Indigenous peoples and local communities are some of the best environmental stewards. Their livelihoods and cultures depend on forests, clean water and other natural resources, so they have strong incentives to manage their lands sustainably.
LandMark, the first global platform to provide land maps of indigenous peoples and local communities, released new data in December on carbon storage, loss of forest cover, natural resource concessions, dam locations and other topics that shed light on the environment. in which those lands exist.
Now, anyone anywhere can see and analyze the contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities and identify the threats that threaten those specific lands.
Five maps illustrate just how crucial these ancestral lands are to the planet:
1) Indigenous peoples and local communities own a considerable amount of the world's land.
More than 50 percent of the world's lands are communal, collectively owned by indigenous peoples and other local groups, and administered primarily under customary tenure agreements.
Below, a map shows indigenous lands in orange and community lands in blue across the Amazon; darker colors indicate lands documented with a title or certificate. There are community lands on every continent except Antarctica, and Africa owns more than any other.
However, both indigenous peoples and other communities have legal rights to only a fraction of the properties they occupy, and even fewer of these territories are formally registered and documented with the government. This increases the possibility that governments, corporations or other powerful elites will seize those lands.
2) Indigenous lands whose tenure is guaranteed often have less deforestation than other areas.
Between 2000 and 2010, rapid deforestation accounted for 80 percent of Bolivia's total annual carbon emissions, and forest loss is not slowing. Farmers and cattle ranchers are cutting down more and more forests, especially in the Bolivian province of Santa Cruz, which is experiencing a boom in soybean production.
However, a report presented by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in October 2016 concluded that, in Bolivia, deforestation is 2.8 times lower within legally recognized indigenous lands than outside them.
By granting indigenous groups legal rights to the lands they occupy, Bolivia managed to avoid the emission of between eight and 12 megatons of greenhouse gases per year, equivalent to taking more than 1.7 million motorized vehicles off the streets.
These benefits extend beyond Bolivia and throughout the Amazon. Between 2000 and 2012, the average annual deforestation within recognized indigenous forests was two to three times less than outside them. Securing rights to these lands would generate billions of dollars in climate, environmental and economic benefits over the next 20 years.
3) Indigenous peoples manage some of the richest carbon stocks in the world.
Other WRI research shows that indigenous and community lands store about 25 percent of the world's surface carbon, making these areas vitally important in the global fight to curb climate change. In the Philippines, for example, the ikahalans have protected their ancestral forests for several generations.
LandMark's new carbon storage analysis tool estimates that ikahalan domain trees retain nearly three million tons of carbon, averaging 96 tons per hectare across their land. The total carbon deposited on its land is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 2.3 million passenger vehicles.
By contributing this data, LandMark can help communities like the Ikahalan access additional sources of income through programs such as the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD +) initiative or carbon sequestration and accounting projects.
4) Dams are flooding indigenous and community lands.
Across the world, hydroelectric projects flood collectively owned lands, including ranches, family farms, cemeteries, and sacred sites. In the Brazilian Amazon alone, there are currently more than 80 large dams under construction.
One of LandMark's maps focuses on the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Rondonia, showing projects that threaten to damage rivers, destroy forests, and create hardship for indigenous peoples. In these two states, 20 large dams are being built, 86 are operational and another 224 are either inventoried or in the planning stage.
5) Natural resource concessions are a growing threat to indigenous and community lands.
The mining of precious metals such as gold, copper and zinc is among the most widespread threats to ancestral lands, particularly in the Amazon. In Peru alone, the government extended some 55,000 extraction and exploration concessions covering more than 18.5 hectares, about 15 percent of the country. In another of its maps, LandMark exhibits the indigenous territory of Santiago de Chocorvos, where there were 95 concessions.
Illegal mining is also rampant, threatening local communities throughout Peru.
The short-term economic returns from mining extraction often mean long-term hardships for indigenous peoples. Companies cut down forests and pollute waterways, leaving little to support traditional livelihoods.
Community land titling and the right to free, prior and informed consent, which gives communities a powerful voice in all decisions that affect their lands, are paramount in preventing the widespread loss of critical ecosystems.
The fight for legal recognition and guarantee of tenure
Maps are a powerful tool to give visibility to the lands of indigenous peoples and local communities. LandMark shows the dynamic environment in which these lands exist, both from the angle of the benefits they provide when land rights are secured, and from the increasing pressures that threaten rural livelihoods and the planet.
These communities and their advocates can use the platform to help protect indigenous land rights, negotiate fair payments for the use of those properties, and participate in decisions that affect them and their livelihoods.
By Katie Reytar and Peter Veit of the World Resources Institute