Supporting the rights of the world's forest-dwelling peoples has long been seen as an essential part of reducing deforestation. Yet policymakers have been unwilling to take on the economic and political costs of enforcing these rights.
According to a report in Nature News, fresh research has now shown that the monetary costs, at least, are meagre compared with the overall price tag of the United Nations'' proposed Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme.
The study was launched today at the Rights, Forests and Climate Change conference in Oslo, Norway.
It estimates that just 3.35 dollars per hectare could implement legal and regulatory frameworks ensuring land ownership and habitation rights for forest communities.
The estimate includes the direct costs associated with demarcating territory, registering land, raising awareness and resolving local disputes.
By comparison, the estimated costs of setting up and implementing the REDD programme could be up to 3,500 dollars per hectare each year for the next 22 years.
"The idea of the study is to put things in perspective," said Jeffrey Hatcher, the report's author and an analyst at the Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of conservation groups.
"There is strong evidence that local people are good at forestry management. So even if REDD does not come about, if you at least recognize people's rights you will get a good outcome and reduced emissions," he added.
The UN-REDD programme was launched in September this year with 35 million dollars from the Norwegian government, and is still taking shape.
Under the programme, governments would be paid by the international community to preserve forests in global efforts to combat climate change.
But campaigners have warned that unless the proposals take greater account of the rights of forest-dwelling communities to live, manage and take resources from the land, the plans will fail, and could provoke corruption and land grabs.
According to Erik Solheim, Norway's environment and international development minister, "Indigenous peoples are rightly concerned about how these new investments could affect their access to the forests that they depend on for their livelihoods."
"These rights need to be respected, not just for moral reasons, although that is vital. It is also a matter of pragmatism and effectiveness," he added.