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Looking for Leadership: New Inspiration and Momentum Amidst Crises

2014 was a year in which many citizens around the world lost hope and trust in conventional leaders’ abilities to solve national and global challenges. Governments were increasingly polarized—and seemingly paralyzed—in the face of growing inequality and entrenched poverty; environmental agencies watered down social and environmental regulations to attract more international investments despite the growing social and political unrest over land grabs; murders of environmental and land rights activists rose across the globe; the World Bank proposed weakening its social and environmental safeguards, forfeiting 40 years of leadership and rushing the sale of carbon, placing communities’ rights at risk; and the UNFCCC negotiators in Lima once again failed to reach an agreement that addresses the climate crisis. The credibility of the world’s conventional leaders and institutions, which were set up to advance development, democracy, and human rights, crumbled and crashed in 2014. The world and its millions of local and marginalized people urgently need better.

Fortunately, 2014 was also a year in which new, often surprising leadership emerged amidst the wreckage and began to offer inspiration and solutions at scale. From Canada to Papua New Guinea, courts upheld constitutional and international commitments to respect local communities’ and Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, showing that judicial systems are increasingly beacons of hope for all who care about secure property rights.

Also showing leadership were certain enlightened corporations, which recognized the legitimacy of local rights and the need to find common ground with the true owners of the resources they need. Likewise, development donors made new and unprecedented financial commitments to support the recognition of forestland rights.

Driving all of these shifts were stronger and more effective community and indigenous organizations, whose key role in protecting their forests from destruction and climate change seems to have been finally recognized. All told, despite the tragic murders of many community leaders and an increase in local conflict, the events of 2014 brought new momentum for securing land rights and protecting the world’s forests—a welcome change after years of slowdown in the recognition of local rights.

The big questions for 2015 will be: can these unconventional leaders catalyze action on climate change, the widespread recognition of indigenous and community forest land rights, and the implementation of rights-respecting business models? Will conventional leaders join in this momentum, spurring governments like Indonesia, Peru, and those in Central Africa to deliver on their commitments to advance tenure reform? And finally, will the World Bank, which has the chance to reverse course in 2015, choose to maintain its safeguards, protect communities and Indigenous Peoples’ rights to carbon, and become a preferred ally of local peoples?

2015 is potentially a pivotal year for the world to finally fully respect the rights of forest peoples. And in doing so, protect the future for us all.

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Source: Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)