This article is published in collaboration with (Thomson Reuters Foundation).

Ensuring rainforest communities have secure land rights can reduce deforestation and land-use conflicts and prevent tens of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year, new research shows.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) said a study it published on Thursday is based on the first research using a model that compares the economic benefits and costs of securing forest tenure for certain forest communities in Latin America.

The study looked at communities living in a forest reserve in Guatemala’s Peten province, and indigenous groups in parts of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

In these two areas indigenous groups’ and local communities’ secure forest rights are expected to prevent over 5.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over 20 years – equal to the emissions of more than a billion cars in a year, it said.

“The results of the cost-benefit analyses suggest that investing in strong community forest tenure security can be a cost-effective measure for climate change mitigation when compared with other mitigation measures,” the study by WRI, a global research organisation, said.

Across indigenous lands in Brazil’s Amazon, which cover 13 percent of the country, the economic benefits from carbon capture and averted emissions are worth $161.7 billion over 20 years, WRI’s research found. In the much smaller community forest concessions of Guatemala’s Maya biosphere reserve, the economic benefits total $605 million over the same period.

Overall, over the long term, ensuring forest communities have land rights and tenure outweighs the costs involved in establishing those rights and maintaining them, the report said.

Researchers found that in Brazil, a $19 per hectare investment today would yield the equivalent of $1,473 in social and economic benefits over 20 years. In Guatemala, a $63 investment today would yield $1,899 in benefits, the report said.

Complete data was not available in the areas studied, so the estimates “should not be interpreted as the actual price that would need to be paid to avoid a hectare of deforestation in the study areas,” the report said. “Rather, they help to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of community forests as a carbon mitigation measure.”

Indigenous groups and rainforest communities live on and use a significant portion of the world’s forests but hold legal rights to only around 15 percent of forested land, the report said.

Securing forest rights for communities can help prevent carbon emissions from deforestation, it said.

Felling trees releases carbon and accounts for about 10 percent of global carbon emissions, as well as causing changes in rainfall patterns, experts say.

Slowing deforestation will be a key issue at the United Nations climate summit starting in Paris on Nov. 30, when world leaders are due to agree a new deal to curb global warming.

“Communities with secure land tenure and/or land rights are less likely to cut down forests unsustainably, so it promotes carbon capture and emissions and deforestation can be reduced,” Juan Carlos Altamirano, economist at WRI and report co-author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This is a local solution for reducing emissions involving local communities on the ground that negotiators in Paris at the upcoming climate talks should examine.”

Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Author: Anastasia Moloney is the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Latin America and Caribbean correspondent.

Image: An aerial view of a forest. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly/Files.