Addressing Land Corruption for Climate Justice

Anna Triponel

December 15, 2023
Our key takeaway: Land corruption, which includes corrupt practices to “claim, register, control or transact land” belonging to Indigenous Peoples and local communities, happens in both carbon-intensive economies and economies attempting to transition to renewable energy sources. This not only adversely impacts the land rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and other rights holders, it also hinders the effectiveness of efforts to tackle climate change and, in the process, can cause even greater damage to nature and ecosystems. For instance, land corruption, which takes advantage of insecure land tenure and rights, forces Indigenous Peoples and local communities to leave their homes and land. This means that the stewards at the frontline of climate change and environmental degradation, as well as spearheading efforts to tackle these issues, are no longer able to do so despite having the critical wealth of knowledge and experience required to do this. What can companies do? Companies can: (1) identify affected rights holders and seek their consent throughout the lifecycle of projects in accordance with FPIC processes; (2) support land anti-corruption activists by establishing responsive and confidential whistleblowing channels; and (3) conduct human rights due diligence for land corruption risks in their supply and investment chains.

Transparency International published Addressing land corruption for climate justice (December 2023):

  • Land corruption in carbon-intensive and net-zero economies: The report defines land corruption as “the prevalence of corrupt practices to claim, register, control or transact land.” Corrupt practices are wide-ranging and include private and public actors. For instance, it can include “bribery, collusion and conflicts of interest in land administration and management, as well as remedy and enforcement mechanisms, and can extend to political corruption and state capture.” Notably, land corruption can occur in both carbon-intensive and net-zero economies. In carbon-intensive economies, “large land deals occur in the Global South, where illegal logging and land grabs are often enabled by fraud in land records and titling processes.” This is compounded by the lack of secure land tenure in these areas for Indigenous Peoples and local communities, which “enables corrupt actors to circumvent land rights or strip protected areas of their status, while free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) processes can be vulnerable to corruption.” Similarly, in efforts to transition to net-zero economies, “[c]orrupt public authorities and elites have frequently used “green” and “nature-based” discourses to justify the misappropriation of lands critical to Indigenous and rural livelihoods.” In addition, “carbon entrepreneurs have depicted mitigation projects, including monocultures, as ‘nature-based’, falsely winning stakeholder support, despite controversial impacts on biodiversity, local communities and carbon sequestration.”
  • Land corruption has significant negative impacts on human rights, the environment and climate action: The report outlines three critical areas in which land corruption impacts human rights, the environment and climate action: (1) “Ineffective climate action: Land corruption endangers ecosystems, and distorts mitigation and adaptation initiatives, often resulting in ill designed projects, failed objectives and conflict with communities”; (2) "Climate injustices: Land corruption threatens Indigenous and community land rights, while rewarding powerful elites, exacerbating global inequalities and undermining human rights”; and (3) “Erosion of climate agenda legitimacy: By channelling funds and resources towards elites and supporting harmful climate projects, land corruption erodes the credibility of climate action, undermining crucial popular support.”
  • What can companies do?: The report recommends the following: (1) “Strengthen land rights and land tenure security to reduce vulnerability to corruption.” More specifically, this means that “[p]rivate and public actors in land deals must proactively identify affected communities and seek their consent throughout the project cycle, applying anti-corruption safeguards to FPIC processes”; (2) “Increase transparency and good governance to foster social accountability”; (3) “Support land anti-corruption activists.” This means that “[p]ublic and private actors should establish accessible, confidential and responsive internal whistleblowing channels, enabling all stakeholders, including communities, to report wrongdoing in land deals and climate projects”; and (4) “Mainstream anti-corruption safeguards in the land and climate sectors.” For instance, [p]rivate and public actors must proactively assess land corruption risks in supply and investment chains and take measures to prevent and mitigate them.”

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