DG’s Column

Could the Sustainable Development Goals include Landscapes?

Thinking about landscapes in the context of SDGs should come naturally.

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Last week, the UN High-level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda met in Bali, Indonesia. The political commitment from last year’s Rio+20 conference to agree on a set of post-2015 goals addressing the broad challenges of poverty eradication, environmental protection and sustainable consumption and production (the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs) remains strong.

At the same time, there is a flurry of ideas on what the goals should be and how progress should be measured. Often these proposals come from organizations forwarding the topics that they are mandated to deal with. This can make it difficult to maintain an overview of what we would actually like to achieve in the future.

Despite the risk of adding to the confusion, here I provide some thoughts on a possible configuration of the SDGs, including a goal on landscapes. While the landscape topic is obviously close to the mandate of CIFOR and the CGIAR, the ambition in this blog is to provide some thoughts on how to broaden the perspective of the SDGs.

It is worth recalling that the SDG development process has already been much more ambitious than it was for the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that they are set to replace. The MDGs were not specified in the Millennium Declaration in 2000 – the goals, targets and indicators were prepared afterwards, based on general agreement. While the 2005 World Summit acknowledged the MDGs, it was as a set of a wider range of international development goals. It was only in 2010, that the UN General Assembly more firmly established the commitment to achieve the MDGs. In contrast, the SDG goals and targets are set to be agreed on upfront, hence the current attention that has been placed on the negotiation process.

Furthermore, the SDGs are expected to be less oriented to Official Development Assistance (ODA). By comparison, one of the MDGs (number 8 – “Develop a global partnership for development”) was dedicated to ODA. With a more generic approach to development, the SDGs can be more inclusive of the much larger investment potential from the private sector, as well as the public sector beyond ODA.

Finally, the MDGs were constructed in a way that does not always encourage cross-cutting contributions. Forests and forestry, for example, were parked under the environment goal, within the target related to reversing loss of environmental resources, and with the one indicator “Proportion of land area covered by forest”.  Obviously, this does not convey the broader contributions of forests and forestry to development, including poverty, food security, resilient landscapes and green growth. Instead, this may have reinforced the view that forests are only about environmental protection.

With this background in mind, I’d now like to outline some thoughts on the configuration of the SDGs, and how a goal on landscapes could be defined.

Five is a good number for SDGs

–   Defining SDGs and related global targets in a national and local priority setting is difficult because many special interests promote their own agendas. For example, developed countries’ institutions/politics often strongly advocate the environment dimension of sustainable development.

–   Simplified, understandable, integrated and measurable goals/targets/parameters are needed.

  • The MDG framework does not provide a convincing starting point.
  • There should be no more than four to six SDGs.

–   Political leadership is needed to cut across sectors/special interests and move on from the MDGs.

  • Especially considering developing/emerging countries’ situation where the nexus of social, economic and environmental development is obvious and crucial.

–   The rural economies including agriculture, forestry and fisheries have often been underrepresented in development frameworks such as the MDGs. Yet, they represent some of the largest issues and potentials for all dimensions of sustainable development in all regions.

–   With the above in mind, a possible set of SDGs are:

  1. Sustainable landscapes (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, biodiversity, water, climate)
  2. Social protection (health services, rule of law, relief of food insecurity and extreme poverty)
  3. Green growth with equity (all economic sectors including finance, greenhouse gas emissions)
  4. Infrastructure for all (energy, roads, internet, markets, safe water and sanitation)
  5. Equal opportunities (gender, education, employment, human rights)

–   Each goal could have its own development paradigm, allowing for some overlaps between the goals.

–   Each goal could have a set of three to five targets, with one measure per target.

–   Implementation of goals through targets, indicators, planning and investments should be scalable from global to local levels, and should be measureable at all levels and scales. 

A goal on sustainable landscapes

–  We need a new paradigm for development and environment that counteracts current silos between agriculture, forestry, fisheries and conservation.

–   While the landscape concept is not new, it can be redefined to:

  • Fit into the SDG framework as one of its goals.
  • Connect to broader development goals such as poverty, food security, climate change, green growth, rights, governance and gender.
  • Allow for clear and understandable measurements of progress:
    • Generic landscape objectives, applicable anywhere.
    • Few and scalable measurements against objectives.
    • Find better solutions beyond neoclassical economic methods.
    • Facilitate multi-objective, multi-stakeholder priority setting and planning

– With such a paradigm, we could also:

  • Attract large scale private investments (with some publicly funded risk management)
  • Advance land and resource tenure processes.
  • Stimulate markets for the bio-based economy.

– Some requirements needed are:

  • Application of political leadership to cut across silos at all levels
    • E.g. Connect forestry and agriculture in the annual UNFCCC negotiations (don’t miss the Global Landscapes Forum at COP19 in Warsaw).
  • Investment in long-term cross-cutting research to support evidence-based policies.

Figure 1

– Four proposed landscape objectives with performance measures are shown in the above figure.

  • The performance measures are applicable anywhere at any scale, including the global scale.
  • If all four are stable or improving, we can say that we have a sustainable landscape that contributes to development goals.
  • These four objectives and performance measures can also be used to define targets, such as:

Target 1: Livelihood provisions: Farmer incomes to double by [year].

