Landesa, UNEP and Partners Unveil Initiatives to Protect Land, Environmental Rights
UN Photo/Mark Garten
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The objective of the RIPL Resource Platform is to provide tailored, flexible guidance that can be adapted to local contexts, giving all stakeholders a road map for navigating the investment process and avoiding harmful ripple effects of poor investment decisions.

On 3 September 2018, UNEP, in partnership with Global Witness and with participation from The Guardian newspaper, launched the Environmental Rights Initiative in Brazil.

The Initiative is aimed at protecting environmental defenders from ongoing intimidation, threats and murder.

26 September 2018: Landesa, a global network on land rights, launched the Resource Platform for Responsible Investments in Property and Land (RIPL), with support from the LEGEND Programme of the UK Department for International Development (DFID). Earlier this month, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) participated in the Brazil launch of the UN Environmental Rights Initiative, in response to escalating violence against individuals and organizations working on the frontline of land rights and environmental protection.

Introducing the RIPL platform, Landesa CEO Chris Jochnick described land investments as “unique, complex, and often messy,” noting they do not respond well to one-size-fits-all approaches. He said the objective of the RIPL Resource Platform is to provide tailored, flexible guidance that can be adapted to local contexts, giving all stakeholders a road map for navigating the investment process and avoiding harmful ripple effects of poor investment decisions. RIPL aims to enhance access to international standards and best practices for responsible investments in agricultural land by translating them into audience-specific and practical guidance covering each step of the investment process.

The RIPL platform is organized into three interactive guidebooks that aim to contribute to the interrelated objectives of mitigating business risks, strengthening land governance and empowering local communities.

One of the core target groups of the platform is land rights holders at the community level who may find themselves displaced from ancestral lands of deep social and economic significance, often without consent or compensation. The Model Guidebook for Communities Considering Agricultural Investment titled, ‘Participating in Socially Responsible Land Investment,’ takes community members and stakeholders through the steps needed to ensure that land investments are carried out inclusively and responsibly. The guide targets community leaders, members of community-based organizations and staff of civil society organizations that support community land rights to help them navigate the challenges and opportunities of new land investments.

The Model Guidebook for Business Enterprises Considering Agricultural Investment titled, ‘Achieving Socially Responsible Land Investment,’ explores what companies should do to support responsible land practices within their supply chains and build constructive relationships with local communities. It aims to support investors to better understand tenure-related risk in the context of land-based agricultural investments in emerging markets where land records may either be non-existent or may not reflect “ground-level realities as understood by the communities and individuals owning or using the land.” A related goal is for companies to avert “significant reputational risk” and loss of profits due to land disputes that may interrupt or delay projects.

The Model Guidebook for Government titled, ‘Facilitating Socially Responsible Land Investment,’ includes instructions and tailorable tools for officials seeking to learn more about international standards and best practices to advocate and implement improved policy and legislation at the national level. It also includes resources for regional and local officials faced with the challenges and opportunities of facilitating responsible land investment in their regions.

Environmental rights violations worldwide are fueled by corruption, greater competition for natural resources, weak enforcement, and the irresponsible exploitation of land and other natural goods.

The RIPL Guidebooks are based on field research undertaken in Ghana and Tanzania; case studies conducted on ongoing investments; Landesa’s experience of working with a range of governments, communities, and companies; and guidance developed by global partners, including the Interlaken Group, Grow Africa, Namati, and USAID.

Linking Land Rights to Environmental Protection

Discussing the broader context for developing the sustainable agri-business investment platform, Landesa cites a recent report by Global Witness and The Guardian newspaper, which found that at least 197 land defenders were murdered in 2017, “often within the context of land investments gone awry.” On 3 September 2018, UNEP, in partnership with Global Witness and with participation from The Guardian, took part in an event showcasing the UN Environmental Rights Initiative, aimed at protecting environmental defenders from ongoing intimidation, threats and murder. The global launch of the Initiative took place in March 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland, on the margins of the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The launch featured the 2017 Global Witness Defenders Annual Report titled, ‘At What Cost,’ which identifies Brazil as “the most dangerous place for land defenders to live.” According to the report, 57 defenders were murdered in Brazil in 2017, 25 of them during three mass killings. The report notes that many activists were targeted for defending their communities against illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and agriculture like soy, palm oil and eucalyptus. It further calls on businesses, government and all candidates for the forthcoming elections to commit to tackling this issue, strengthening the institutions that protect land rights, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders, and ensuring that “justice is done.”

Observing that the environmental defenders’ crisis is not confined to indigenous communities, the Environmental Rights Initiative highlights rights violations worldwide, “fueled by corruption, greater competition for natural resources, weak enforcement, and the irresponsible exploitation of land and other natural goods.” One of the foremost aims of the Initiative is to “bring environmental protection nearer to the people” by helping them to better understand their rights and how to defend them. The Initiative further seeks to: enhance collaboration with the media to improve coverage of rights issues; encourage the private sector to move beyond “a culture of compliance to one where environmental rights are championed”; and assist governments to implement environmental rights obligations. [Landesa Press Release] [Land Portal News Release] [RIPL Resource Platform] [UNEP Press Release on Launch of Environmental Rights Initiative in Brazil] [Brazil Launch Event: UN Environmental Rights Initiative] [At What Cost?] [UNEP Policy Paper: Promoting Greater Protection for Environmental Defenders]

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