Rights, Climate, and Conservation

Faced with growing environmental threats, the international community has begun to invest in solutions. This includes expanding the global network of protected areas in order to meet biodiversity and climate goals. The only viable path to meet these goals is to recognize the rights of the communities who have long protected these lands.

RRI’s research strengthens the growing body of evidence—captured in reports by the IPCC, IPBES, and others—that recognizing community land rights leads to lower deforestation rates, higher carbon storage, and higher biodiversity. This includes tracking the amount of carbon stored in Indigenous and community lands.

Communities manage nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon, including 22 percent of tropical and sub-tropical forest carbon. Protecting and recognizing their rights to these lands is vital to keeping forests standing and carbon from being released into the atmosphere. Recognizing community rights is also critical for meeting targets to restore damaged lands.

Given their key role in conservation, restoration, and climate change mitigation, Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant Peoples, and local communities—and in particular the women within them—would appear to be natural allies for governments and conservation actors seeking to stem the loss of forests and biodiversity. However, RRI’s research with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has found that colonial models of conservation, which empty forests and lands of local peoples, are still widespread.

RRI engages with international climate instruments to ensure that rights are not just included as a safeguarding measure to prevent human rights violations, but also embraced as a key means of protecting our planet. Our research on the critical connection between secure community land rights and improved climate outcomes was also featured in the 2019 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land.