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It’s all connected: Our digest of GLF Bonn 2020

Photo: Catalin Grigoriu / Getty Images. ©

“There are two things we’ve learnt from the COVID-19 crisis. First, we can’t be healthy if our planet’s health is bad. Second, we can’t be well if the people in our families, communities, cities and countries are sick,” said Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, Senior representative of Pope Francis at Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development during the opening of the Global Landscapes Forum 2020 (GLF Bonn 2020).

“COVID-19 showed us that nutrition is crucial for our survival, that biodiversity loss exposes us to unknown diseases and that climate change hasn’t stopped. So, in a very strange twist of fate, 2020 ended up being a super year moment, where Mother Earth told us to reflect on how we exist and live,“ said Musonda Mumba, Chief of Terrestrial Ecosystems at UN Environment.

Held entirely online, GLF Bonn 2020 focused on the nexus between health, food, biodiversity and climate. The Forum ended up being the largest digital environment conference so far, connecting nearly 5000 participants from all over the world.

SIANI team participated in the Forum and gathered these key messages to capture a snapshot of the latest thinking in the area of sustainable land-use management and beyond.

1. Move towards integrated, inclusive and equitable solutions

COVID-19 underscored our unbalances relationship with nature and made it clear that we are facing the triple challenge of feeding the world sustainably, while addressing climate change and providing a safe space for nature. Resolving this challenge requires changing the way we view nature and development, redistributing power and becoming radical collaborators.

“The coronavirus pandemic draws a new narrative: It is not only about the environment, it is about us and nature, ” said Marco Lambertini, Director General at WWF.

“Our food system uses a lot of resources. Yet, this system leads to sickness and hunger. Yield doesn’t communicate the state of the land after the harvest or that farmers are hungry or the nutritional quality of the food. We need agricultural that can restore soil and ecosystems and support climate goals while feeding the people,” said Vandana Shiva, scholar and environmental activist, proposing to replace “yield” with “health per acre”.

Food system is also responsible for 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is central to achieving the Paris Agreement. Brent Loken, Global Food Lead Scientist at WWF expressed an idea of fostering climate action by integrating carbon budgets with dietary guidelines. Consumers can also support this change: “Some foods have higher carbon impact than the other. Our food choices empower us to make change three times a day,” said Loken.

Izabella Teixeira, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel and Brazil’s former Environment Minister suggested that biodiversity needs to be integrated into climate policy through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and also become a political asset, based on social demand. She also proposed to view ecosystems as infrastructure for agricultural development and farmers as biodiversity protectors. This way it may be possible to convene different interests, without increasing the tension between agricultural production and nature conservation.

Implementing the solutions for overcoming the triple challenge will depend on inclusiveness, equity and empowerment of our governance. “Most of the people know the value and want to connect to nature. So, the job of governments and the international development and cooperation community is to create the enabling environment, space and opportunity for people to manage natural resources in a direct, accountable and effective way. We know this triggers sustainability with fast results,” said David Nabarro, Special Envoy of WHO Director General on COVID-19 at World Health Organisation (WHO).

Addressing climate-food-biodiversity requires to start thinking as a collective, establishing our goals for resilience and wellbeing as a society. Learning from indigenous communities could provide valuable insights.

2. Enable young people to lead on restoration

Last years’ massive climate strikes have clearly shown that youth are willing to take a leadership role in safeguarding the planet, and that they, more than other generations, act on a sense of urgency. “While youth are major actors and stakeholders in the climate and restoration movement, we must remember that they are also potential victims – youth are the ones that will have to live with the outcomes of a failure of delivering on sustainability,” said Amanubo Amos, President of the International forestry student association, IFSA.

So, what can be done to avoid that failure? According to the youth climate activist Xiye Bastida, it is all about education. “If we are serious about ecosystem restoration, we have to acknowledge that education is key. Climate and environmental activism should not be a hobby but rather a way of relating one another and to our planet. To get there, we need comprehensive environmental education all over the world.” With the UN decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the time to act is now.

3. Employ forests for food and nutrition

Forests are much more than trees. Forest harbour biodiversity, house wildlife and store carbon. At the same time, forests have a high potential for complementing and diversifying human diets. Forest foods, such as nuts, mushrooms and berries, are highly nutritious.

In contrast to annual agricultural systems, forests are less susceptible to climate risks, such as droughts and heavy rains. “We should pay greater attention to forests as a source of nutritious food. Communities that base their diets on forest foods exhibit lower rates of malnutrition and the related diseases,” said Mulia Nurhasa, researcher at The Centre of International Forestry Research, CIFOR.

What is more, as Bronwen Powell, also from CIFOR, pointed out, there is also a cultural dimension to it: “The consumption of wild foods is usually connected to local traditions that connect people, both indigenous and non-indigenous groups, to their land and forests. From a forest preservation perspective, such links should not be underestimated.” 

4. Collaborate with One Health approach in mind

Deterioration of natural buffer zones between humans and other animals together with global interconnectedness create perfect condition for zoonotic diseases, like COVID-19, to turn into pandemics. Many scientists agree that humanity may have to face more pandemics, potentially with larger consequences and fatalities than COVID-19, if we don’t change the way we interact with nature.

The One Health approach is about ensuring health for humans, animals and the environment simultaneously. In an interconnected world, healthy animals and a healthy environment means healthy people.

During GLF the experts stressed the need to work multidisciplinary, across different sectors and internationally to shape effective collaborations and deal with the effects of the pandemic and other challenges by bringing health professionals, environmentalists and other sectors together.

Multidisciplinarity implies making cost-benefit analyses of the interventions, considering trade-offs and finding robust solutions. For example, wildlife consumption is blamed for the pandemic, but it also is an important source of both nutrition and income for many people globally. So, improving biosecurity and animal welfare could offer a way to reduce diseases transmission without compromising food security.

What is more, strong sector-wide collaborations offer higher possibilities for unified messages and coordinated response from authorities. Therefore, the One Health approach also can be employed in times of crises too.

5. Link farming with finance

COVID-19 exposed the wrongs of our food systems, from easily disrupted supply chains to lack of nutritional quality to vulnerability of farm labour. Clearly, fixing these mistakes won’t be possible without effective public-private collaboration. Farmers need external capital, like bank loans, to access the skills and technology needed to implement sustainable production methods. But how can we make bankers and farmers speak the same language?

“We need to create a safe space for different actors to meet outside of their comfort zones, so investors could learn about the difficulties on the ground, while farmers could find out about the criteria for financial investments,” said Yougha von Laer, Senior Programme Manager for Forest and Climate, WWF Germany.

Cooperating across sectors can generate innovative financial solutions. “Blended finance, where the investment comes from private actors, but the risks are shared with the public sector, is one way to secure the capital necessary for farmers’ livelihoods and environmentally sustainable agriculture,” said Sylvia Wisniwski, Managing Director, Finance in Motion. Such cross-sectoral cooperation can fill the funding gaps for sustainable production initiatives and encourage sustainable investments at the same time.