Rural Woman

Just Transformations – Land Tenure Rights as the Basis for Restoring Land and Biodiversity While Protecting People and Livelihoods

16 December 2022 | Montreal, Canada


This side event invited key stakeholders from the local, national, and global levels to discuss the need to make the protection of legitimate tenure rights the basis for implementation of the Rio Conventions to enable just transitions.

Rural Woman

Photo by UN Women/Joe Saade

Much can be learned from the process and implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification’s (UNCCD) decisions for integrating land tenure into the global biodiversity framework (GBF). Since the adoption of the decisions, different approaches to integrate land tenure in land restoration measures have been applied. This side event invited key stakeholders from the local, national, and global levels who are involved in policymaking and implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and UNCCD to discuss the need to make the protection of legitimate tenure rights the basis for implementation of the Rio Conventions to enable just transitions. They shared their expertise, lessons learned, and good practices from different contexts and various levels of governance to strengthen the GBF.

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A view of the room during the presentation of Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD.

Protecting legitimate land tenure rights safeguards human rights and enables the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems. Making land rights central to CBD implementation holds the potential to unleash the capacities of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) to be agents of just transformations of land restoration for conserving biodiversity. An enabling environment for implementation of the Rio Conventions and, in particular, the protection of biological diversity, requires the protection of legitimate land tenure rights. At this side event, speakers addressed the need to make the protection of legitimate tenure rights the basis for the implementation of the Rio Conventions including through the implementation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF).

David Betge, Töpfer Müller Gaßner (TMG) Research, moderated the event. Ibrahim Thiaw, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, UNCCD, underlined that the UNCCD is the only global treaty on land and drought and noted that land tenure rights and access to land are key challenges for many vulnerable people, particularly women. He pointed to the UNCCD’s report, Land Rights Matter for People and the Planet, which outlines options on how to increase awareness of land tenure and responsible land governance to catalyze action towards land degradation neutrality. He linked the absence of these rights to land degradation and biodiversity loss, which, he noted, are both exacerbated by climate change. He explained that 1 billion hectares of land has been earmarked for restoration, but that this will require investment by smallholders who have not been accorded land tenure rights, and urged participants to think of those without decision-making power on their own land.

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David Betge, TMG

Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD_SideEventsCBDCOP15_15Dec2022_Photo.jpg

Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD

Camila Zepeda, Director General for Global Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chief Climate and Biodiversity Negotiator, Mexico: lamented the lack of synergies between the Rio Conventions; underlined that “land tenure is a human right”; and emphasized the need to include Indigenous Peoples in decision making. She shared that the GBF will include a target related to land tenure rights but stressed that “we need to read between the lines” to consider whether these will be beneficial to IPLCs.

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Camila Zepeda, Mexico

In a keynote address, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President of the Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad, and Co-Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, emphasized that land is not just a commodity, but is “our life, it is who we are.” She called for investment in nature, noting the under-investment in land restoration and the over-investment in land-destroying practices. She underlined the need for more ambition in the 30X30 goal, stressing that IPLCs have already protected 30% of their land by protecting Indigenous lands.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, indigenous women & peoples association of Chad, Cochair of the international indigenous peoples forum on climate change_SideEventsCBDCOP15_15Dec2022_Photo.jpg

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad and the  International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change

Jes Weigelt, TMG Research, underlined that: securing legitimate land tenure rights has both safeguarding and enabling functions and that there is agreed language on tenure rights from the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), which underscores that collective rights should not be undermined. He noted the land tenure decisions by Parties to the UNCCD that link the VGGT to the UNCCD and shared that this could provide a hint on how to implement the GBF, highlighting that “we are not starting from scratch.” Weigelt recalled that – through the VGGT – there is an agreement on collective rights by CBD Parties.

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Jes Weigelt, TMG

Michael Hošek, EU negotiator, pointed to an evolution between the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the GBF in addressing the rights of IPLCs. He said resource mobilization is also connected to IPLCs and underlined the need to mainstream the rights of IPLCs throughout the biodiversity agenda.

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Michael Hošek, Czech Republic

Juliette Landry, Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), highlighted improvements in the GBF regarding the inclusion of a rights-based approach and specific ones on IPLCs, but noted the need to choose the correct indicators related to individual and collective land rights. She also underlined the need to monitor, plan, and review actions on the ground.

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Juliette Landry, IDDRI

Milka Chepkorir, ICCA Consortium, underlined that what is under negotiation at COP 15 is whether or not to give Indigenous Peoples their rights, and noted that this pits conservation against people. She stressed that bad conservation practices, including evicting Indigenous Peoples from their land in order to establish “protected areas,” are just modern land grabs. She said that the GBF should prioritize returning Indigenous lands to Indigenous Peoples.

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Milka Chepkorir, ICCA Consortium

Participants then addressed, inter alia, the need for: a paradigm shift towards “sustainable traditional use”; reporting by non-state actors to hold governments accountable; and links that IPLCs’ land tenure rights have to the third objective of the CBD on the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Others noted that issues of ownership of land are steeped in colonial heritage where the issues of land rights and tenure are obfuscated; requested support for Indigenous land conservation over private development in Montreal; called for the acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples’ legitimate use of the land; and underscored that legal systems should recognize Indigenous land tenure systems.

Organizers: TMG, UNCCD, IDDRI

Contact: Jes Weigelt

For more information:

Written and edited by Tallash Kantai, Vijay Kolinjivadi, PhD, and Deborah Davenport, PhD.

All ENB photos are free to use with attribution. For this event, please use: Photo by IISD/ENB | Natalia Mroz

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