Will the real owner please stand up: Land tenure confusion threatens REDD+ in Brazil

A lack of progress in fixing a murky system of land ownership and land-use rules in Brazil may threaten the country's ability to scale up a climate change initiative that would see it receive extensive international funding to save its forests.
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MATO GROSSO, Brazil _ A lack of progress in fixing a murky system of land ownership and land-use rules in Brazil may threaten the country’s ability to scale up a climate change initiative that would see it receive extensive international funding to save its forests.

“There is a very highly undefined status of land tenure in the Amazon. A large proportion of the Amazon is actually untitled land. It nominally belongs to the Union,” said Peter May, who is working on a global REDD+ research project that is coordinated by the Center for International Forestry Research.

REDD+ is a global mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The scheme offers one of the cheapest options for reducing greenhouse gases.

Clearly identifying who owns forested land is crucial if REDD+ is to work to ensure that payments to conserve the forests go to the rightful land owner, and that these owners can legitimately enter into long-term contracts with carbon “buyers” at a global level.

Brazil has been trying to solve the tenure problem. This includes using tens of millions of dollars to support local governments in their efforts to regularize land titles. The money is part of a $1 billion pledge from Norway to support REDD+ over 10 years.

“Progress has been made … having a greater proportion of land being titled over the last few years than there have been before,” May said. “But this process is very slow, much slower than it should be if we are going to make significant process in the near-term toward reducing deforestation.”

The other challenge relates to the so-called Forest Code, rules that dictate how much land an owner is permitted to convert and use for commercial purposes, and how much must remain in its natural forested state.

“This is a debate that is pitting agro-business interests and land owners against environmental interests, and there is very little of an end in sight in terms of coming to a conciliatory agreement between these very different actors,” May said.

Currently the Forest Code requires that 80 percent of a property in the Amazon, and 20 to 35 percent of land in certain other areas, remain forest. Landowners and agro-business want to reduce these shares, so that more land can be legally converted.

“Until these two matters are resolved we are not going to see major progress on REDD.”

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