Harnessing the power of landscapes

Hakim Hayat

As Earth’s biodiversity declines, the perilous consequences are proving to only rise.

The destabilisation of national economies, threats to food systems, escalation of climate change, and likelihood of global pandemics such as COVID-19 are all increasingly linked to the loss of the planet’s variety of life.

This year, however, the United Nations (UN) Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) is set to instate a new global plan for biodiversity conservation that will run through 2030, seeing nations and leaders commit to higher standards of protection and restoration of natural habitats and ecosystems.

Concurrently, 2021 also sees the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a 10-year effort to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide”.

To contribute to the Decade and new framework’s likelihoods of success, the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) has published a set of seven biodiversity policy recommendations co-created by its network of partner organisations, including the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and UN Environment, it announced recently.

Led by the CIFOR, the GLF is a multi-stakeholder forum dedicated to promoting the landscape approach. It is the largest platform on sustainable land use. Since 2013, over 4,400 organisations and 190,000 people have taken part in forum events in person and online.

A new report by the GLF and Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL), One World, One Health: Recommendations for harnessing the power of landscapes, confronts such realities as the mass extinction that could see up to a million species disappear from the Earth in the coming decades.

Substantiated by scientific research, case studies, methodologies and frameworks discussed in the digital forum, each recommendation is accompanied by illustrative reasons for its potential benefit.

It responds to biodiversity’s role in the world’s current health and financial challenges by urging governments to act on the vast benefits of conservation and to improve the legal power, rights and responsibilities of people living in biodiverse landscapes.

It outlines some immediate steps including: tear down silos that separate public health and environmental sectors (something the pandemic has proven essential); re-focus harmful subsidies worth billions of dollars; stimulate youth employment in conservation and restoration; return ownership of food systems, value-chain decision making, and financing mechanisms to local communities; and give the narrative back to communities that have the most at stake from climate, health and biodiversity crises.

These are just some of the recommendations from the One World, One Health report, which was recently released publicly.

These solutions and potent pathways grew out of the GLF Biodiversity Digital Conference 2020 ‘One World, One Health’ that was held on October 28-29, 2020, which reached 35 million people on social media.

Drafted largely by a team of youth members of the GLF and partner organisations, the recommendations are founded upon the “landscape approach”, an environmental philosophy that seeks to stymie climate change and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by addressing social, environmental and economic objectives in tandem.

The decision for youth (aged 35 and under) to conduct the drafting process serves as an embodiment of the landscape approach by including young professionals in the type of policy-making processes from which they are often sidelined.

A scientist with CIFOR who is co-leading a multi-country research programme on landscape approaches James Reed said that the recommendations as they stand are broad, and their application should be narrowed and tailored to fit specific contexts, backed by localised research on the inclusion of landscapes’ custodians.

“The landscape approach research process can come in to reach those people that are not being heard in decision-making processes and try and understand why – and also why it is important to include them,” Reed commented. “What are the social impacts and environmental outcomes of including their voices? What does history show us on how they’re managing their landscapes? Is it effective for environmental targets, and is it also meeting their needs?”

The recommendations contribute to the work around the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which is to be adopted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) this year. It will also contribute to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and play a significant role in promoting solutions regarding sustainable use and conservation of our planet’s biodiversity.