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Effective climate action cannot be achieved without addressing land corruption


Alice Stevens

Project Manager, Regional & Global Programmes

In the Brazilian savannah and the Amazon rainforest, a land grab involving an area the size of Luxemburg was linked in 2019 to a corrupt scheme involving an estimated US$240 million. It was also connected to increased carbon emissions, deforestation, and the murder of whistle-blowers.

Thousands of miles away, in Kenya, a project aimed at reducing carbon emissions in an area with a population of 100,000, including several Indigenous communities, was approved for carbon credits in 2020. These credits were then used to offset the emissions of global corporations including Meta and Netflix. However, the project has been accused of failing to effectively consult with affected communities and employing coercive strategies to control land access with the support of complicit authorities.

Both cases are examples of the impact of land corruption on environmental and climate outcomes.

Tarcisio Schnaider/Shutterstock

In fact, corruption in the land sector poses a serious threat to efforts to fight climate change and achieve a fair energy transition. The Land Gap Report published in 2022 found that an area the size of all global croplands would be needed to meet all governments’ net-zero commitments. The demand created by this emerging “green economy” has put enormous pressure on land and natural resources and created new opportunities for corruption.

When land corruption is present in programmes to mitigate climate changelike reforestation or forest protection – it can undermine the effectiveness and legitimacy of these projects. It can also lead to the disregard of the rights of the communities living on the land, resulting in issues like eviction, loss of livelihood, and human rights abuses.

Renewable energy sources also require landeither for the infrastructure itself or for transition minerals that are needed for renewable energy technologies. Bribery, influence peddling, or collusion can distort the selection of renewable energy projects and licence agreements. In Mexico, bribery has influenced the implementation of wind farms across three Southern regions, leading to intense community conflict and human rights violations. Land corruption also facilitates illegal mining of transition minerals, with environmental and social impacts on nearby communities.

Finally, land corruption can wreak havoc on climate resilience, by diverting much-needed funding for mitigation and adaptation efforts and hindering sustainable land-use planning. In Bengaluru, India, the city’s response to heavy rainfalls and flooding as a result of climate change has been weakened by corrupt practices, including the manipulation of land records and collusion between real estate developers and government officials.

Land corruption results in ineffective climate action, perpetuates and amplifies climate injustices and undermines the credibility of climate action in a time where the support of governments and citizens is crucial.

Rich Carey/Shutterstock

How should governments and civil society address land corruption?

Land rights should be at the centre of efforts to tackle land corruption. A recent report by PRINDEX shows that corruption and tenure security are closely related. When people and communities don’t feel secure in their rights to use and access their land, corrupt actors can take advantage of this. States must strengthen these rights to reduce vulnerability to corruption and enhance trust in land governance. Land deals and land ownership needs to be transparent and accessible to empower that citizens and civil society. Effective, transparent, and participatory land governance with clear mandates and functions offers a bulwark against the threat of corrupt activities.

At the same time, there is a pressing need to adapt anti-corruption instruments to address issues related to land and climate. Land corruption has not yet been prioritised by the anti-corruption community, resulting in gaps in knowledge, capacity and tools to effectively address it. Identifying and building on best practices, such as incorporating anti-corruption measures into the land policies of various countries, like Kenya, Lesotho and Tanzania, or establishing working groups within anti-corruption institutions, is key .

The 10th Session of the Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) to the UN Convention against Corruption on 11-12 December 2023 provides a significant opportunity to review the role and impact of corruption in the land sector. Transparency International recommends that the CoSP assign the UNCAC Intergovernmental Working Group on Prevention the task of developing and disseminating knowledge and best practices on land corruption risks. Member States should also take focused actions to prevent and address corruption in the land sector, emphasizing international cooperation amongst law enforcement and knowledge sharing.

The land governance, climate and anti-corruption communities must collaborate to tackle land corruption and its impact on people and the environment. The Countering Environmental Corruption Practitioner's Forum launched in 2022 by Transparency International, TRAFFIC, the Basel Insitute on Governance and the World Wildlife Fund includes a Land Corruption Working Group where diverse participants can share knowledge and experience and engage in open discussion and collaboration.

While more research is needed, particularly to better understand the mechanisms of land corruption by sector, as well as tailored solutions, Transparency International’s 2023 publication on the links between land corruption and climate helps kick off this conversation and gives recommendations for the way forward.

You can read this policy paper




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