Climate Change and Natural Resource Management

Resource governance, tenure, and property rights—the complex institutions and rules determining the ownership and allocation of land and natural resources—will be stressed, destabilized, and forced to evolve in response to climate change impacts.

In unpredictable ways, climate change will provoke adjustments in the value of land and other natural resources; simultaneously, climate change will intensify human migration and displacement. These forces have the potential to destabilize governance and property rights regimes, spur the evolution of both statutory and customary tenure arrangements, and open the door for powerful actors to expand their claims on land and other natural resources. Similarly, climate mitigation initiatives, such as carbon sequestration policies and programs, may profoundly alter institutions of governance and property rights. Integration of property rights and resource governance considerations into policies and programs will increase resilience to the impacts of climate change, and at the same time, foster mitigation activities.

Secure land tenure and resource rights are key drivers of biodiversity and sustainable natural resource management. Where these rights are poorly defined and/or poorly enforced, natural resources and ecosystems can be quickly degraded because incentives to protect resources are weak or absent. This insecurity can lead to overgrazing of pastureland, poaching of wildlife, deforestation, ineffective watershed management, and poorly planned extractive industry investments, among other outcomes. Degradation and misuse of resources limit prospects for long-run economic growth and the diversified livelihood options that come from more effective natural resource management, particularly in the tourism sector and in fisheries and forestry.

On the other hand, recognizing and securing rights over land and natural resources fosters stewardship. When individuals, communities and other groups, and legal entities have secure rights to land and resources, incentives shift in positive directions. Rather than poach or overuse, secure land and resource rights provide people with incentives to conserve resources because they are better able to capture future investment returns. Strengthening land and resource rights and improving enforcement capacity can help conserve biodiversity and natural resources as well as improve livelihoods and local governance.

USAID has made substantial investments in climate change mitigation and adaptation since 2010. Increasingly these program are finding that clear and secure land rights are critical for their success and sustainability. As we look toward making the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement a reality, we are consolidating and making available the case studies, tools, publications and media from our efforts to strengthen land and resource rights and address climate change. Learn more about these issues below.

Photo Credit: Charles Steinburg / USAID

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