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LIMA, Peru—The design of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should use the principles of landscape approaches, said experts on a panel at the Global Landscapes Forum, on the sidelines of the UN climate change meeting in Lima.
“We need to demonstrate the relevance of the landscape approach, demonstrate why it’s fundamental to the full delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals targets,” said Paula Caballero, Senior Director of Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice at the World Bank.
The SDGs are in the process of being developed by a UN-appointed working group of representatives from 70 countries to replace the current Millennium Development Goals, which will expire in 2015.
“Landscape approaches” seek to provide tools for managing land to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives in areas where agriculture, mining, and other productive land uses compete with environmental and biodiversity goals.
“The landscape approach should become a prism for the full SDGs agenda,” Caballero said.
“That means that we don’t just look at the obvious targets that focus on terrestrial ecosystems, or forests, or water or oceans, but that we take those targets that might not be so obvious, and put a landscape lens on them.”
She used the example of women’s participation, saying women are important stakeholders in forest management.
“So rather than looking at a target on women’s participation in a generic way, that we actually look at it through the lens of the landscape and what landscape management means for women’s empowerment and participation,” she said.
“There are a whole range of issues that are outside of the ‘usual suspect’ targets that provide critical entry points for having landscapes be what I call a sort of organising principle of the SDGs.”
In July, the UN intergovernmental working group proposed a draft set of 17 goals comprising 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues.
Caballero says that’s good start.
“It’s good enough for hitting the ground running, it’s good enough for implementation, so I would say we have to take a good hard look at what we have now and see how you take it a step forward,” she said.
She says the goals and targets could remain the same—but it’s at the level of indicators, which sit below the targets, that applying a landscape approach would be helpful.
“We shouldn’t assume that because we have 169 targets we have to multiply that by five or seven indicators per target. There are so many indicators out there: we don’t need more indicators,” she said.
“If we’re intelligent and come up with really smart indicators that cut across and establish linkages between sectors, then we might end up with a proportionally smaller number of indicators than we have targets.”
SMALL BUT SMART
What could these smart indicators look like?
Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), has a suggestion—and there needn’t be hundreds of them, he said.
He proposed a simple set of four indicators of performance that could be applied across landscapes at different scales the world over.
“These measures are all scalable, they can be widely understood—I can explain them to my teenagers or to a politician,” he said.
The main point with a small set of four indicators is not to define exact measures of performance, he said, but rather to establish a common language for analyzing how to move toward sustainable land use.
“And they can be applied universally across developed and developing countries,” Holmgren said.
The first indicator is improved landscape livelihoods—you could measure farmers’ income and assets over time, which resonates well with the overall SDG ambitions of eradicating poverty and enhancing green growth.
The second is improved ecosystem services, measuring the biomass content in vegetation and soils in the landscape. “More biomass doesn’t necessarily equal more biodiversity, water or ecosystem integrity—but as a general proxy, it can work quite well,” Holmgren said.
The third is improved resource efficiency in land use, measured as greenhouse gas emissions from land-based sectors—which includes how much fossil fuel energy we use to produce things from the land.
And the fourth is supply of food and other products—measured in quantity or value, and ensuring that we keep an eye on the need to increase food production for a growing population.
Beyond these basic landscape indicators, Holmgren said, there is also a need to address governance aspects, as he discussed in a previous blog.
“But this is an analytical framework we could use to start with,” he said. “If all four of these are stable or improving—then we are making progress to meet sustainability targets.”
“If we are asking the finance community to contribute to sustainable development, then fund managers need to have something to hold on to when they analyze financial returns and associated sustainability performance. Tangible measures like these four indicators could be proof of moving in the sustainability direction – and they could be applied geographically anywhere.”
The Sustainable Development Goals will be finalized in September 2015.
Whatever form they take, Caballero said, what is critical is that they can be rapidly implemented.
“The SDGs are a historic opportunity. It’s the first time that an intergovernmental process has produced metrics—the degree of ownership is extraordinary,” she said.
“We should recognize what came out of New York [the draft goals and targets] is quite remarkable.”
“Everybody’s appetite now is for implementation, and I think that’s where the conversation has to be now. How do we actually do it?”