The Challenge

Inequality and climate change are inextricably bound to how natural resources are governed. The extraction of natural resources—metals, minerals, forests, and fossil fuels—particularly from the lands of local and Indigenous communities in the Global South—can have devastating impacts on livelihoods and the environment. Also, these efforts are often owned and controlled by people far removed from the most impacted communities.

Rural, Indigenous, and low-income communities usually receive few benefits from natural resource extraction, yet they bear a disproportionate burden of the social, economic, and environmental risks. They are also particularly vulnerable to displacement, conflict, environmental harm, and the impacts of climate change.

Moreover, the past few years have seen the emergence of trends that underscore the importance of making the link between climate action and social justice more visible. These include:

  • The urgency to stay within a  1.5 °C planetary temperature rise has created global pressure to phase out fossil fuels and move towards energy transition. This is causing a rapid increase in demand for ‘rare earth’ or ‘transition minerals,’ resources that are crucial for renewable energy sources, such as cobalt, nickel, and copper. Sourcing these materials has huge implications for communities that inhabit lands that are rich in these resources. 
  • Organizations and movements in the Global South are calling more vocally for resources and data around climate change. This includes mobilization by youth like the climate strikes that started in 2018 and have since built momentum.

What We Did

Beginning in 2019, our 10-year Natural Resources and Climate Change International Strategy (NRCC-I) has sought to support efforts to ensure that natural resource governance and climate change actions increasingly serve the public interest and reflect the collective rights and aspirations of impacted rural, low-income, and Indigenous Peoples’ communities—particularly in the Global South.

  • The strategy focuses on reducing inequalities in areas related to land rights, impacted community voices, distribution of benefits from extractive activities, and governance and financial accountability of natural resources management mechanisms. 
  • We support impacted communities and grassroots leaders and networks (including through our BUILD program); the development of positive narratives sourced from the voices of communities to raise the key roles they play in protecting forests and land; and the mobilization of financial resources for community and grassroots organizations and networks.
  • We have issued a total of 773 grants to 553 grantees, with total allocated funds of approximately $241 million USD. Our strategy has been multi-level, from the global to the local, with grants made from our New York, Andean Region, Brazil, Mexico and Central America, Indonesia, Southern Africa, and West Africa offices.

In late 2022, we engaged Dala Institute to evaluate NRCC-I’s work between 2019-2022. That report measures our progress toward strategy outcomes, unpacks key strategic learnings, and makes recommendations for a path forward as the strategy undergoes a refresh midway through its 10-year working period.

What We Learned

The evaluation found several areas of notable progress as a result of NRCC-I’s work. First, NRCC-I support enabled our grantees and their collaborators to foster stronger communication with impacted communities, offering new avenues for people to add their voices to decisions about natural resource governance. NRCC-I’s support also strengthened other civic institutions and civil society organizations working on natural resources governance, as well as other organizations representing impacted communities. For a set of NRCC-I grantees, Ford’s support strengthened their litigation to advance rights related to equity-centered natural resources governance, and protected the interests of most impacted communities. Moreover, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, many grantees described NRCC-I support as a crucial factor in keeping their organizations’ and their communities’ efforts alive.

Second, NRCC-I’s support helped grantees advance justice claims and rights for local communities, including stopping encroachment, realizing customary rights, and winning claims to benefits. As recounted by grantees, community leaders, and others involved,  legal battles were fought and won against extractive companies for their breach of territorial claims, the damages they caused to impacted communities, and the distribution of benefits rightly owed to affected communities. Though the extent varied, impacted communities with support from grantees made progress in gaining tenure, access, and/or usage rights to forested land.

Third, through NRCC-I’s support, grantees and community collaborators convened diverse stakeholders to establish collaborative spaces and networks, resulting in expanded opportunities to advance the ultimate objective of collective governance.

Finally, NRCC-I support helped promote narratives aimed at gaining public support and generating pressure for high-level actions for equitable natural resource governance.

Going forward

The evaluation identified three key learnings related to conceptual clarity, embedded assumptions, and context that enables and/or limits progress toward the targeted outcomes. NRCC-I is reflecting on these lessons as we refresh the strategy. 

Clarifying how concepts are understood: NRCC-I works with the assumption that there is a unified understanding of complex concepts across the program. However, there are differences in interpretation of these concepts across and within regions, sectors, and levels. Having varying interpretations of these concepts affects the approaches employed across the program, making it challenging to have a unified understanding of how NRCC-I’s approaches and achievements work together as an international program. Some of the key concepts that could benefit from stronger clarity are:

  • Perspectives on inequality: What does inequality look like within multiple dimensions of natural resources and climate change?
  • Interpretation of outcomes: How can outcomes be formulated collaboratively and be used to signal the extent of change?
  • Framing the collective(s) and the ultimate objectives: Who is meant to benefit from NRCC-I’s work, and to what end?

Revisiting assumptions: The evaluation also identified learnings related to the assumptions in NRCC-I’s strategy. NRCC-I could consider making the following assumptions and connections more explicit:

  • Connections between land rights and inequality:  We have seen progress toward obtaining and securing formal recognition of land rights, with the extent of progress dependent on the contexts in each region and the substance of the claims. However, where advances were made toward rights recognition, there was not always a discernible pathway from when these rights were formally recognized to how, or if, the recognition was then practically realized, and what the recognition meant for reducing inequality. 
  • Connections between climate change and inequality:  NRCC-I’s work has concentrated on climate mitigation rather than adaptation. NRCC-I has provided support for work that focuses on the role of forests and communities,  including Indigenous Peoples and local communities, in mitigating further carbon emissions. Its strategy elaborates aligning this focus with inequality reduction from the viewpoint of climate change as a global issue. However, the ways in which the connections translate to local levels are not expanded upon.
  • Connections between inequality and climate justice:: Notions of justice have informed the work and practices of NRCC-I. These include (re)distribution of financial and economic resources, recognition of cultural norms and sensitivities, and representation of varied sociopolitical participation., NRCC-I’s work also emphasizes intersectionality, the idea that people experience inequality in many ways and some groups are disproportionately disadvantaged based on multiple inequalities they experience simultaneously. Without emphasizing justice in the strategy, the way that NRCC-I approaches these concepts becomes difficult to discern, and there is inconsistency in how often notions of justice are considered to be important for the program as a whole. 

Incorporating different contexts when working globally: The implications and logics of NRCC-I working at different levels and how it goes about the various contexts are not always made explicit. The evaluation found that outcomes materialized differently due to varying contextual conditions and interpretations, particularly surrounding regional or country, sectoral, and level contexts. Some of those factors were:

  • Regional or country context: Ways of working of the state and (geo)politics
  • Sectoral context: Land governance, extractives, and energy
  • Level context: Local, national, regional, and global

The evaluation also pointed to key strengths in NRCC-I’s work and approach that were areas to continue in the refresh:

  • Enabling flexibility and agility in how grants are being used
  • Being willing to take risks and support movements
  • Fostering trust with and among civil society actors
  • Convening ability and expertise in recognition for rights issues in natural resources and climate change