Event Coverage

Global agreements, but local action

The message that solutions for climate and development will come from everyday landscapes resonated throughout the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum.
Landscape approaches enable people to find local strategies for achieving global goals. M. Edliadi/CIFOR

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As global climate and development frameworks fall into place, experts at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum amplified the call to transform these frameworks into action on the ground – which they expect will be driven by local forces.

“It’s been a fantastic year in terms of policies and frameworks and agreements,” Paula Caballero, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, said of 2015 in her address at the Forum.

“But the day the COP ends: I would like to say that that is the day that 2016 starts. And 2016 and beyond have got to be about implementation.”

The third Global Landscapes Forum, held in Paris midway during the historic climate talks, gathered 3,200 people from 135 countries for one and a half days of panel discussions, pavilions, pledges and policy announcements, and technical demonstrations, all with the aim of finding pathways to sustainable land use, which lies at the heart of climate and development goals.

The diversity of players in the land sector and the scope of their contributions were reflected by the speaker lineup, which mixed representatives of the private sector (think Danone’s CEO Emmanuel Faber) with indigenous groups (such as Abdon Nababan), government (19 Ministers and former heads of state) and research institutions (e.g. Andrew Steer of World Resources Institute, Robin Chazdon of the ATBC and a broad selection from the CGIAR).


And amid the official conference themes of restoration, tenure and rights, finance and trade, and measurement, another one emerged across sessions: that sustainable development begins at home.

Indeed for indigenous activist Abdon Nababan, home is the only place it can happen: “You cannot protect the forests from Paris, Oslo, from New York, from London. Only those of us who are protecting it already can continue to do so,” he said.

“There’s so many things we’ve got to do and so much of it is local,” Californian Governor Jerry Brown said in his address. “This whole matter of a global challenge but local action required really is tying these two concepts together, and they both are crucial.”

A similar notion – that of people having to take matters into their own hands  – was contained in the message that Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the lead organizer of the conference, was putting out before the event had even begun.

“Don’t ever expect global agreements to be everything we need,” he said in a video invitation to the Forum. “At best they can provide a framework. Landscape approaches can then help people develop their own solutions that are best for them.”

Mark Burrows of Credit Suisse even warned that developed countries could get left behind.

“My view is that the old West will be trumped by the emerging countries in terms of how they deal with sustainable development,” he said. “Because, remember, for a lot of countries like Kenya, sustainable development and finance is the very essence of their livelihoods and their economies.”

The money will have to come from the resources of the countries with degraded landscapes themselves.

Ngozi Okono-Iweala

A counter to this view, however, came from economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, once finance minister of Nigeria, who argued that developing countries are doing it for themselves because they’re not getting the support they need.

“Attracting this $100 trillion that we talk about into these types of investments is exceedingly difficult,” she said in her keynote address, later adding, to the delight of the audience, “Should it come from rich donor countries? Yes. Will it? No.”

She elaborated on the point in a separate interview: “Whilst we might want to have donors funding this restoration, ultimately, the money will have to come from the resources of the countries with degraded landscapes themselves.”


This emphasis on the local is hardly new: As Jeff Sayer of James Cook University and leading thinker on landscape approaches noted in a reflection on the failed climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, thinking about the people involved was very much at the core of the landscape concept.

“And so my idea then was that we really needed to balance this global, top-down agenda with a much more bottom-up agenda,” he recalled, “which involved all the people who are concerned with these things on the ground, the people who will feel the impacts of whatever gets decided this week and in Copenhagen, et cetera.”

Sayer then showed he is not one to fear challenging his own ideas.

“This is a horrendously ambitious agenda that’s being embraced enthusiastically by many, many people – but perhaps a little too enthusiastically sometimes,” he went on to say. “We need to make sure, if this is the main way we’re going to do this on the ground, that it’s going to work.”

Holmgren, another long-time proponent of the landscape approach, raised similar questions.

“Are we having an impact on the ground?” he asked the audience as he closed the Forum. “Are we taking all this fantastic knowledge, thinking, experience, dialogue, into actual change on the ground?”

Which comes back to the issue of implementation, and the questions all those taking on the tasks of fulfilling development and climate agendas must ask themselves:

“If we’re going to implement, if we’re going to heed this call for action – this driving, urgent, call for action – what do we need to do? What does each one of us need to do? What must we incentivize others to do?” Paula Caballero said.

“That’s our challenge, and that’s the challenge I would like to pose.”

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