Land issues are not only about land rights, but also about climate...

Land issues are not only about land rights, but also about climate change & livelihood

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Peter Veit, Director, Land and Resource Rights Initiative, World Resources Institute

What kind of activities is World Resources Institute (WRI) currently involved in?

WRI was established in 1980 as a policy research institution focused on the changes in the world. It has organized six major programs focusing on cities, climate, energy, forest, water and food. And cutting across cut these six programs are our four centers — government, business, economics and finance. Our job is to provide support to these six major initiatives.

What kind of steps is WRI taking to enable sustainable city growth?

The cities and the transportation program is WRI’s largest initiative in terms of staff, offices and budget. Our interest has shifted from only transportation to sustainable city initiatives in the last two to three years. We are now exploring land rights issues that are associated with city development. For example, in India, we are looking at various approaches with which local leaders bring land together for public purposes, whether they are for parks or urban transportation projects, different approaches that has been used by different cities in India and looking at the other perspective of land rights.

Land is a very sensitive issue. How is WRI influencing key decision makers to make right policy guidelines?

Land rights is a politically charged issue. It is a human right issue. It is the principal source of wealth and power in many countries. We see land issues not only from a land rights perspective, but also from a climate change and livelihood point of view. Our work is done mostly in partnership with local bodies. So in most African countries, we work with environmental organizations that have a deep connection with the judiciary, government and parliament.

How does climate change fit into this?

We have been working from the forestry angle and how securing community rights over forests can be a sound mitigation strategy. There has been ample research showing that if communities have secure rights to their land and if those rights are protected, then the deforestation rates in the community forests are lower. Our hope is that climate negotiators see securing rights as a sound investment strategy for their efforts to mitigate climate change. That has been our principle angle to forest and economy debate.

How has the COP21 summit taken the discussion forward in this direction?

There are lots of positives that have come forward from Paris. From the forest perspective, we have some strong positions in the Paris agreement. However, we know that there will be challenges in their implementation, and therefore have shifted our attention to the commitments that various governments made under the agreement. We have been looking at these so called INDCs [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions] to see how forestry features into their climate commitment.

The UN recently recognized the role of geoinformation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). What are your views on this?

There was quite an effort by WRI to engage in the SDG process and we are working with negotiators regarding goals, targets and indicators that are going to be developed. That is a mixed bag. There are some strong targets that are consistent with our opinions and perspectives, and there are others that haven’t quite reached that level. I have worked quite a bit to try to encourage the SDG negotiators to establish a separate target on securing collective land rights that has not happened. And we are working to at least try to develop an indicator for collective land rights. Our hope is that some of the platforms that WRI has developed can be used as a way to monitor the progress toward the SDG goals and targets. For instance, we launched an online platform called LandMark with the help of 12 other land right organizations, which provides the boundaries of the land held by the community and indigenous people. This could potentially be the platform for monitoring progress on whether indigenous land are better protected or not as consistent with SDG indicators. Then there are a number of other platforms that we have… the Global Forest Watch can also be used as a potential way to monitor the progress on the SDGs.

How is WRI using and encouraging the use of geospatial information for effective resource management?

There are a number of platforms that WRI has developed in the field of geospatial. As I mentioned, LandMark provide precise boundaries of indigenous community lands, the Global Forest Watch provides real-time data of forest cover, and looks at the deforestation rate and a number of other aspects of forestry. We have a geospatial platform that looks at water. We are considering a broader platform that will bring all these smaller platforms together and will hopefully go beyond water, land and forest to deal with other natural resources. We do a lot of mapping and we think that geo-referenced information is very important for decision makers.

Law and policy have tremendous impact on the collection, use, storage and distribution of geospatial information. What are your views on this?

We have worked with governments to develop progressive freedom of information acts. To try to encourage governments to make more information available to the public and that includes geo reference information as well. We have been working with a number of governments to help draft laws, suggest specific provisions to compare their work so that they can see what their neighbors are doing. We also recognize the power of maps in making decisions and understanding issues. We work with governments, not just in maps, but broadly in infographics to organize and share complex information and ideas in a way that could be very simple and quickly grasped by policymakers to the public.

What kind of role will international collaboration & technology transfer play to ensure global sustainable development? 

There are a number of things that we do which go beyond a nation state. WRI was first created with a real focus on development of global public policy, and thus, our strong interest in international agreements. We have a long history of working with international collaborations. We have also spent a lot of time at continental as well as regional levels. We do have a long history of bringing civil societies together to encourage sharing of information and collaboration around common issues and addressing common concerns.