“An urgent step change in effort is needed to prevent irreversible land degradation and accelerate the implementation of restoration measures.”
− International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
On May 22━the International Day for Biological Diversity━we join the global community in celebrating our collective efforts to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services; and, in the spirit of Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado, we embrace “…the titanic and beautiful task…” of combating threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, and paving the way for the design of sustainable landscapes.
Last April, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)━an international body of scientists and knowledge-holders━released their report on land degradation and restoration (IPBES, 2018). In addition to documenting the cause and effect of biodiversity loss and the decline of ecosystem services, the report suggests the need for a transformative approach to address those issues.
With less than one quarter of Earth’s land surface free from human impact, land transformation and degradation are major drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem services loss. Worse still, by 2050, it is estimated that less than 10% of the Earth’s land surface will be free from human impact, and much of that will be found in areas unsuitable for human use or settlement (read: deserts, mountains, and polar environments).
Land degradation resulting from multiple interacting factors━such as economics, demographics, and technology━is the leading cause of biodiversity loss and the decline of ecosystem services, which in turn, adversely affects human well-being. And with climate change threatening to become an increasing driver, avoiding, reducing and reversing land degradation in a strategic and coordinated way can contribute substantially to climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Unfortunately, current policy responses are often siloed within individual institutions, and are in many cases, inadequate because they do not take a comprehensive approach. Addressing the multiple causes of land degradation within the context of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals for a wide variety of human needs, will require a transformative approach that transcends single institutions, jurisdictions, and sectors.
Holistic, landscape-wide approaches that integrate multiple land-use interests━such as agriculture, conservation, and energy development━combined with the best-available information can improve our chances of reducing land degradation, building resilient communities, and minimizing conservation-development trade-offs. It is worth a try.
Multi-jurisdiction/-sector collaboration and coordination in research, planning and implementation can be successful when scientists and decision-makers representing various government entities, businesses, and civic society work through deliberative processes to cross-pollinate and co-produce knowledge, tools, and strategies to combat land degradation. Participatory planning processes that include multiple institutions and stakeholders representing a wide variety of knowledge and value systems are more likely to develop integrated land management plans, and more importantly, the agreements needed to implement them than single institutions taking a “go-it-alone approach” [Note: At i4LCD, we call “integrated land management plans”: landscape conservation designs; and the participatory planning process used to develop them: landscape conservation design].
IPBES (2018): Summary for policymakers of the thematic assessment report on land degradation and restoration of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. R. Scholes, L. Montanarella, A. Brainich, N. Barger, B. ten Brink, M. Cantele, B. Erasmus, J. Fisher, T. Gardner, T. G. Holland, F. Kohler, J. S. Kotiaho, G. Von Maltitz, G. Nangendo, R. Pandit, J. Parrotta, M. D. Potts, S. Prince, M. Sankaran and L. Willemen (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 29 pages.
Malhi (2017) provides an authoritative discussion about all things Anthropocene, including the term’s rise to prominence over the past two decades, and historical, cultural and philosophical perspectives of it as a “cultural zeitgeist” and “ideological provocation.” A great introduction packaged in a single albeit lengthy paper.
Malhi, Y. (2017). The Concept of the Anthropocene. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 42(1), annurev-environ-102016-060854. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-environ-102016-060854
Wu (2013) explores sustainability definitions and concepts, including the Brundtland definition, the triple bottom line, weak and strong sustainability, resilience, human well-being, ecosystem services, and landscape sustainability. He defines landscape sustainability as “The capacity of the landscape to consistently provide long-term, landscape-specific ecosystem services essential for maintaining and improving human well-being.” He proposes a framework for developing a landscape sustainability science that is experimental, place-based at regional scales, and that uses spatially-explicit methods and simulation models.
Wu, J. (2013). Landscape sustainability science: ecosystem services and human well-being in changing landscapes. Landscape ecology, 28(6), 999-1023. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1007/s10980-013-9894-9