March 31, 2014

Time is Now to Demand an Integrated Sustainable Development Agenda

Louis Wertz, EcoAgriculture Partners

The Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals’ tenth session opens today to deliberate and negotiate the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. It is not hyperbole to say that their recommendations to the UN General Assembly, set to be delivered in September, will have an enormous impact on the future of all life on earth. And as we saw with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out in 2000, decisions made now about the framing of this agenda will have reverberations beyond the mere scale of our aspirations to the very real project of implementing a sustainable and desirable human existence within the bounds of Earth.

The Millennium Development Goals, while noble and ambitious, were framed from a 20th century mindset; development and sustainability challenges were disconnected and designed to be tackled by sectoral experts and discrete ministries focused solely on a single goal. The intervening 15 years has shown us the major deficiencies in this approach. In the world’s poorest places, we have seen development initiatives aimed at clean water and improved agriculture trip over each other in a scramble for the same scarce resources. Billions of dollars have been wasted by improperly planned, poorly coordinated, and downright destructive development projects. Age-old fights between agriculture, industry and environmentalists have been repeated around the globe, with the two sides of the battle often taking marching orders from a different MDG.

A new way of doing things is needed. And in many places, despite the difficulty of finding reliable finance and major institutional obstacles, that new way is making a difference already. In Colombia, water projects that save municipal Bogotá millions of dollars and megawatts of energy are also rewarding campesinos in the surrounding mountains for maintaining traditional livelihoods and caring for the forest. In Kenya, local CBOs are working with multinational agribusinesses to help smallholder farmers implement practices that improve sustainability and increase yields while gaining access to global markets. In Indonesia, community-based forestry projects are putting local people in charge of where and when agricultural development happens, and international conservation groups are helping them cobble together finance to make conservation a viable alternative. There are hundreds or thousands more community-based initiatives like these around the world, putting local people in charge of the future of their communities, while allowing business and international organizations opportunities to provide valuable market access, capital, and expertise when needed.

These are only a few examples emerging from the decades of research and experience of the partner organizations of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative. We’ve seen how this bottom up, integrated approach puts the means of achieving truly sustainable development within reach for communities. That’s why we are insistent that we put it at the heart of any discussion of goals for the next 15 years of the human experiment.

Thanks to leadership from the Government of Colombia and others, the integrated approach is finally gaining momentum in the discussion. The time is ripe to insist that the Sustainable Development Goals are truly integrated, from the bottom up. That’s why the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative last week delivered a position statement, signed by the heads of leading agriculture, food security and conservation research organizations, to the Open Working Group chairs and the UN Secretary General.

In it we proposed a new “Integrated Landscape Target” for inclusion within the supporting language for each Sustainable Development Goal. That target: “All landscapes are managed by their stakeholders, across sectoral and administrative boundaries, in a way that integrates food security, sustainable production, livelihood development and ecosystem services.” Together with indicators culled from the best in landscapes science (which the statement outlines, and which will be elaborated on by partner organizations of the LPFN in detailed briefs in short order), it provides clear guidance for countries, both developed and developing, as they examine the interrelationships and impacts across all of the goals and seek to implement integrated approaches. As the statement says, “Simply put, the landscapes target offers a mechanism by which the international community can most effectively and efficiently implement interrelated SDGs.”

The statement offers a target that applies as well to a potential goal on clean water and sanitation as it does to a goal on food security, as well to a goal on poverty as to a goal on sustainable cities and human settlements. An integrated landscape target builds coalitions to solve the world’s environmental and development challenges, rather than recapitulating old sectoral fights over scarce (and growing scarcer) land and resources.

You can help demonstrate the coalition-building power of an integrated landscapes target. Visit the statement page, read it, and sign it online. Then share it with your colleagues and friends and invite them to add their name to the growing list of those saying its time to #Aim4Landscapes.

Louis Wertz is communications manager at EcoAgriculture Partners. Louis chairs the communications working group of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative.

Photo: CIMMYT on Flickr
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