determined livelihoods of the world’s Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant Peoples, and local communities.

April 2024

Renounced by the Vatican, yet the repressive force of 15th century persists

By William D. Sunderlin, RRI Fellow, and Robert J. Miller; originally published in InDepth News

It seems ridiculous that a repudiated Catholic doctrine dating back to the 15th century should have legal standing anywhere in the world today. Yet the Onondaga, an Indigenous nation located in Central New York, have to argue for their land rights in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because of centuries of United States case law that relies on the Doctrine of Discovery, renounced by Pope Francis one year ago.

Approximately one-half the world’s land is traditionally held and used by Indigenous communities. For much of this land, Indigenous and community land rights are not recognized—in 49 countries with detailed statistics, at least 21.1% of all land should be recognized as theirs but isn’t. And that is where the Doctrine of Discovery comes into play… Read more.

March 2024

Africa’s carbon deals must serve those most vulnerable to the climate crisis

By Solange Bandiaky-Badji; originally published in Common Dreams

Carbon markets have all the allure of a new investment option—mainly, that they have not failed yet. The idea of paying for conservation activities to offset polluting industrial activities, and then trading credits for those activities, sounds like a win-win solution to the climate crisis. But, in practice today, it looks like fool’s gold. That may be why the European Union included “carbon offsets” in new regulations that limit the use of sustainability buzzwords in promotional activities. 

Several mega-transactions negotiated recently in tropical forested countries in Sub-Saharan Africa place a spotlight on who is missing from these market opportunities—the Indigenous Peoples and local communities who have, against all odds, kept the forests intact… Read more.

October 2023

The carbon-offset market’s broken promises

By Mateo Estrada; originally published in Project Syndicate

The recent Climate Week NYC, which convened corporate leaders, policymakers, scientists, and others to discuss climate solutions and drive progress toward decarbonization, underscored how forests have become big business. The fast-growing voluntary carbon market, where companies purchase nature-based offsets to compensate for their emissions, was worth $2 billion in 2021 and could reach $10-40 billion by 2030. Some even see forest preservation and restoration as a silver bullet for climate change.

But for Indigenous communities, including my tribe in the Colombian Amazon, the arrival of carbon traders marked the start of a troubled history: dubious deals, land grabs, and violent evictions in contested territories… Read more

September 2023

African coups and resource rights

By Solange Bandiaky-Badji; originally published in Inter Press Service

When the heads of state of all United Nations members spoke in front of the UN General Assembly last week, a number of African leaders were not able to attend, having been removed from office in military-led coups.

On the surface, these nations do not share many similarities outside of geography and colonial histories. Consider Gabon and Niger, the most recent countries to experience “regime change.” Gabon is a small, biodiverse nation; the president under house arrest and his father before him have been in power since 1967. Niger is a much larger, mostly desert country; the president under house arrest had been elected in 2021Read more

November 2022

After 14 years of advocacy, the DRC president finally signs new Indigenous Peoples law 

By Patrick Saidi Hemedi; originally published in Mongabay

After five months of waiting, the Indigenous pygmy peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have secured a major victory. Earlier today, the president of the DRC, Felix Antoine Tshisekedi, signed and promulgated the new law on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Indigenous Pygmy Peoples, the first legislation in the country that recognizes and safeguards the specific rights of the Indigenous pygmy peoples, such as their land rights.

Now, the Indigenous communities living in the tropical forests of the Congo Basin can receive the legal protections that the bill’s authors intended—and that the responsibilities of the government in enforcing these protections are clear…Read more

September 2022

We must ensure that climate funding reaches the Guardians of the Forests

By Solange Bandiaky-Badji and Torbjørn Gjefsen; originally published in Inter Press Service

US $270 million may sound like a lot of money, especially for just one year. But it is only a small fraction—less than one percent—of all global funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation.  This small fraction, however, is the annual amount that was invested in the tenure and forest management of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPs and LCs) over the past decade.

This month we learned that the actual amount of funding that reached IPs and LCs was a small fraction of the small fraction: only 17 percent went to activities that specifically named an Indigenous organization… Read more

September 2022

The push to protect Africa’s land displaces its greatest guardians: Indigenous Peoples

By Patrick Kipalu; originally published in Grist

For years, global conservation organizations, donors, and development institutions have told governments in Africa to set aside more of their national territories for conservation.

According to a UN report, roughly 17 percent of the world’s land mass is currently protected by governments and conservation agencies. Given its immense size, there is an expectation that Africa contribute mightily to meeting a global goal of placing 30 to 50 percent of the planet under the protection of designated authorities… Read more

June 2022

Monoculture plantations have long harmed communities and their ancestral lands. A new tool seeks to change that.

