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Putting 2030 Agenda into practice, how the landscape perspective can contribute?

It has been over a year since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the historic signing of the Paris Climate Agreement. Both of these events put forward a new agenda for development, and those who work in this field have been looking into the ways to navigate in this new context. So what is happening in Sweden in this respect and how can Swedish actors contribute to the realization of the ambitious development agenda on a global level?

A group of Swedish actors who work with international development and environmental issues gathered at the SEI office in Stockholm to share opinions and exchange experience about their work on the 2030 Agenda. The workshop particularly focused on creating an open dialogue between actors who work with forest, water, agriculture, natural resources, climate, and development. Exchange about how the landscape perspective could contribute to an implementation of the new agenda for sustainable development was central to the discussions at the event. The day offered keynotes, interactive discussions, and case studies illustrating the topic from different angles.

Why taking a landscape perspective?

Let us start with a quote from the workshop by Mia Crawford, Deputy Director at Swedish Ministry for Enterprise and Innovation: “This is a scale where people work and live – a level that engages people in a meaningful way. It is also an interesting scale where different interests come together. Thus, finding solutions at this level can really make a difference.”

Anders Malmer, Director at SLU Global, provided some background for the discussion by sharing an interpretation of the landscape perspective and explained that over the recent years the landscape approach has been gaining scientific weight and public attention. This is reflected in the growing popularity of the Global Landscape Forum which has become the largest side event at the COP.

Creating holistic understanding of the SDGs

Ingrid Petersson, Director General at Formas and member of the Swedish 2030 Agenda Delegation told about her work. The delegation was inaugurated by the government as a temporary authority to support and stimulate implementation of the 2030 Agenda. “Sweden has an ambition to be a frontrunner in the implementation of the SDGs. Compared to many other countries, Sweden is advanced in sustainability, but has its own challenges related to gender inequality, education and offset ecological footprints. A key strategy of the delegation is to work in participatory dialogues, with all sectors of the Swedish society.” Petersson also commended that working with integrated perspectives in mind, such as the landscape approach, can help to fill gaps and help to understand synergies and trade-offs between the SDGs.

Flyer from the workshop "Putting Agenda 2030 into practice - how the landscape perspective can contribute"Flyer from the workshop “Putting Agenda 2030 into practice – how the landscape perspective can contribute”

Multifunctional landscapes deliver on the SDGs

Mia Crawford, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, who was involved in negotiations of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement, told that there is no landscape strategy in Swedish policies as such. “And maybe there is no need for one”, she said, adding that the international community sees landscape approach as a working method, which should not be institutionalized. “For example, there is no reference to it in the Paris Climate Agreement, but the approach is still very relevant for its implementation.” Crawford exemplified that it is well known that most of deforestation originates from outside the forest sector: “A challenge in addressing this”, she stressed, “is in the fact that cross-sector approaches can often interfere with national sovereignty. Hopefully, the SDGs and the Climate Agreement can help overcoming this through influencing discussions on a national level.”

Fulfilment of SDGs depends on natural resources

Representing Sweden’s work abroad Maria Berlekom, Lead Policy Specialist for Environment and Climate Change at Sida, continued by saying that Sweden is well-positioned to work with the landscape approach in the international context. Berlekom shared that the 2030 Agenda is now a reference point for the new policy framework on Swedish development cooperation. Sida is now going back to a more multidimensional understanding of poverty, looking at it through the prism of conflicts, climate change and human rights. This perspective integrates the vision of the 2030 Agenda with the landscape approach, said Berlekom.

Berlekom used the “SDG cake” image developed by J. Rockström and P. Sukhtev, to visualize how Sida interprets the landscape approach “We are dependent on the natural resources, the planet, and we can´t move out of this”. She believes that the landscape perspective provides a good entry point to understand ecosystem services we depend on. She also expressed hope that Sida could become better at including these perspectives in dialogues with partners: “when working in real contexts it´s clear that this is the reality people live in.”

The road towards implementation

The 2030 Agenda and the landscape approach paint a picture of complexity and raise a lot of challenges, but there are also a lot of benefits in pursuing an integrated way of thinking. In the panel discussions during the workshop, the opportunities for landscapes approaches to overcome silos and work trans-sectoral were highlighted, as well as integrating the SDGs into national implementation plans. The need for smart indicators that can effectively measure the progress was raised by several panellists. And this is quite tricky if we are to work on the synergies between the Goals.

Discussing early positive trends, all the speakers agreed there is a growing interest and involvement of the private sector.  Businesses are often able to adapt to an emerging context well ahead of governments. Mayors and leaders on local levels also play an important role in implementing the new development agenda. Reconnecting rural and urban areas as well as establishing structures that pay proper attention to and support the youth remains challenging.

There are other challenges too. A lot is still to be done in terms of data availability, transparency and general awareness about environmental issues. The bottom line, at least according to the discussions at the workshop, is that strengthening institutional capacity at all levels, from municipal to international, will be one of the cornerstones of putting the new development agenda into practice.

Learn more from case studies!

The audience also got to enjoy presentations of three case studies that illustrated possible applications of the landscape initiatives:

  • First out was a policy case presented by Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director at Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). He stated that “water is a connector and not a sector” and stressed the importance of trans-sectoral work. A recent call for financial and policy support to Green Water Management aims to “Regreen Africa South of Sahara”, where people are abundant but landscape productivity is low.
  • Jan Lanéer, Coordinator at Swedish Forest Agency shared experiences from a very practical case; Helge Å Model Forest. In this project ways to solve brownification in the Helge å River Basement, covering three counties in southern Sweden. Experiences from the project tell that selecting and engaging stakeholder and agreeing on solutions is easier than financing the agreed activities. Support from private and public sector has to be secured in order to have impact.
  • The final case study was presented by Toby Gardner, Research Fellow SEI. His research and the digital Trase platform (Transparency for Sustainable Economies) aims at reducing deforestation by tracking supply chains and connecting stakeholders to places where products are produced. This way, global players can connect to local landscapes, at a level tangible enough for decision makers to use. He demonstrated the Trase tool by visualizing sustainability risks associated with the trade in Soy from Brazil.

This blog is based on the  “Putting Agenda 2030 into practice – how the landscape perspective can contribute” workshop co-organized 23 November 2016 by Focali, SIANI, SEI, GMV, SIWI, SLU and the Swedish Forest Agency. The day included interactive discussions on collaboration initiatives shared by organizers and participants, they can be found here. You are most welcome to contribute to these initiatives where the dialogue and collaboration around the workshop theme can continue!