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‘Dhaka Declaration’ calls on governments to centre rural people, including women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples, in climate change policy
Climate change dialogue can tend toward the enormous and abstract: degrees of temperature increase, metres of sea level rise, millions of people displaced. But the individual people, families, and communities who face the reality of these numbers are not an abstract sum.
An elderly woman and her family living on the fringe of the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh watched her house and garden plot swallowed for a seventh time by a climate-intensified storm surge. The entire town of Melemchi in Nepal lost homes, businesses, and huge swaths of agricultural land because of extreme flooding caused by a series of cascading disasters fueled by climate change. Individual people, families, and communities have had and will continue to have their core livelihood source—land—taken or changed forever through erosion, drought, or saline intrusion.
In mid-October 2023, civil society representatives from across Asia and parts of Africa met for two days in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for a conference on “Mainstreaming land rights in the narrative of climate change: views from the ground”. Participants gathered to share human-focused stories of the on-going and growing impact of climate change on land-based rural people across the region. A key observation of attendees was that climate change affects rural people experiencing poverty, women, youth, and excluded groups, such as Indigenous people, most extremely. At the same time, these groups’ relationship to land is of central importance in all aspects of climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience.
When we speak about adaptation, these groups are the ones who will need to adapt and who need technical and financial support to adjust. When we speak about loss and damage, these groups are the ones who should be compensated when they lose their land and entire livelihoods.
While these groups are deserving of support and compensation, it is imperative that we not see them as victims. Instead, they are powerful agents of adaptation and change. They are at the forefront of putting conservation, sustainability, and adaptation plans into practice. It serves no one to forget them when devising climate policies. When we speak about conservation and preservation, these groups are the ones who guard and protect natural resources—such as terrestrial and mangrove forests—that are key to climate change mitigation.
Based on the human stories shared, conference participants who gathered from twenty-one countries crafted the Dhaka Declaration, which provides clear recommendations to operationalise a human-centred approach to climate justice. The Dhaka Declaration calls out the key role that secure land tenure plays for people experiencing rural poverty and how these same people can leverage land rights to avoid or mitigate the worst-case climate scenarios. The Dhaka Declaration underscores the importance of secure land rights for women and Indigenous people—groups who continue to be negatively impacted by a lack of tenure security and groups that have been shown to use land most sustainably.
The Dhaka Declaration calls on governments to take the following steps:
- Fully include and amplify the voices of rural people, including especially women, youth, and Indigenous people, in all land-based policy instruments for land-based climate change adaptation.
- Understand that land governance and secure access to land, water, and natural resources are foundational for climate resilience.
- Recognise and protect the land rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- Support and fully implement equal and secure land rights for women and remove any barriers to women’s full participation in sustainable land use, management, and governance.
- Respect and protect the rights and needs of both those internally displaced by climate disasters as well as those who are forced to cross international borders.
- Adopt and follow open data principles.
- Ensure that climate funds reach local communities and align with community-identified priorities.
Landesa is working to put the principles of the Dhaka Declaration into practice. The Equal Stake in the Soil project, funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, was launched in 2021 and is investing in a coalition of women-driven civil society organisations in Bangladesh to promote women’s land rights as key to addressing women’s economic empowerment as well as the deeply gendered issue of climate change. The coalition’s interventions include national and local policy advocacy, communications campaigns, and three community-based pilots to shift social norms, behaviours, and attitudes on women’s land rights. Landesa implements this project alongside global partner International Land Coalition (ILC) and Bangladesh coalition leader, Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) as part of the global Stand for Her Land (S4HL) campaign.
In 2022, Landesa, ILC, and the ALRD-led coalition in Bangladesh, launched another U.S. Department of State-funded project on Women Led Collective Advocacy for Climate Action. This effort builds on the Bangladesh coalition’s ongoing work on women’s land rights by applying a strong climate justice lens. Project activities focus on building the resilience and capacity of local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to spur the inclusion of women in climate policies, to realise women’s full inclusion in the implementation of sustainable land management and livelihood practices, and to strengthen local emergency preparedness in the event of climate disasters. This latter project is being implemented regionally in Bangladesh as well as in Nepal (by the National Land Rights Forum) and the Maldives (by Land Sea Maldives).
As the development community prepares to gather in Dubai for COP28, it is important that governments, donors, policymakers, and other stakeholders heed the recommendations of the Dhaka Declaration.
To successfully address and respond to climate change, governments must see land-based, rural people as a group that requires greater investment and support for climate justice; and also, as individuals—women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples—who, when paired with secure land rights, not only build their own resilience but are powerful change agents for mitigating climate disasters.