U.N. recognises new guidelines to better manage competing demands for land

“Landscape approaches” could help end the ongoing debate that forests have to be sacrificed for the sake of development. Hawaii County/flickr

HYDERABAD, India, (25 October 2012)_A new set of ‘best practice guidelines’ aiming to inform policy makers on how to balance competing pressures on land for food and fuel while protecting forests and biodiversity have been taken into consideration by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity last week.

“These guidelines could set a standard for policymakers, NGOs, and practitioners working in conservation and development in over 100 countries across the world on how to develop and improve land-use planning policies,” said Terry Sunderland, principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and lead researcher of the principles.

Landscape level approaches to sustainability is a set of 10 guiding principles that outline ways to better integrate research into the agricultural, forestry, energy, and fishery sectors in order to develop collaborative and innovative solutions and ensure natural resources are sustainably managed.

The principles were submitted for consideration to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) by an advisory body to that assesses the status of biodiversity around the world (the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice) as part of the CBD’s mandate to improve sustainable use of biodiversity in a landscape perspective.

The CBD has officially “taken note” of the guidelines — a testament to their relevance for multi-functional landscape management that most countries have committed to.

‘Landscapes’ are a fairly new way of considering the management of land based on the social, economic and environmental services it provides. Proponents hope that moving away from thinking of land in terms of the segregated management of natural resources could end the ongoing debate that forests have to be sacrificed for the sake of development. It could also help stakeholders decide how best to maximise the potential of their land to secure sustainable food and energy supplies long-term, while maintaining the ecosystem services trees and forests provide.

“Understanding the different functions of landscapes is vital to ensure that countries have more resilience and are able to better adapt to climatic changes, such as food insecurity,” Sunderland said.

These guidelines could set a standard for policymakers, NGOs, and practitioners working in conservation and development in over 100 countries across the world on how to develop and improve land-use planning policies.

Robert Nasi, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, under which the guidelines were developed, also highlighted the importance of integrating of timber and non-timber forest resources into landscape management.

“Forest resources play a key role in the subsistence and market economies of rural communities; enhancing their well-being and reducing economic risk.”

The agricultural and bioenergy sectors are some of the main drivers of deforestation in countries such as Africa and Asia. With demands for food and fuel expected rise by 50 percent by 2030, this could lead to “immense pressure” on land and resources, said Tim Christophersen, UN-REDD Coordinator for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at Tree Diversity Day last week.

However, this could have positive impacts by generating  “new opportunities and innovative solutions to open up areas of agriculture where landscapes are more productive, resilient and socially supportive of the people who inhabit them”, he said.

According to the principles, a landscape approach would involve increasing stakeholder involvement in conservation and development decision-making, greater clarification of stakeholder roles and responsibilities, engaging with a wide variety of stakeholders, as well as ensuring that negotiations are transparent in order to build trust.

In general the approach is more focused on poverty alleviation and livelihoods rather than conservation or biological considerations, which have often characterised landscape approaches in the past.

“Countries would need to strengthen relationships with national and international stakeholders, improve communication between sectors, and invest in more integrated approaches to multi-functional landscape management in order to make the most of the approach,” Sunderland said.

He stressed that the landscape approach should not be considered a substitute for protected or designated areas, but provided an alternative way of looking at a variety of different factors that affect landscapes, including restoration, payments for environmental services (PES) schemes, interventions aiming at reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+), water management across watersheds and appropriate mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change.