By Mina Beyan; originally published in The DayLight

For a century, Liberia’s rich lands have attracted multinational corporations to source natural resources like rubber and oil palm. Today, over 10 percent of Liberia’s land mass is owned and occupied by four major oil palm companies.

This massive allocation of arable farmlands and forests to foreign investors has not come without a cost. Many communities who have lived and farmed on the lands for generations found that their land was taken without their free, prior and informed consent… Read more

March 2022

To conserve Africa’s biodiversity, its leaders must rethink protected areas

By Kendi Borona; originally published in Africa Business Insider

Climate change and fast-dwindling biodiversity are the most urgent threats facing our planet today. The sharp rise in environmental catastrophes has led the global community to urgently seek new interventions to halt biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation through instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the target to conserve 30% of the planet by 2030, the Paris Agreement, and the COP26 Glasgow climate pact.

This July, Rwanda will host the first IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC), with a goal to create a unified African voice in conservation that will value African people and nature… Read more

December 2021

The planet needs us to manage and maintain the integrity of tropical forests

By Fany Kuiru Castro; originally published in Spanish in Univision Noticias

In the middle of summer, just before the start of the forest fire season, a man arrived in the Indigenous village of Vaupés, located in the Colombian Amazon, to talk about “carbon markets“. It was clear that this was a salesman who was promising a steady stream of money if the local community leaders would simply sign the piece of paper he was presenting to them.

The real rights of the communities were not part of the conversation. Our rights to the land, to the trees, to the carbon contained in our forests, all of these have never been defined… Read more (en español)

May 2020

Respect Indigenous and community isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19

By Victoria Tauli-Corpuz; originally published in Thomson Reuters Foundation

For the first time in living memory, the industrialized world understands what it is to be entirely susceptible to disease, as vulnerable as indigenous peoples once were to diseases brought by outsiders who colonized our lands. As vulnerable as many indigenous peoples still are to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indigenous peoples—and other local communities and Afro-descendants—do not have the same health services or government support as those in cities, even in developed countries like Canada…. Read more

November 2019

The path to a profitable and protected amazon

By Carlos Nobre; originally published in Scientific American

The Amazon is burning. Physically, the world has seen more deforestation and fires in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon this year than at any other point in nearly a decade. But figuratively, a conflagration over economic development in the region blazes even more fiercely.

In Brazil alone, the rainforest is more than 42 million acres smaller today than it was in 2010…. Read more

November 2019

Community land rights: An untapped solution to secure climate, biodiversity, and development goals

By Wael Zakout Andy White; originally published in World Bank Blogs

Secure land rights play a key role in addressing the climate crisis.  Yet billions of peoples’ rights to the lands and resources they live on and manage are unrecognized. This insecurity undermines global efforts to protect, sustainably manage, and restore ecosystems essential to the realization of global climate, biodiversity, and sustainable development goals.

While there is growing acceptance of the importance of land rights, those of millions of local communities and Indigenous Peoples…. Read more

June 2019

A new gold standard—for people and planet

By Joan Carling; originally published in Global Landscapes Forum

The climate crisis is worsening, and report after report warns that we are running out of time to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. We also know that the world cannot replace fossil fuels fast enough to keep warming to 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degrees. Our only hope is protecting the forests and wetlands that sequester vast amounts of carbon and regulate the world’s ecosystems. And we cannot protect forests if we ignore the rights of forest guardians.

Indigenous peoples and local communities have stewarded many of the world’s great forests, wetlands and drylands for generations…. Read more

June 2019

Stories of progress that underscore women’s agency, power, and potential

By Silene Ramirez and Lindsay Bigda; originally published in Women Deliver

Tackling the devastating effects of climate change and inequality requires a more inclusive approach—one that supports the Indigenous Peoples and local communities who manage and protect the worlds’ lands and resources, and in particular the women within these groups, whose unique knowledge plays a pivotal role in communities’ livelihoods and forest protection. Up to 2.5 billion people worldwide—more than half of whom are women—rely on community lands and resources. Women play an outsize role in managing these lands…. Read more

May 2019

The struggle for land security in Liberia is just beginning

By Alfred Brownell; originally published in Thomson Reuters Foundation

In 2016, I fled my native Liberia to avoid being arrested. My organization Green Advocates had recently filed a complaint before the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) against Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), one of the world’s biggest palm oil producing companies, for attempting to clear more than 500,000 hectares of rainforest without the consent of the local communities who live on and protect those lands.

