As COP21 gets underway in Paris, it is easy to get swept up in the whirlwind of expert op-eds, celebrity showcases, activist twitterstorms, marches, media dramas and political posturing.
With some variations, the common theme is the highly sought-after global agreement on reducing our collective greenhouse gas emissions. Working out how to make that actually happen in an agreeable way also receives some attention, as does proposing ways to adapt to the inevitable consequences of our present polluting behavior.
Two is the number that keeps us on our toes: The two-degree target, defined in paragraph number two (!) of the Copenhagen Accord, has become the mantra of many pre-Paris reports. Indeed, in the past week, the future of our toddlers who are in their terrible twos seems to rest mainly on our collective management of the atmosphere to meet this target.
But clearly, climate isn’t everything, is it? And neither is a global agreement.
This may seem a tough statement to make as 100 or so national leaders descend on Le Bourget to deliver their hard-fought political pledges. But perhaps this is exactly what makes it the perfect moment to reflect on how climate-related aspirations fit into the broader context – sustainable development and beyond.
On 5 December, I will have the honor of welcoming participants and partners to the third Global Landscapes Forum at Palais des congrès in Paris. This year, we have more than 3,000 registered participants – an unprecedented number that demonstrates just how important landscapes are in shaping our future.
This is what makes it the perfect moment to reflect on how climate-related aspirations fit into the broader context – sustainable development and beyond.
With such keen interest, and so many committed partner organizations, the Forum will be a major opportunity for sharing knowledge and advancing our understanding of climate and development as they apply to the world’s landscapes.
Landscapes produce almost all our food, provide livelihoods for billions and represent cultural heritage for everyone. They are a cornerstone of the economy, they house our terrestrial biodiversity and they are the source of a third of our greenhouse gas emissions.
Landscapes, therefore, are places where many of our solutions for a more sustainable future must happen.
The recent fire and haze crisis in Indonesia demonstrates why we need to take a broader landscape approach and a longer-term perspective. The mainstream media tend to characterize the fires as primarily issues of greenhouse gas emissions and nature conservation. While these are indeed critical, the fires really go way beyond. Health, poverty, food, rights, land tenure, law and order, and economic growth are all issues that come into play. Framing the haze crisis mainly around climate concerns is simply not accurate, especially for those closest to the scene that depend on these landscapes.
Instead, we should take the opportunity to connect a landscape approach to the Sustainable Development Goals … all 17 of them. Which of course includes dealing with climate change.
I do not mean that we should start at the top and insert landscapes into all high-level talks or processes with limited real-world accountability. On the contrary – I argue that a landscape approach is primarily about defining and achieving goals locally, with priorities and scenarios determined by those that are directly concerned.
In other words, a landscape approach is really about local accountability. Which means that priorities and solutions will vary considerably – certainly they will vary to a much greater extent than what global negotiations can, or should, encompass. Embracing such diversity of local solutions is good and necessary.
Thinking across traditional disciplines and sector boundaries is another key feature of a landscape approach. This is well reflected in the program of this year’s Global Landscapes Forum, which brings together more than 100 partner organizations. The program is built around four themes, illustrating a wide spectrum of ambitions, and the bold integration we need for understanding and achieving sustainable landscapes.
Global agreements can provide a sense of direction and galvanize political will, but in the end it is local action that will make the difference.
The Landscape restoration theme will delve into the ambitious initiatives in this field – including those first announced at last year’s Forum in Lima – and take stock of experience and research updates. We will also see new commitments, for example under Initiative 20×20.
Sessions in the Rights and tenure theme will discuss recent experiences and critical issues around indigenous peoples’ rights, legal frameworks, the empowerment of women and girls, and REDD+ safeguards.
Finance and trade will cover the latest thinking on sustainable and responsible investments, new and existing corporate commitments on deforestation and value chains, and the needs for fiscal and legal reforms to achieve sustainable landscapes
Achieving climate and development goals will elaborate on the needs and approaches to monitor how agreements and commitments are fulfilled. Tracking progress involves not only data, technology and capacity, but also the mandate, integrity and performance of institutions that deliver the updates.
Clearly, landscapes are not everything either, but they provide a platform for finding and negotiating broader and locally owned solutions. By adopting a landscape approach, progress can be made toward a sustainable future that is tailored to local needs, aspirations and ambitions – quite independently of intergovernmental talks.
Such local progress could also generate a fair chunk of the global climate results we need – and aspire to in Paris these two weeks. I suggest we should refer to these as important co-benefits of overall progress towards sustainable landscapes.
Global agreements can certainly provide a sense of direction and galvanize political will and public funding, but in the end it is the proverbial local action that will make the difference. And looking at the media flow these days, it may be time to revisit that old “Think global – Act local” paradigm dating back to Stockholm 1972. It has a certain top-down ring to it, with the global Earth analysis coming first, and I am not sure whether this will be as effective or appropriate anymore.
So let me end this article with an alternative proposition: “Think holistic – Act in landscape”.
I think those in their terrible twos will agree, eventually.