Recently—while taking a break from the global Conference of the Parties (COP) Climate Change Conference—government officials, policymakers, researchers, industry leaders, non-profit organization heads, and indigenous representatives met for the 2014 Global Landscapes Forum in Lima, Peru, sponsored by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). This year—the second for the Forum since the 2013 Forum in Warsaw—brought together thousands of influential leaders as a cross-sectoral approach to addressing the role of sustainable landscapes in climate and development. What undergirded the discussion was what is at the heart of all effective work on climate change: accountability and engagement.
It’s easy, in this day and age, to identify the differences between us. The bigger challenge—and greatest hope for climate adaptation and sustainable development—is to acknowledge what we share, and, from that vantage point, hold each other accountable. Accountability comes down to relationships with one another, and engagement with our natural environment, our communities, our livelihoods, our values and our food.
Landscape approaches provide tools for allocating and managing land to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives in areas where agriculture, mining, and other land uses compete with environmental and biodiversity goals. Agriculture, as we know, tends to dominate other land uses; and it, along with forestry and other land use accounts for one-fourth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) predicts a 60 percent increase in the demand for food by 2050—a projected increase “required to match … projected demand”—and, with it, the refrain that we will need to produce more food for our growing population. Globally, we see an increasing push for large-scale, monoculture agriculture—the driver of around 80 percent of global deforestation—and for a global, less diversified, less-nutritious mono-diet of rice, maize, wheat, soy, and palm oil (the single largest driver of tropical deforestation).
The most comprehensive study to date on the diversity of our food supply indicates megacrops of wheat, rice, and maize, plus palm oil and soybeans are what we all eat now—the same type and the same amount. Regional and local crops have become more marginalized—or have disappeared altogether.
Some measures focus primarily on increasing agricultural output, yet the world already produces more than one and a half times enough food to feed everyone on the planet, which is enough to feed the population of nine billion that we anticipate by 2050. But food—and financial resources required to buy food—aren’t efficiently or equally distributed.
70 percent of agricultural production is derived from subsistence farming. Smallholder, diversified agro-systems are much more resilient to climate change than large-scale industrialized agriculture. Despite their contribution to feeding the world, these are the farmers with the least amount of support. Their post-harvest losses and yield gaps are high, which is why some of the hungriest people in the world are smallholder farmers. Malnourishment and hunger are caused by poverty, social strife, inequality and poor infrastructure, not just scarcity.
This matters—because unsustainable land use changes and climate solutions have been made in the name of feeding hungry people.
The proposed sustainable development goals, the new climate agreement and supporting efforts, such as the recent New York Declaration on Forests, offer space for partnerships and collaborative action. They provide a clarion call for much more integrated approaches to land use, and the management of our global resources.
From small communities to multi-national corporations, protecting the natural wealth of our landscapes is a challenge calling for joint action and accountability, and a holistic approach to understand the interconnections between all these different land uses.
We are at a crossroads, a defining moment in history where we can turn toward each other, break down the silos that have characterized our global economic system, and put authentic sustainable development at the center of economic growth. Diversity is our greatest asset in adapting to climate change and providing both environmental and economic resilience. This includes biodiversity—from soil to seed to pollinator, from plant to fish to animal—and the variety of opinions and solutions from stakeholders in the value chain.
The Global Landscapes Forum represented the crucial cross-sectoral journey we must take toward sustainable landscape-scale development and climate resiliency, and reminded us that we all—policymakers, the private sector, researchers, field practitioners, farmers, conservationists, civil society and beyond—have a responsibility to do the work and hold each other accountable.
In this context, the coming years not only provide a substantial challenge, but also many opportunities. Agriculture and integrated management at the landscape scale can provide opportunities for both adaptation and mitigation of climate change. The landscape approach is one promising way forward.