Liberian forests act as essential carbon sinks and are one of the most important biodiversity hotspots on the planet…. Read more

March 2019

In India, the specter of forced displacement hangs over the heads of millions of Indigenous Peoples

By Arun Agrawal; originally published in The Washington Post

In February, India’s Supreme Court ruled that Indigenous and local households whose land claims had not yet been upheld — roughly 2 million households, or an estimated 10 million people — would be evicted from their homes by July 24. The court then put a hold on the evictions until its next hearing in July, providing a brief respite to residents who are largely impoverished and cannot afford to move without grievous harm — but also extending their anxiety.

Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government must ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its unjust decision…. Read more

January 2019

Calling for a new narrative: Indigenous and rural women as agents of change

By Silene Ramirez; originally published in Women Deliver

Indigenous and rural women are largely responsible for food production and developing sustainable rural economies. They have unique knowledge of natural resources and are on the front lines of preventing deforestation, revitalizing food systems, and stewarding the ecosystems that they and the rest of the planet rely on. And their leadership is only growing as a result of demographic shifts.

Despite these important contributions as household and forest managers, women are too often left out of decision-making processes that affect them, and remain constrained by unjust laws and practices…. Read more

December 2018

“The roots of a lasting peace are intertwined with the land”

By Alain Frechette

2018 was a concerning year for all who want a stable, prosperous, and healthy planet. We learned from scientists just how urgent efforts to mitigate climate change are. We saw Brazil join the growing ranks of countries headed by ultranationalist and xenophobic leaders. And, after the deadliest year on record for land and environmental defenders in 2017, we witnessed even higher levels of violence, criminalization, and persecution targeting Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and their defenders.

While there is no silver bullet for solving these problems, I remain optimistic that we can collectively find ways to address the inequality and insecurity that underpin them…. Read more


October 2018

Protect Indigenous, community, and women’s land rights for food security and nutrition

By Fany Kuiru Castro and Paul De Wit; originally published in Devex

Around 1 in 9 people in the world — 821 million — are undernourished. After a prolonged decline, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that world hunger is rising once again.

The world’s food systems need to be transformed to curb this trend. Legally recognized and protected land rights for Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the developing world are a key part of revitalizing the world’s food systems. In particular, the rights of rural and Indigenous women to support diverse, local agricultural production require urgent attention…. Read more

September 2018

President Iván Duque, protect social activists

By Omaira Bolaños; originally published in The New York Times

Like many Colombians, I have lived most of my life amid cycles of armed conflict and attempts at peace. I grew up listening to stories of violence from my family and witnessing the myriad ways it devastated groups across the country. Those who are poorest and living in rural areas have always been among the most affected by the violence…. Read more in English and in Spanish

July 2018

In India, making the business case for community forest rights

By Flavie Halais; originally published in Devex

In 2006, India’s parliament passed the Forest Rights Act, or FRA—a groundbreaking legislation that recognizes the rights of forest dwellers to protect and manage forest resources.

Colonial-era laws established by the British previously granted control of India’s forests to forest departments, the government services in charge of implementing the National Forest Policy, in order to manage large-scale industrial and commercial projects. But this left local communities vulnerable to displacement, socio-economic marginalization, and their lands susceptible to environmental degradation…. Read more

May 2018

To end deforestation, we must protect community land rights

By Bryson Ogden; originally published in the World Economic Forum

Ending deforestation is crucial to achieving a host of global goals, including preventing a climate crisis, sustaining rural livelihoods and preserving natural biodiversity. To this end, companies, investors, governments, civil society and communities have made ambitious commitments to reduce deforestation by 2020. These include the New York Declaration on Forests’ goal to halve natural forest loss, the Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares of degraded forest, and the Consumer Goods Forum’s commitment to net zero deforestation in palm oil, soy, beef, and paper supply chains.

But companies are finding that pervasive insecurity of community land rights in the global south is making implementation difficult…. Read more

March 2018

In the Philippines, they are shooting the messengers

By Victoria Tauli-Corpuz; originally published in Financial Times

When I learned that the Philippine government had accused me of being a terrorist, my immediate reaction was to hug my grandkids, fearing for their safety. Then, I started to speak out. Again.

I am the UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. My mandate is to report when communities anywhere in the world are forced to relocate, their lands uprooted, their leaders either deemed criminals or killed. Not everyone wants to hear it, but the message needs to be spread. In the Philippines, they are shooting the messengers…. Read more

February 2018

Our best hope for 2018: Women elected to local politics

By Andy White; originally published in Thomson Reuters Place

n 2017, Nepal held its first local elections in 20 years, a test of the country’s fledgling democracy after a slow recovery from civil war. Nearly 2,000 of those elected to local office were members of the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN), a coalition representing 8.5 million Indigenous Peoples and local communities, almost a third of Nepal’s population.

This is a game-changer for both the local people who protect Nepal’s forests and for Nepal’s democracy itself. These communities will now be writing regulations that govern their resources—setting precedents for democratic forest governance in Nepal and across Asia…. Read more