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Sustainable land management plays decisive role in battling climate change

On February 12th, 2018, EcoAgriculture Partners and the FAO Liaison Office for North America held the inaugural event of a new High-Level Speaker Series, Toward Sustainable Landscapes. Paula Caballero, Global Director of the Climate Program at World Resource Institute, opened the series with a brief keynote address, followed by discussion with panelists Kathleen Merrigan (Professor of Public Policy, Executive Director of Sustainability, and Director of the Food Institute at the George Washington University), Anne Bartuska (Vice President for Land, Water, and Nature at Resources for the Future) and Leonard Jordan (Acting Chief, Natural Resource Conservation Service). The speakers explored the role of integrated landscape management in achieving policy objectives for agriculture, environment, and development, as well as how national and local policymakers could help landscape initiatives be more successful.

Paula Caballero opened by framing the challenge we are confronting as a global community. In order to deliver on the Paris climate agreement to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, we must both reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and remove excess carbon from the atmosphere. In order to do so, it is important to "focus on what is the only tried, tested, and cost effective negative emissions technology that’s out there—trees and soil." This will require afforestation, restoration, and agroforestry, as well as intelligent, sustainable land management. Paula outlined her three main recommendations:

  1. Increase the awareness of the decisive role that sustainable land management plays in battling climate change. “Mosaic landscape approaches that increase productivity, deliver on ecosystem services, save biodiversity, reduce emissions, and protect livelihoods are at the core of what is needed. We need to have greater awareness of the opportunity and potential."
  2. Be clear about the socioeconomic dividends of sound, intelligent, and informed landscape management. This is where the intersection of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for climate action under the Paris climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is so apparent.
  3. Work with countries to include measurable, land-use specific targets in their NDCs, both so that countries can be held accountable and so that they can receive the capacity and resources to support them.

Paula closed her address by emphasizing that going forward, it’s not just the intersections and synergies that we need to consider, but we must “manage trade-offs intelligently with a farsighted perspective.” Problems and drivers are linked to solutions. There are opportunities, but we must also have a clear understanding of the trade-offs.

Major takeaways and key quotes from the discussion

  • “The scale of analysis must be commensurate with the scale of decision-making.” Ann Bartuska emphasized the importance of putting science in a form that is useful for decision makers, at the scale that decision-makers have to operate.
  • “Local communities need to buy in to the idea that we can work together in concert with others to implement the right practices and systems in the landscape that provide sustainability for that community.” Leonard Jordan stressed that in order to be successful, solutions must be developed in partnership with local communities. Private land ownership must be a part of the equation in order to have impact at a landscape scale.
  • “How we frame and think about issues is important.” Kathleen Merrigan described how expanding our view of critical issues can lead to creative solutions.
  • “Having secure tenure unlocks enormous potential.” Paula Caballero described the success that communities have had in restoring and improving their land when they have secure tenure.
  • “We need to look at various agencies that have similar interests and make sure policy aligns to eliminate the conflict.” Leonard Jordan urged for more consistency in policy, because if an approach works on the ground, then policy should align, rather than conflict, with this approach.
  • “We’re not trained to be systems thinkers… We need to understand that things connect, that social systems, economic systems, and ecological systems all have push-pulls to them.” Ann Bartuska recommended that our educational systems train students how to think about and understand the interconnections between complex systems.
  • “We are making the decisions right now about that will determine what our landscapes, our economies, and our societies will look like in 50 years.” Paula Caballero highlighted the critical foresight and long-term perspective that is needed by policymakers in their short term decision-making in order to put us on the trajectory for the future we want.
  • Many companies are deeply committed to the Paris accord, and “are going to move forward no matter what the current government says.” Kathleen Merrigan emphasized the role that businesses leaders can play in advancing the SDGs and Paris climate agreement.

A complete brief based on the event will be available in the coming weeks. Download Paula's Powerpoint (PDF)