Their land, our future: To arrest the climate crisis, we need a democratic overhaul

 In this commentary, Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro and Beth Roberts argue that both the climate crisis and inequality require a democratic overhaul. And governments globally should start by turning over legal control of land and natural resources to local communities and indigenous land users. Their rights are key to survival for all of us.

 Increasing evidence shows that the groups who have the least voice in decisions about natural resources (specifically women, youth, indigenous groups, and smallholder farmers) are best placed to sustainably manage those resources. Local communities and indigenous groups rely directly on forests and agriculture for a living, and manage approximately 65 percent of the world’s land. We cannot address climate change and feed a growing global population without sustainable practices in forestry and soil management.

 A central fact of development is that when women are empowered, birth rates in developing economies decline. This includes the marginalized rural women who make up 25 percent of humanity and half of the communities managing rural land. And what’s one of the most fundamental ways to empower rural women, enabling them to choose when to have children, and how many?   Secure their land rights.

 Putting power in the hands of women and youth is especially crucial. Development solutions, including climate action approaches, have often portrayed women and girls as helpers, but women too often lack real authority to act. It’s time for that to change. Women are often more willing to take on new agricultural techniques or clean tech solutions, and to see the value of sustainable practices, giving a faster foothold to these solutions. And the global “youth bulge” must not be ignored in the climate fight. In sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, engaging youth in climate action focused on agriculture is a key approach for peace and security, economic opportunity, and food security, as well as climate action.

 If rights to land are secure globally, rural land users can root themselves. They can make a living. This changes the landscape of options for every potential migrant, or for every impoverished farmer vulnerable to ISIS or Al Shabab recruitment. Land rights can ensure stability and safety for every woman and girl who embodies and defends local and indigenous knowledge and rights. Multiplied across the globe, these opportunities could arrest and reverse the climate crisis and the migration crisis, help achieve global peace and security, and realize human dignity for all.

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