DG’s Column

2015: A year for integration

All roads lead from Stockholm to Rio to Paris in 2015.
Every economic sector is facing new challenges and opportunities, some of which are expressed in the upcoming 2015 agreements.

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Few people in development and environment circles could have missed that this year will see a confluence of global agreement-making. Following a 43-year process from Stockholm 1972, through Rio 1992 and Rio+20 in 2012, the post-2015 development agenda is maturing and will be the highlight at the UN General Assembly in September. And after 21 years of negotiations, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is heading toward a new treaty at COP21 in Paris in December. With these two agreements in place, the world will have a fresh framework for action, agreed at the highest political level.

Two immediate reflections on these high-level processes arise:

(1) How will these two mega-tracks complement each other?

(2) How can economic sectors, such as forestry, best mobilize actions toward achieving these ends?

The key word seems to be “integration.”

Starting with the first question, it is no secret that sustainable development and climate change have been handled rather separately in inter-governmental corridors. The history of sustainable development is described nicely in this background paper to Rio+20, which sets out the notion that the 1992 Agenda 21 had a bias toward the environmental dimension of sustainable development, and that implementation of goals were underplayed. As we know, the UNFCCC was born out of the same Agenda 21, and developed into a major, independent and complex negotiation process.

Over the past two decades, key UN documents, such as the Rio+10 Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, refer to the UNFCCC for matters related to climate change. This “delegation” continued to be prominent in the 2012 Rio+20 report. In a 2013 report by the UN Secretary General, the UNFCCC is referred to as one of the three “environmental conventions” and while the sections on the CBD and UNCCD both make reference to the ongoing post-2015 process, the UNFCCC section does not.


Ahead of 2015, the COP20 Lima call for action continues to refer to sustainable development as a “co-benefit,” but cross-references to sustainable development appear frequently in the draft negotiation text. More significantly, the 2014 UN General Assembly was organized in conjunction with a well-attended climate summit. Further, the UN Post-2015 Open Working Group clearly defined combating climate change as one of its proposed Sustainable Development Goals (even if a footnote, unique among the 17 goals, still points to the UNFCCC as the specific forum for negotiating the global response to climate change).

Without diving too deeply into an analysis of the political and institutional structures that have kept the sustainable development and climate change processes apart, it is clear that some confluence is now happening. Perhaps we can even talk about integration, at least at the action level.

One additional important observation is that both processes are now aiming for globally consistent agreements. The SDGs are intended to be global, whereas the preceding MDGs were focusing on “developing” countries. Similarly, while the previous climate deal – the Kyoto Protocol – mainly focused on OECD countries, the Paris treaty will aim to have global relevance. This global perspective will likely have a strong impact on how the agreements are perceived and implemented.

I heard Laurent Fabius, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, firmly declare that development and climate must be addressed together, in his speech at the recent Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. This is indeed a good sign, and I join others in wishing France success in hosting COP21 and in supporting development and climate ambitions simultaneously.

Turning now to the second question: Every economic sector is facing new challenges and opportunities, some of which are expressed in the upcoming 2015 agreements. One challenge is how to relate sector-specific outputs to the broad political ambitions expressed by the SDGs. For example, how can a fairly minor sector such as forestry configure itself to make the best possible overall contributions (or, conversely, cause as little damage as possible).

Economic sectors tend, almost by definition, to be separated from each other, and solutions are typically sought internally, that is, within the silo. Institutions, professional communities, science, education, value chains, traditions and public perceptions can all contribute to a strong sector focus, which often promotes internal innovation, efficiency and economic gains.

A side effect of such specialization, however, is that interactions with other sectors may become inhibited, as terminologies, practices, communities and value propositions drift apart. Sector boundaries between, for example, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can be quite pronounced also within institutions such as FAO and CGIAR, which are supposed to address these “agriculture sectors” comprehensively.

It is obvious to many that the combined contributions from the agriculture sectors will play a big part in achieving the SDGs and in handling climate change. Along this proposition, the Global Landscapes Forum is evolving into a powerful platform to explore such horizontal integration and collaboration, and is designed to link the SDGs and the climate agreement.


But it does not stop there. A look at the proposed SDGs indicates that the agriculture sectors must also connect to a host of issues beyond the traditional land-based ones. Equity, health, energy, water, infrastructure, production and consumption patterns, economic growth and finance are all covered in the draft SDGs, and it would be irresponsible to ignore these when we consider how forestry and agriculture can contribute. So we are also facing vertical integration of sectors. For example, how can we connect the finance sector with small producers in agriculture and forestry and scale up much needed investments in sustainable land use?

Each sector is challenged to look beyond its traditional boundaries and resolve its relations to the SDGs and actions on climate change. For forestry, this means going beyond SDG #15 and looking at the bigger picture: poverty, health, equity, prosperity, as well as protecting the planet. Let us avoid the MDG-imitation game that would reduce forestry to a few marginal mentions, and instead develop a narrative that shows the real contributions to sustainable development.

Progress in the post-2015 process is summarized in a recent synthesis report by the UN Secretary General: “The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet.” In reading this, I was encouraged to see the frequent cross-references to the climate change challenge. I was also pleased to see references to forests not only in the section on protecting ecosystems, but also under the heading on shared prosperity and inclusive and transformative economic growth.

In fact, the wording is “Sustainable approaches to landscape management (including agriculture and forests).”

Hear, hear.

Oh, and the report also uses the word “integrated” 21 times.

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