Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Restoring Aboriginal Title is Key to Reducing Deforestation and Preserving Biodiversity

Sources: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report, Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights,
Queensland extinguishes native title over Indigenous land to make way for Adani coalmine, Thousands of goldminers invade Yanomami territory, Injustice on the carbon frontier in GuaraqueƧaba, Brazil

A matching analysis on the effect of land tenure on deforestation rates in the Amazon forests of Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia concluded that deforestation rates are significantly lower where indigenous communities have secure land tenure compared to areas where they do not have secure tenure, for all three countries. The study specifically found that areas of the Amazon rainforest where tenure was secured to indigenous communities experienced significant reductions in deforestation between 2000 and 2012. In Bolivia, forestlands where indigenous communities held tenure experienced an average deforestation rate of 0.15% while forestlands outside of indigenous tenure experienced an average deforestation rate of 0.43%. In Brazil, forestlands where indigenous communities held tenure experienced an average deforestation rate of 0.06% while forestlands outside of indigenous tenure declined at an average rate of 0.15%. In Colombia, the average deforestation rate was exactly twice as high outside of indigenous land tenure (0.08%) than within indigenous land tenure (0.04%). The total value of carbon sequestered within forestlands where indigenous communities have secure tenure is estimated to be between $25-35 billion over the next two decades and the equivalent of removing between 9 and 12.6 million cars from the roads for a year. The monetary value of additional benefits secured by securing aboriginal title such as more efficient regulation of the regional ecosystem, local climate dynamics, water cycle, pollination, nutrient retention and even tourism are estimated to be between $679 billion and $1.53 trillion over the same time period. The estimated costs of securing aboriginal title and indigenous land tenure to forestlands traditionally occupied and used by indigenous communities is about one percent of the value of the total benefits derived from securing the title and tenure of these communities over the same time period. As I noted in A Conservative Approach to Protecting the Environment, a prior six nation study conducted by the World Bank program on Forests also found significantly lower rates of deforestation in areas where local communities had legal rights to forestland, with government enforcement of their rights, than so called “protected areas” where local communities have been excluded from their forests. Similar results are found in a comparable study of the biodiversity of forests lands and other habitats across the world. A study of 15,000 geographical areas in Canada, Brazil, and Australia concluded that habitats managed or co-managed by indigenous communities had higher numbers of species than government established protected areas.

Local communities have legal rights to about one-eighth of the world’s forest, which contains 37.7 billion tons of carbon - 29 times the annual footprint of all vehicles, but this is only a fraction of all customary aboriginal land. While indigenous peoples customarily have tenure over 50% of the earth’s surface, governments only recognize their legal right to 10% of it. Despite evidence that preserving indigenous land tenure is one of the most effective policies for reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, governments are still in the habit of extinguishing aboriginal title (the doctrine of discovery) in favor of extraction industries. In a recent case, the Queensland government of Australia used a divide and conquer strategy to seize 1,400 hectares of aboriginal land for a coalmine. The Brazilian government, infamous for its genocidal campaigns against indigenous Amazon tribes, has allowed thousands of gold miners to seize land demarcated for the Yanomami people. Local communities in the Amazon rainforest have also been forced out of land that they have customarily used for subsistence so multinationals such as Chevron and GM can trade carbon credits. The thin veneer of democracy has lent legitimacy to such claims (as if natural rights can be voted away) and placed the issue of land rights, especially indigenous land rights, on the back burner in popular discourse about climate change and the environment. The left-wing framing of this issue would have us believe that we must make drastic changes and great sacrifices to avoid a future global catastrophe, when in fact there are several simple things we can do to achieve the same end. Restoring and preserving indigenous land tenure is one of them. I have also written about other solutions in previous posts throughout this site.

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