BONN, Germany — Nearly 1,000 members of the development, environment, and finance communities gathered in Germany this week for what is being hailed as a “new phase” of the Global Landscapes Forum as it breaks away from the United Nations climate conference.
Experts in the forestry, food security, sustainable agriculture, and finance sectors as well as politicians, indigenous leaders, and even actor Alec Baldwin via video link, were among those taking part in the two-day GLF, which opened in Bonn on Tuesday.
The organizers say they hope the relaunched event will build a “movement” to drive progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
However, some participants questioned the wisdom of decoupling from the annual Conference of Parties, and said they doubted the feasibility of uniting so many disparate actors.
How much difference can a development buzzword make? Advocates of the "landscapes" approach to sustainable development hope it will help raise billions in financing for the post-2015 development agenda.
The GLF was formed in 2013 by the World Bank, the Center for International Forestry Research, and the United Nations Environment Programme, in a bid to bring together the historically disparate communities of forestry and agriculture under a broader agenda known as the “landscapes approach.”
While definitions vary, landscape approaches broadly recognize that land has multiple, and competing uses, and that multisectoral approaches are needed in order to balance the needs and challenges of poverty alleviation, livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, land rights, and food production.
Almost 25 percent of the world’s land area has been degraded over the past 50 years, linked to deforestation, soil erosion, wetland drainage, and other factors, costing an estimated $6.3 trillion every year in lost ecosystem service value, according to a report by the World Resources Institute.
Climate scientists say approximately a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are directly linked to landscape management, through agriculture and deforestation, for example. Furthermore, recent research estimates that nature-based solutions — such as conservation, restoration, and improved land management — could provide up to 37 percent of emission reductions needed by 2030 to meet climate goals.
The GLF is designed to find common ground between the environment, development, and finance sectors, and could lead to new solutions and approaches which the communities may not find operating alone, the organizers say. The effort corresponds to SDG 17, which calls on governments to “revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.”
However, while in the past the GLF mainly took place alongside the international Conference of Parties climate talks, the forum has been relaunched separately this year thanks to an investment from the German government of 11 million euros ($13 million), announced during the 2016 COP in Marrakech last year.
Negotiators worked late into the night on Friday — and then into the wee hours of Saturday morning — to bring COP23 to a close. Here are three takeaways for the development sector from two weeks in Bonn.
Some participants questioned the wisdom of the move — and of holding the session so close to Christmas, just weeks after the COP23 talks were held in the same city. But the German government is aiming to transform the GLF into a “platform for global action” according to Germany’s minister for the environment, Barbara Hendricks, who spoke during the opening plenary on Tuesday. It is crucial the international community “make land use a focus,” she said and added that while the GLF would be a venue for discussion and knowledge, the ideas and innovations that emerge must “then be implemented on ground.”
“The GLF is an important source of ideas, it is the world’s largest independent action platform for the land use sector … the overarching goal is to learn from one another and take action together,” she said.
But the task is a daunting one, Hendricks acknowledged, explaining that “the list of pressing issues that require close expert exchanges over the coming years is long,” and includes restoring and protecting forests and landscapes, improving livelihood opportunities in rural areas, sustainable management of peatlands, and creative investment options to promote private sector involvement.
The agenda for the forum includes sessions on forest restoration, land rights, how to monetize landscape approaches and attract private sector financing, as well as issues related to the links between landscapes and food production, livelihoods, and sustainable supply chains. Also on the agenda is the question of measuring performance, as well as holding companies and communities accountable for natural resource destruction.
High-level attendees at the conference, which runs through Wednesday, have included former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón; Naoko Ishii, chief executive officer of the Global Environment Facility; Erik Solheim, the head of UNEP; and Ameenah Gurib Fakim, president of the Republic of Mauritius, who delivered a keynote speech that focused on the close links between biodiversity and climate change in Africa, and the need for integrated approaches.
“GLF is an essential building block as we seek to build a sustainable future across the world’s largest landscape,” she said, going on to add that she is “confident that through commitment to scientific excellence, increased investment in research and development, and the power of partnership, the GLF can improve [our] everyday lives … Our ability to create a sustainable future for ourselves is not optional; it is existential.”
Fakim also said it was crucial to “recognize the knowledge of cultural traditions” of indigenous peoples as part of the “movement.”
Day one of the event also featured a session with Sadhguru, an Indian “mystic and visionary” and the founder of the Isha Foundation who spoke about his nationwide Rally for Rivers campaign to preserve India’s depleting rivers through planting trees.
John Colmey, director of communications at CIFOR who works specifically on the GLF, told Devex that the new phase of the forum was deliberately conceived to be different to other development and environmental conferences, and is intended to help the forum “break out of the academic world” and become as big, if not bigger, than the World Economic Forum.
He said including figures such as Sadhguru is crucial to achieving the SDGs, since current development approaches are not working. “We’ve got to broaden out this conversation,” he said, adding that the GLF seeks to create the “paradigm shift required to achieve sustainable development and the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
For Colmey, the online community is as important, if not more so, than those actually in the room. He said he hopes to reach 300,000 online participants by 2019.
Robert Nasi, head of CIFOR, agreed: “Online is the future of this type of event,” he said. He added that the GLF is unique compared to other multistakeholder platforms in that it is “not owned by anybody,” and so has no “agenda.”
Responding to doubts about the decision to break away from the COP, and to host the event in the same city only a month later, Nasi explained: “While it is nice to ride on the people at COP … this is a new phase for the GLF … We don’t want to be limited only to the climate change agenda,” although he stressed that it remains a key element.
Next year’s forum is planned to take place just before COP24, which will be hosted in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018, he said.
“We have nothing against the COP… but what we are trying to address it goes beyond the climate change negotiations.”