A Kayapo man seated on a mountain top overlooking forest in the Amazon.
Technical Summary

Indigenous Peoples’ Forest Tenure

Project Drawdown defines indigenous peoples’ forest tenure as providing indigenous communities with secure legal tenure rights to their traditional forest land. This practice replaces non-degraded forest without such tenure.  

Under indigenous peoples’ forest tenure, deforestation and emissions are significantly reduced, with deforestation and degradation rates significantly lower than the global average. Indigenous peoples have claim to large tracts of forest land around the world, and the current global trend is that indigenous peoples’ legal forest tenure is on the rise.

Granting indigenous peoples and local communities secure tenure to manage their lands thus results in carbon benefits in the form of reduced emissions from deforestation and continued carbon sequestration. It can be seen as a form of productive forest protection, given sustainable management and utilization of forest products.

The indigenous peoples’ forest tenure solution has highly desirable human rights co-benefits, leading Project Drawdown to prioritize it for forest lands wherever possible.


Total Land Area

The maximum area allocated for indigenous peoples’ forest tenure is 1155 million hectares, which represents the projected future nondegraded, nonprotected area available for protection.[1] Current adoption[2] of the solution is 497 million hectares, representing forest land managed by indigenous peoples with secure tenure.

Adoption Scenarios

A total of 1155 million hectares of nondegraded forest area was allocated to this solution. Adoption projections are linear trends based on the indigenous peoples’ managed area in low- and middle-income countries given for the year 2002, 2008, 2013, and targeted percentage for the year 2030 by Rights and Resources 2018 publication[3]. Six custom adoption scenarios were developed for indigenous peoples’ forest tenure. All begin with current adoption of 497 million hectares.

Impacts of increased adoption of indigenous peoples’ forest tenure from 2020 to 2050 were generated based on two growth scenarios. These were assessed in comparison with a Reference Scenario, in which the solution’s market share was fixed at the current levels.

  • Scenario 1: The conservative approach of this scenario yields an increase in area from 512.60 million hectares in 2013 to 995.5 million hectares by 2050.
  • Scenario 2: Under the aggressive adoption of this scenario, the indigenously managed area increases to 1141.4 million hectares by 2050.

The continuous annual rate of forest degradation, which is 0.47 percent per annum, limits the 100 percent adoption of the total available land area for this solution, even under the most aggressive adoption scenarios.

Emissions Model

Avoided emissions from indigenous peoples’ forest tenure are set at 281.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per hectare, based on meta-analysis of 20 data points from six sources.

Financial Model

It is assumed that any costs of indigenous peoples’ forest tenure (e.g., carbon payments or payment for ecosystem services) are borne at a government or nongovernmental organization (NGO) level. Project Drawdown land solutions only model costs that are incurred at the landowner or manager level.


Project Drawdown’s Agro-Ecological Zone model allocates current and projected adoption of solutions to the planet’s forest, grassland, rainfed cropland, and irrigated cropland areas. Indigenous peoples’ forest tenure was the third priority for use of nondegraded forest, following peatlands and mangrove protection within the coastal wetland protection solution.


Total adoption in the Scenario 1 is 995.5 million hectares in 2050, representing 86 percent of the total available land. Of this, 498.6 million hectares are adopted from 2020 to 2050. The emissions impact of this scenario is 8.69 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases reduced or sequestered by 2050. Total carbon stock protected is 686.9gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent. Financial impacts are not modeled.

Total adoption in the Scenario 2 is 1141.4 million hectares in 2050, representing 99 percent of the total available land. Of this, 644.6 million hectares are adopted from 2020 to 2050. The impact of this scenario is 12.93 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2050. Total carbon stock protected is 786 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent.  



Benchmarks for this solution are rare. A World Resources Institute study calculated that secure forest tenure for indigenous people in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia could reduce emissions by 42.8–59.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent through 2035, on 148.9 million hectares. The Project Drawdown model shows a global impact of 288.6–431.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent for 2035, on 869–1046 million hectares among our three scenarios. Comparing the ratio of million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to million hectares, the World Resources Institute study benchmark is 0.28–0.40, while the Project Drawdown model calculates 0.33–0.41 in the two scenarios; thus, results are similar. Griscom et al. (2017)’s “natural climate solutions” calculates an annual impact from “avoided forest conversion” of 1.82–3.60 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in 2030. It is not clear if their figure includes avoided land use from demand reduction or only forest protection. Note that Food sector solutions reduced food waste and plant-rich diets also incorporate substantial avoided land use change emissions not accounted for here. The Project Drawdown model shows 0.23–0.37 gigatons carbon dioxide-equivalent per year by 2030 for indigenous peoples’ forest tenure and 0.15–0.26 for forest protection, for a combined 0.38–0.63 gigatons carbon dioxide-equivalent per year in 2030.


Including economic impacts (e.g., costs to governments and NGOs) would be a valuable addition to future updates.


Despite the fact that forests are degrading, although minimally, under the management of indigenous peoples, Project Drawdown advocates for the adoption of this solution due to its social benefits associated with the indigenous communities, better sustainability over other modes of forest protection, and the remoteness of many forest areas in hard climatic conditions which are difficult to be managed by any agency not living there. This solution addresses longstanding indigenous rights issues, protects carbon stocks equal to hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide, and provides a basis for sustainable rural livelihoods. As such, it should be a top priority for forest lands everywhere that indigenous people are striving to regain control of their traditional forests.

[1] Determining the total available land for a solution is a two-part process. The technical potential is based on the suitability of climate, soils, and slopes, and on degraded or non-degraded status. In the second stage, land is allocated using the Drawdown Agro-Ecological Zone model, based on priorities for each class of land. The total land allocated for each solution is capped at the solution’s maximum adoption in the Optimum Scenario. Thus, in most cases the total available land is less than the technical potential.

[2] Current adoption is defined as the amount of functional demand supplied by the solution in the base year of study. This study uses 2018 as the base year due to the availability of global adoption data for all Project Drawdown solutions evaluated.