New Delhi: At least one-fourth of carbon stored above ground in the world’s tropical forests is found in the collectively-managed territories of indigenous people and local communities, according to a new research released on Wednesday morning.

The study further stated that global communities need to recognize that keeping tropical forests intact will prevent carbon emissions.

The analysis, done by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), US-based Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) and global research organisations like World Resources Institute (WRI), comes days before countries from across the world meet in Marrakech (Morocco) for the UN’s annual global climate conference where issues like deforestation will be discussed. RRI is a global coalition of organisations including over 150 international, regional, and community organizations advancing forest tenure.

“Community lands contain at least 54,546 million metric tons of carbon (MtC), equivalent to four times the total global carbon emissions in 2014," said the study.

“One tenth of the total carbon contained above ground in tropical forests—22,322 MtC—is in collectively managed forests that lack formal, legal recognition. Without secure rights, these communities and their forests are at risk of illegal, forced, or otherwise unjust expropriation and capture by more powerful interests, thus displacing the residents, destroying the forests and releasing the carbon they contain into the atmosphere," the study warned.

The analysis looked at lands legally owned and customarily claimed by communities in 37 tropical countries.

“Tropical forests represent some of the most carbon-rich landscapes on the planet. Both satellite and on-the-ground evidence suggest that indigenous peoples and local communities are the best stewards of these lands, the carbon they contain, and the wealth of other environmental services they provide," said Wayne Walker, who is a PhD scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center.

The study also drew attention to the point that many tropical forest nations have not embraced this cost-effective solution to preventing further emissions from forest loss. According to a report of RRI released earlier this year, only 21 of 188 countries included forest people in their national plans for reducing carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement.

It also highlighted that studies have shown that indigenous people and local communities customarily claim at least 50% of the world’s lands—including forests—but legally own just 10% of global lands, and have some degree of recognized management rights over an additional 8%.

“Securing the rights of indigenous peoples to own and manage their forests is an inexpensive way to limit emissions while improving communities’ economic stability. But too many governments and private sector leaders keep their heads in the sand while the forests are destroyed," said UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

“The global community needs to recognize the scientific evidence—keeping tropical forests intact prevents carbon emissions, and forest peoples do the job better than anyone else. The Marrakech conference presents an opportunity to act on this evidence. We need to take concrete steps toward recognizing rights, before global warming reaches the breaking point," said Katie Reytar, a research associate at WRI.

The report also said that ecosystem services that the tropical forests provide like soil retention, pollination, biodiversity, flood control, source of clean water along with tourism and other economic sectors that benefit from community forests, the benefits over the next 20 years amount to $523 billion to $1.165 trillion in Brazil, $54-119 billion in Bolivia, and $123-277 billion in Colombia.

"In contrast, the cost of securing these land rights—only a few dollars per hectare of forest each year—is less than 1% of the total benefits in each country," it added.

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