‘Knowledge starts with good data’: Mauritius President urges informed action on African landscapes
Bonn - A lack of information and data on biodiversity is posing barriers to conservation and human well-being in Africa, a regional leader warns.
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of the Republic of Mauritius and a professor of organic chemistry, says that building a bridge between scientific research and the environment in support of human health and well-being will be crucial to solving Africa’s climate and development challenges.
As an island nation of 1.3 million people just east of the African continent, Mauritius is one of five global biodiversity hotspots, home to large and small species found nowhere else on Earth. But unique species in Africa are now disappearing at twice the global rate, and this threat is amplified by climate change, Gurib-Fakim warned.
Rapid loss of species and a changing climate will inevitably impact human well-being, requiring a landscape-scale approach to find solutions, she added.
“The separation between the haves and the have-nots will be defined by investment in research and innovation in this area,” Gurib-Fakim said during a keynote address at the Global Landscapes Forum, the world’s largest science-led platform on sustainable land use, held in Bonn, Germany.
“The big issues of hunger, poverty and climate change are linked, and need to be addressed together,” she said.
“Knowledge starts with good data,” she added. “We need a common understanding to find common solutions, to enjoy health and prosperity around the world.”
A LANDSCAPE VIEW
The president’s comments were backed by Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), who opened the Forum.
Nasi urged research and action at a landscape scale, simultaneously considering social, economic, cultural and environmental solutions.
“The landscape is the right unit of management,” he said. “We cannot solve problems sector by sector, we need to look at whole picture.”
Rather than forcing a narrow definition on the term ‘landscape’, Nasi said the concept is better defined by the problem an actor wants to solve, whether at the global, national or community level. This includes consideration of indigenous communities’ perspectives and traditional knowledge, he said.
“What defines a ‘landscape’ is really in the eye of the beholder. An ant will see a totally different landscape than an elephant,” he explained.
“It’s the correct unit to try to solve a given problem, but it’s not something that can be reduced to a simple definition.”
The landscape approach is the founding concept behind the Global Landscapes Forum, which engages stakeholders from a range of different sectors with interests in sustainable land use, including development and climate concerns.
The current Forum in Bonn, the seventh gathering since 2013, marks the start of a new chapter for the movement, following a recent contribution of 11 million euros from the German government. With that, GLF is now committed to at least five more years of addressing landscape issues around the world, conducted in partnership with the World Bank, CIFOR, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and the German government.
As Nasi summated, this new phase has invoked an urgency to ensure the ideas, discussions, and connections made during the conference’s two days extend beyond the doors of the World Conference Center venue in Bonn and manifest in concrete efforts to address and combat landscape and climate change issues.
The Bonn Forum was attended by more than 1,000 participants, ranging from national leaders like President Gurib-Fakim and Former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón to yogi-environmentalist and spiritual guide Sadhguru, as well as scientists, start-up entrepreneurs, NGO leaders, actors in the public and private sectors, and a number of students and youth, among others.
Thousands more from 114 countries tuned in online via livestream videos of the discussions, plenaries, TED-esque Landscape Talks, press conferences, and Launchpad sessions.
The myriad items on the day’s agenda revolved around the Forum’s stated five themes: landscape restoration, financing sustainable landscapes, rights and equitable development, food and livelihoods, and measuring progress toward climate change and development goals.
“The Global Landscapes Forum creates space for innovative ideas that can then be implemented on the ground,” said Barbara Hendricks, Federal Minister of German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). “The overarching goal is to learn from one another and take action together.”
Following on the heels of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn in November and French President Emmanuel Macron’s One Planet Summit earlier this month, the GLF has put indigenous and marginalized communities at the forefront in its discussions. The event aims to be a stage to help elevate these communities to have more space and attention in dialogues and decision-making processes on local, regional and global levels.
Leaders of indigenous communities from as far afield as Brazil, Chad, and the Philippines are attending the Forum and speaking on panels covering topics ranging from policymaking to financing to more elusive topics, such as the importance of changing mindsets and advocating the individual’s role in environmental change. Discussions showed how the knowledge of indigenous communities is crucial to finding holistic solutions to land degradation, reforestation, food security, and the future of clean water sources.
“I think that’s one of the biggest contributions that indigenous organizers and young professionals are making, in every field addressing climate change and unsustainable development — that they look at everything as its complete picture,” said Janene Yazzie, cofounder and CEO of Sixth World Solutions and member of the US’s Navajo Tribal Nation. “We look at what’s affecting our air, our father sky, our mother earth.”
As noted by Roberto Borrero, Programs and Communications Coordinator of International Indian Treaty Council, it is paramount to change the common perception of indigenous communities as helpless, vulnerable groups or sources of conflict. Instead, they should be viewed as partners in a unique position to offer solutions on environmental issues.
“We’re not looking for saviors,” he said. “We can save ourselves if we’re given the right tools and the opportunity to save ourselves.”
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