Climate change can destabilize existing land and resource governance institutions and associated property rights across the spectrum of landscape types. Transformed climatic conditions, manifested in either rapid-onset or slow-onset ways, can change how land and natural resources are accessed and used as geographical shifts in resource productivity, resource scarcity, and therefore land use patterns occur .
In addition, where there are insecure land and resource tenure regimes, such as leasehold rights, rural households are disinclined to invest their time and money for improving their agricultural and water management practices as well as conserving forests, ultimately leading to poor adaptive capacity in the face of climate variability. Here, “tenure regimes” refers to the rights, rules, institutions, and processes under which land and resources are held, used and managed.
Climatic change can include manifold alterations involving sea-level rise, changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, water availability, natural disasters, and extreme weather events. In recent years, many rural communities have already incurred significant social, economic, and environmental costs from such transformations in local production systems. Climate change can instigate a wide range of tenure-related impacts that include growing competition for access rights to productive natural resources, greater potential conflict over the legitimacy of existing property rights, forced displacement, short-term and long-term migration, land and resource degradation, and alterations in asset values of land and natural resources . Land and resource tenure systems in specific types of landscapes such as coastal areas will be exposed to numerous challenges from flooding, sea-level rise, increased storm surges and altered fisheries conditions that can create infrastructure damage, settlement displacement, and threaten coastal resource use in low-lying areas.
In many landscape types, responding to climate change means households having to push for access and use rights over those areas where production is still viable, or moving to new locations altogether in the search for land or water. Poor and vulnerable members of communities, be they women, children, the elderly, specific ethnic groups or those lower in the social hierarchy will be at greater risk of marginalization and physical insecurity than the more elite members because they do not possess the assets, knowledge and ease of mobility to respond to new challenges. Those with weak or non-existing property rights will tend to stay in place in risky and unproductive locations because they ultimately have no options. The specific types of tenure impacts in any given landscape will depend on the type of agricultural production system, as well as levels of dependencies on water, forests and grasslands. The type of tenure regimes can range across the land tenure continuum from informal rights to registered freehold rights.
What specific role can tenure and property rights play in building resilience in the face of climate change? How do secure tenure institutions help to achieve the goals of climate change mitigation interventions? Proactively bringing a climate lens to understanding how tenure regimes can strengthen the ability of communities to sustain livelihoods and protect the natural resource conditions is essential. The key is working towards secure enough tenure regimes where rights to land and natural resources are not arbitrarily contested but do not necessarily require formalization of tenure . Although the concept of “secure enough” is somewhat open-ended, developing an effective approach requires a good understanding of the social context within which tenure regimes operate.
Given the positive role of tenure in climate change adaptation and mitigation, knowledge on climate change impacts will need to be built up and analyzed in order to identify options for action by a range of land and resource governance institutions at the national, landscape and local level. Given the diverse and complex forms of land and resource tenure systems which are the outcome of deep-rooted historical, social and political factors, rapid forms of tenure assessments within specific contexts are needed to guide the design of policies, laws and programs . For each of these scales, there will be different planning time horizons. This integration process can be called climate-proofing land and resource tenure regimes and involves a set of step-wise actions (see Figure 1). Climate-proofing national land policy and administration is of paramount importance for equitably facilitating effective climate change adaptation and mitigation at the landscape and local levels . Priority will need to be given to supporting those areas with poverty-environment traps .
Figure 1: Steps for Climate-Proofing Tenure Regimes at Different Scales
Preparing creatively for long-term development pathways that secure livelihoods, resource regeneration, and environmental conservation in the context of climate change that is inevitably intertwined with ongoing economic transformations and urbanization is a challenging task in which tenure arrangements remain centrally important. Broad-based guidance has been created by a range of global institutions and organizations to strengthen tenure regimes in the face of climate change such as within the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGs)  . UN Convention to Combat Desertification , UN-HABITAT  and USAID   . These can be utilized to identify options and approaches for reducing tenure-related risks both in terms of policy, law and administration, as well as the practices of local-level tenure regimes. Given the need to rapidly and cost-effectively support improvements in land law and policy as well as within land and resource tenure arrangements, a number of innovative approaches are being advocated.
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