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Securing Land Tenure to Secure a Sustainable Future

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Securing Land Tenure to Secure a Sustainable Future

Land is at the heart of the climate crisis. Our on-going research with the University of Melbourne shows that half of all climate actions relate to land, and, of those, 40 percent require direct land access. This reality is complicated by unprecedented demand for land to accommodate rapid urbanization and feed a growing global population, while climate change is degrading land, thereby reducing suitable land areas. Land demand is in rural and forest areas, but also on the fringes of growing cities and coastal areas coping with rising sea levels and natural disasters where also informality, marginalization and social vulnerabilities on land often prevail. Economic and climate induced migration exacerbates the pressure around urban settlements. 


Illustratively, according to Prindex, 1 billion people fear eviction from their homes worldwide, leaving those without legal rights on land most vulnerable. Within this context, the question “how can we best secure and protect land rights while allowing efficient carbon sequestration, sustainable urbanization and just energy transition” was a central focus at the World Bank Land Conference that concludes today, a gathering of 1300 participants from over 100 countries representing governments, civil society, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, researchers, donors and philanthropies, and private sector.


Actions to meet global climate goals—such as transitioning to renewable energy and establishing green transit corridors—demand significant land use changes. For example, the 2023 Land Gap Report found that governments have pledged 1 billion hectares of land (equivalent to the land area of the USA) for Nationally Determined Contributions related to land and forest restoration, reforestation, and bioenergy investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Further, our research finds that 75% of climate actions needing land relate to forestry, energy, transport, environment, agriculture, and waste sectors. 


The importance of secure land tenure to climate action in the forest sector is already well established. At the U.N. Climate Conference 2021 (COP26), 141 countries committed to halt deforestation, and five governments and 17 foundations pledged a total of $1.7 billion (U.S. dollars) for securing Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ land and natural resource rights, placing land issues at the forefront of forest-related climate action. These countries and organizations recognize that securing indigenous, customary and communal land rights enhances sustainable land use and reduces deforestation. 


But secure land tenure and access are equally critical to other climate actions as well, including low carbon food production, resilient urban development, and just energy transition away from coal. Informality and the lack of secure tenure pose substantial obstacles to identifying and assembling land for climate actions such as land protection, conservation, or repurposing. Finding suitable land for climate investments is risky for both investors and communities where land use, claims, and rights are unrecorded and insecure. Investments in securing tenure and land access are thus urgently needed at scale to achieve these critical climate goals needing land.


Clear land rights and boundaries provide a foundation for governments to make land use decisions that balance tradeoffs among economic growth, food security, and environmental goals. With such systems in place, climate investments can be both inclusive and equitable. In Indonesia, the government is setting an example for how this can be done at scale with the registration of over 60 million new land rights during the past ten years.  This empowers landowners and users to participate in investment negotiations and benefit from them.


At the World Bank, we are committed to scaling up investments in land, and launched the Global Program on Land Tenure Security and Land Access for Climate Goals at the Land Conference. The program is designed to accelerate investments in tenure security, women’s land rights, climate sensitive land use and access to land for critical contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as sustainable infrastructure, and urban development. Through this program, the World Bank aspires to double its land sector investment portfolio from $5 billion today to $10 billion over the next 10 years through a global partnership approach. 


This program is a step in the right direction; however, more is needed, and it will take all actors working together to get this right. Securing land tenure and finding land for all the land use change needed are complex and demanding undertakings, yet critical to achieving so many of our collective goals for a prosperous future on a livable planet.

Mika-Petteri Torhonen

Lead Land Administration Specialist

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