An Indigenous community in Peru passes down traditional embroidery techniques to younger generations. Juan Carlos Huayllapuma, CIFOR

New Land Rights Standard to ground climate action in human rights

Principles to help infuse other sustainability standards and activities with justice

Building on the rights affirmed in international human rights instruments and the aspirations of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, Afro-descendant Peoples, and those of women and youth within these groups, the following Standard was developed to ensure that all programs, projects, and initiatives in landscapes are undertaken in partnership and solidarity with the aforementioned rightsholders, taking into account and respecting their distinct and differentiated rights, including their autonomy, priorities, and cosmovision.

Land Rights Standard, Preamble

Visions for biodiversity, climate, landscape restoration and sustainable development won’t succeed unless these are founded in ensuring the rights of the Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and Afro-descendant Peoples who have for generations inhabited the Earth’s most ecologically precious areas.

And now, essential guidance for proponents of such advancements is readily available through the newly launched Land Rights Standard, which is a set of globally recognized common principles that will help achieve “goals” and “targets” set out by countries, investors and institutions in ways that recognize and respect the land, territorial and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendant Peoples.

“This is a simple set of principles that applies existing international legal requirements and best practices to guide all landscape-level actions and investments,” said Solange Bandiaky-Badji, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and moderator of the 11 November 2022 launch event “Land Rights Standard: Finding common ground.”

Hosted by the Global Landscapes Forum, with the RRI and the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, the launch event was part of GLF Climate 2022, an event held alongside the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

An Indigenous-led process that began in 2019 guided the development of the Standard, aimed at devising a set of approaches to protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendent Peoples in legislation, investment and global development. As such, if its protocols are followed, it can ensure that all nature of efforts in climate, biodiversity and sustainable development are rights-based. More than 70 Indigenous and local organizations were consulted on the Standard’s writing and formulation.

A father and son in Bangladesh. Terry Sunderland, CIFOR
A father and son in Bangladesh. Terry Sunderland, CIFOR

The Standard is grounded in international human rights law and developed in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendent Peoples – particularly, with the women within these groups – and lays out clear principles to pave the way for more sustainable, equitable, and just climate action and development.

Its 10 key principles require that all entities engaged in promoting climate, conservation or development actions must acknowledge, respect and protect all land, territorial and resource rights; promote effective legal recognition of these rights; plan, implement and monitor landscape-level projects, programs and initiatives in full collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendent Peoples; respect rights to cultural heritage and traditional knowledge; respect free prior and informed consent; ensure mutually agreed and equitable sharing of benefits and preservation of locally-defined livelihoods and priorities; and ensure effective grievance and redress mechanisms, among others.

Various social and environmental frameworks, standards and certification systems have been developed over the years, with many organizations setting in place their own systems and commitments. Yet, efforts have too often lacked coordination or a common set of globally recognized principles grounded in international human rights, and have been developed without input from the peoples they concern and affect most.

Proponents are encouraging that all actors in the landscape restoration community, civil society, private companies, policy and investment adopt these principles and improve their own standards, certification systems and commitments for rights-based approaches to sustainable landscapes. Kim Carstensen, director general of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), said the Standard may inform the Council’s guidelines, which are widely seen as the benchmark for certified, sustainable forestry projects.

“Land rights are one of the most important areas for climate, biodiversity and social welfare in the world,” said Carstensen. “One of the beautiful elements of this new Standard is that it is clear and easy to understand for everyone,” he added.

Dayak women in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Eko Prianto, CIFOR
Dayak women in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Eko Prianto, CIFOR

Cécile Ndjebet, president of the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF), similarly stressed that the required increase in the private sector’s involvement in landscape restoration must not only come hand-in-hand with rights, but also with free, effective, meaningful and informed participation of the people and communities in their project areas, including building their capacities as needed in order to achieve this.

“[Restoration] is not a choice anymore – it is essential to sustaining life,” said Ndjebet. “The Land Rights Standard presents, for the first time ever, clear and comprehensive principles, developed in consultation with Indigenous and local community organizations to guide landscape investment across the world.”

The contributions, customary rights, roles and contributions of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendent Peoples, with their experience from many generations of managing the natural resources in these landscapes, are too valuable to be overlooked, said Pasang Dolma Sherpa, executive director of the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Research and Development (CIPRED).

“This Standard will help to amply the voice of Indigenous Peoples,” she said. “There has been a gap in understanding, with Indigenous issues and concerns sometimes seen as a threat. But instead of a threat, it’s something helpful… contributing to the continuation of the management of the resources by future generations. That connection needs to be enhanced, and these standards can help with that.”



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