Access to Land

Sustainable Development Goal 15, which aims towards an equitable and sustainable life on land for all people, is one of the most important goals towards which humanity can strive. Yet far too often the over 260 million people across the world who are discriminated against based on work and descent have been left out of vital conversations surrounding the necessity of sustainable development. Discriminated against due to their ancestral status, as Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) are born into social groups considered impure and inferior due to generations upon generations of forced labor and slavery.
Among the most oppressed and poorest peoples in the world, they have been made invisible and have been excluded from economic, social, and political spaces. This exclusion has, unfortunately, extended to the sphere of the United Nations, where, despite language emphasizing equity and justice for all, those who have been most disempowered have yet to truly be considered.

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CDWD have a unique, and yet varied, relationship to the land;
victims of forced labor and slavery, the land has often been the site of their oppression. They have been forced to work upon it as laborers, growing crops on soil that they have been denied any right to. On the other hand, it has, for some, been a site of liberation, as they have attempted to claim ownership over territories that can sustain them and allow them to form strong communities with some degree of independence from the dominant social groups. In any scenario, CDWD are uniquely dependent on the land for survival – they live in intimate relationship to it, and any changes it undergoes will inevitably change them. As such, they are uniquely vulnerable to the environmental destruction our world is witnessing. Yet, they have been denied the right of access to land as well as the support and safety nets that would ensure their survival.
If true progress towards SDG 15 is to be made, then CDWD must be made a priority within policymaking.


While the case of the Quilombo is disheartening, it also offers a glimpse into a possible future for sustainable development. In many places, the most effective way to develop sustainable methods of land management is to ensure that the land is cared for by those who live closest to it, who know it intimately, and who have worked upon it for generations. Ensuring that CDWD have a right to their land would not only empower them, leading to greater food security, health, gender equality, and access to education, it would also result in the enactment of low-tech, nature-based solutions to climate change that are immediately available and don’t require waiting on future innovations or even large financial investments. While it is important that we consider global programs, such as a universal carbon allowance, to ensure that climate change is fought at the highest level and that those who are most responsible for climate change – such as the corporations of the global north – are held accountable to the earth, we must also work to achieve climate justice at the local level, to ensure that our sustainable future is built from the ground up.