United Nations
Environment Programme

A Landscape Approach to Development

A recent report says governments, investors and communities can achieve the best outcomes for human beings and the planet by focusing on place-based, as opposed to sector-based, development.

In January 2015 a group of experts came together in the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative’s Task Force on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to set about articulating an approach that breaks down sectoral barriers, capitalizes on synergies in land uses and human development, and strengthens coordination among a wide range of stakeholders.

Their paper, Landscape Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Achieving the SDGs through Integrated Landscape Management, published in December 2015, recognizes that the 17 SDGs need to be tackled together rather than piecemeal, and that the achievement of one goal can undermine the achievement of others.

Integrated landscape management (ILM) uses collaborative, place-based natural resources planning to shape development projects, in contrast to the sector-based (e.g. water, health, agriculture) solutions that have failed to deliver in past decades.

The report argues that ILM can be readily built into governments’ sustainable development strategies and used as a mechanism for achieving multiple SDGs.

ILM can help achieve overlapping SDGs

UN Member States have recognized that the SDGs are indivisible and should be implemented in an integrated manner, so achieving the goals will require overturning the business-as-usual, single-sector and siloed approach to development.

Thematic interlinkages between the SDGs are numerous and well documented. Recognizing these dependencies requires us to consider very carefully how progress on one goal may have contingent positive or negative impacts on other goals, and anticipate such outcomes in our development projects and programmes.

With a limited land base for food, fibre, fuel and conservation uses, for example, sector-specific approaches to achieving the SDGs will be ineffective in the long-term. Systematic mechanisms for learning and negotiation among stakeholders and deliberate efforts to reduce tradeoffs and enhance synergies are imperative to ensure sufficient natural resources to meet all the Goals.

Sustainably managed landscapes serve as the life raft system on which the world’s population – nine billion people by 2050 – depends.

A multi-functional landscape simultaneously meets a full range of local needs, including ensuring water availability for households, farms, businesses and wildlife; providing biodiversity for crop pollination and wildlife tourism; producing nutritious and profitable crops for families, markets and industry; and enhancing human health. At the same time, such a landscape also contributes to national commitments for global targets, including actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change; the Aichi targets for biodiversity conservation; and neutrality targets for land degradation, among others.

Because of these interlinkages and the complexity and interrelated nature of local needs and current global challenges, ILM can contribute significantly to implementing the SDGs.

Specifically, ILM can directly support the achievement of 16 SDGs and advance progress towards at least 38 targets, says the report.

Capturing synergies

ILM allows local people to manage resources so that development interventions capture synergies, mitigate trade-offs, and create local value and social capital.

The report says this practice is already at work around the world, and gives a wide variety of examples, covering transboundary landscapes, micro watersheds, lake basins, sacred sites, city regions and more.

One example of successful ILM implementation can be seen in Colombia, where public-private partnerships for integrating watershed management are improving water quality, saving the city of Bogota more than $3 million a year in water treatment costs and reducing risks for food and beverage makers.

A report entitled Stories of Success: Strengthening and scaling up integrated natural resource management in the Middle East and North Africa highlights success stories and the dangers of stand-alone projects.

Here’s one example from the report:

Land, water, and natural resources degradation, which are quite often coupled with rural poverty, jeopardize sustainable development in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In these drylands, uncoordinated interventions and investments are fuelled by harsh agro-ecological conditions, institutional constraints, and limited access to natural resources. Most fundamentally, these sparsely populated areas have always lacked an adequate flow of technical and market information.

Several environmental initiatives exist at the national and regional levels to tackle these issues. However, these are often stand-alone projects not aligned with the broader planning and development sectors. Further, project leaders and participants often fail to capture and share knowledge – another barrier to the transition from localized to system-wide operations.

The Middle East and North Africa Regional Program for Promoting Integrated Sustainable Land Development (MENARID) programme is an initiative of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) that catalyzes coherent strategies for managing and restoring degraded ecosystems across the MENA region, while supporting rural development. It brings together a range of integrated environment and development projects in six countries – Algeria, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen.

The Landscape Partnerships for Sustainable Development paper draws on lessons learned from decades of failed sector-based projects in critical ecosystems, impoverished and degraded areas, and regions affected by climate change.

It concludes that governments should include this approach in their plans for implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda, in everything from developing financing strategies to selecting development indicators, and that the international community should support these efforts through increased and better coordinated finance, stronger coordination between international agencies, and support for global knowledge sharing.

What is UNEP doing?

Apart from collaborating on the above report, UNEP has been working with partners and governments to promote the ILM approach to sustainable development, and is organizing a Green Room event on ILM entitled Achieving the SDGs through Integrated Landscape Management: Building on Synergies across Health, Agriculture and Environment at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) due to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 23-27 May 2016 (for details on this Green Room event see: http://web.unep.org/unea/calendar/green-room-event-4-achieving-sdgs-thro...).

UNEP, with partners, has also recently produced two short videos on how the ILM approach can foster more sustainable food production systems; and how land degradation neutrality for sustainable food production systems can be achieved.

Two further videos – on the need to switch to more sustainable food systems, and on climate change and urban food systems – are due for release soon.