Reuters International

By Chris Arsenault

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries will be unable to meet their climate change pledges unless they secure land rights for people living in the world's tropical forests, indigenous leaders told an international conference of regional governors meeting in Mexico.

Regional government officials from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Spain and the United States met on Thursday in Guadalajara, Mexico, having pledged two years ago to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020.

This goal can only be met if members of the Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) provide secure land titles to indigenous groups who live in the forests, campaigners said.

"By establishing a direct relationship with the guardians who protect their forests, the governors can ensure their conservation strategies will actually work," said Cándido Mezua, of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB).

"They must listen to us because we are the ones who are putting our lives on the line to protect tropical forests in Mesoamerica, the Amazon and other regions," Mezua said in a statement released before Thursday's meeting.

More than 25 percent of the world's tropical forests are in GCF states and provinces.

Tropical deforestation accounts for about 15 percent of global climate changing carbon pollution, the GCF said in a statement.

Providing indigenous people with well-defined land rights is one of the most efficient ways for ensuring forest conservation, according to 2014 study of 14 developing countries by the World Resources Institute.

Indigenous lands hold more than 20 percent of the carbon stored in the world's tropical forests, said 2015 analysis from the U.S.-based Woods Hole Research Center.

In Brazil alone, protecting the land rights of indigenous groups could help prevent the projected deforestation of 27.2 million hectares of territory by 2050, according to the 2014 study.

Protecting those forests by providing formal land titles to local residents would stave off an estimated 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, the study said.

That's the same amount of climate-changing carbon emitted by all Latin American and Caribbean countries every three years, the study said.

Government officials in the GCF said in a statement that they are committed to "involving local communities in combating climate change" with on-the-ground programmes.

(Reporting by Chris Arsenault, Editing by Jo Griffin. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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