Target 2: Ecosystem services: Biomass in the landscape increase to [number] pentagrams (Pg) of carbon by [year].

Target 3: Products: Key staples and commodities supply increase by [number]% by [year]

Target 4: Resource efficiency: GHG emissions from landscape activities reduced by [number] Pg/year by [year]

This is, of course, only a contribution to the discussion; there are many views that need to be consolidated. CIFOR and its partners are currently working on landscape approaches as a way to find better solutions for the land-based sectors, working across the agriculture and forestry boundaries. Thinking about landscapes in the context of SDGs therefore comes naturally to us.

I look forward to a continued dialogue!

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Topic(s) :   Community forestry Landscapes Restoration SDGs

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5 responses to “Could the Sustainable Development Goals include Landscapes?”

  1. Thank you for these very useful remarks on landscape performance. They do provide a pragmatic approach towards the assessment of landscape sustainability. For those who are interested about landscape performance indicators, there is a useful framework provided by Ecoagriculture Partners which can be found here: http://www.ecoagriculture.org/publication_details.php?publicationID=25

  2. Peter Bridgewater says:

    very nicely said – but landscapes MUST include the forgotten 70% – seascapes… the same strictures and opportunities apply. Also the element of culture can fit into and/sea scapes, as well as being a cross-over to Social Protection Goal – which might better be stated as Sustainable societies, protection has the wrong connotation…

  3. The case is very well presented. Since the idea of landscape approach was first expressed at Doha by CIFOR I have felt a little unease. For I had seen how in India forestry was reduced to a handmaiden of agriculture for the first three decades after independence because at political level forestry was kept in the agriculture ministry even though at technical level the separation was maintained.

    Peter’s argument that merging forestry with environment has led to lowering the utility values of forestry so critical to the well being of a very large number of the poorest in the world is very convincing. India again provides a living example. Over the last three decades forests have ceased to be of any significant utility for people except for those who manage it by stealth or a little muscle. And that is why large belts of forests in central and eastern India are home both to the poorest in the country and of Maoist insurgency.

    And this is no coincidence. Extreme poverty is acknowledged as the primary reason for this violent insurgency that has led to the death of thousands. Exploitation is another but its severity is itself an outcome of poverty that disempowers people like nothing else. Forests are everywhere in this region but provide little sustenance. And this has happened due to placing extraordinarily high environmental values on forests drowning its other values to the people.

    The way forward is not easy. Certainly we can not oscillate back to the old days when environmental values meant little. So while agreeing that forests need to be seen as part of landscape I suggest we should also have certain forest values like biodiversity and carbon sequestration firmly with environment. This could generate a creative stress to be addressed both at policy level and in implementation.

    Also oceans must have a full fledged separate place in SDGs. With a few minor modifications in the scheme suggested by Peter I suggest these could read something like this below

    1. Sustainable landscapes (agriculture, forestry, food, water, adapting to climate changes)
    2. Sustainable seas (coastal areas, corals, fisheries, marine biodiversity, use of continental shelf and deep sea bed, pollution, navigation)
    3. Social protection (health and basic education, rule of law, relief of food insecurity and extreme poverty)
    4. Green growth with equity (all economic sectors including finance, technology transfer, greenhouse gas emissions, forest biodiversity and carbon sequestration)
    5. Infrastructure for all (energy, roads, internet, markets, safe water and sanitation)
    6. Equal opportunities (gender, higher education and skills, employment, )

  4. Lambini Cosmas Kombat says:

    Even though a goal on sustainable landscapes is very critical in post-2015 goals-the Sustainable Development Goals discourse and demonstrates clearly that this concept was not well integrated in the MDGs development process and implementation. As optimistic as most economists will be, I think it is very critical to address the issue of Political Will(PL). Without the PL, the development and implementation of this new paradigm for sustainable development might equally be a failure. There must be a united force from all interested stakeholders and actors to ensure its implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Other concerns that need to be addressed include:(1)sustaining nature related institutions(nature related property rights, organisations,formal and informal),(2)active engagement of developing countries and economies in the development processes(3)SDGs clear structure for implementation, monitoring and evaluation among others.

  5. Mike Jones says:

    I like the approach very much. I see healthy landscapes and seascape as the foundation for SDGs and as the way in which society can respond to climate change and the decline in resources such as P and fossil fuel. The other critical aspect to this is rebuilding the feedbacks between cities and land/seascapes to reduce the over-consumption, support payment for ES services etc. That needs to be based on a deeper understanding of the economies of ecological supply, rather than economies of rather distorted human demand. Related to that is the need to abandon the three legged stool metaphor for sustainability and replace it with a metaphor based on people and land where the economy (and money) is an expression of the interaction between people and land. The triple bottom line has not worked well because people have focused on conversion of natural/human capital into financial capital to support the wasteful consumption of largely unnecessary consumer goods. The indicators you propose may require deeper consideration. In general I am not a fan of global indicators because they mask the importance of local variability in a social-ecological context.

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