2015 Global Landscapes Forum: Jeff Sayer – Keynote

7 December 2015

Professor of Conservation and Development at James Cook University, Jeff Sayer speaks at the high-level plenary session from the second day of the Global Landscapes Forum 2015, in Paris, France alongside COP21.

The session builds a bridge between the research and policy communities, focusing on the role landscapes play in achieving SDGs and new climate goals. The session explores how useful the landscape approach is for achieving the new climate and development goals, provides concrete suggestions for policy and practice, asks how climate action in landscapes work, how we analyze changes over time, and how policymakers and their institutions acquire “environmental intelligence”.

Sunday, 6 December 2015
Global Landscapes Forum, Paris, France
#GLFCOP21 #ThinkLandscape


It’s a great pleasure and honor for me to preside over this session this afternoon, where we’re going to discuss a subject that’s very dear to my heart. And I’m particularly pleased to do so because we have a very distinguished panel of scientists who are going to be speak to you briefly. And then we’re going to have a debate about the issues.

However, the panel has changed since the agenda was printed. So Minister Wakhungu from Kenya, who is a member of a high-level scientific panel that reports to Ban Ki-moon on science policy, has been summoned to go and report on science policy to Ban Ki-moon, and has abandoned us. So she won’t be able to join us.

But also we have one addition to the agenda, Thelma Krug from Brazil. But maybe what I should do first is invite the members of the panel to come to the stage. They are, in order, Professor Eduardo Brondizio from Indiana University. He works with the Ostrom Workshop. He’s very much involved in global issues related to land rights, tenure, etc. He is a board member of Future Earth. He has worked for decades in the Amazon with local communities, dealing with issues related to their institutions.

The second panelist is Professor Robin Chazdon, from Connecticut. She’s also President of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation. She is perhaps the leader on forest restoration science. She leads an international group that works on those issues and she has a vast amount of experience on issues to do with restoration in landscapes. She’s also associated with the Rio Sustainability Institute.

My third panelist is Thelma Krug from Brazil. She’s from the National Institute for Space Research. She’s been very prominent in international climate negotiations for a long time. She’s been heavily involved in the land use, land-use change and forestry debate. She was involved in national greenhouse gas emissions inventories. And she is now Vice-Chair of the IPCC and will give us an IPCC perspective on these landscape issues.

The last speaker, Governor Jerry Brown from California, is engaged in another high-level event in Paris and he will join us during the course of our discussion, hopefully. He is of course very well known to all of you. He has introduced, pushed through, the toughest set of climate targets of any administration in North America. And he’s shown outstanding leadership in issues to do with the environment and social issues in America.

So just to set the stage, I’m going to say a few rather personal things about my perspectives on the issues we’re confronting. Which is this science-policy interface, the links between the science agenda and the policy agenda on climate change.

My personal perspective on this comes from having sat through the discussion in Copenhagen six years ago and being concerned that I thought we were listening to very high-level, distinguished people talking about global issues, but possibly in rather simple terms. And that there was a disconnect between what was being said and the realities of the people on the ground who are impacted by these things.

And those impacts, of course – the decisions that were taken then but particularly the decisions that are taken this week in Paris – will impact upon the lives of every single person living on the planet and all those who will live in the future on the planet. These decisions will impact on their energy use, of course, but also on their jobs, their economies, their agriculture, the stewardship they exercise over forests and water, and things like that.

I felt that was a little bit missing. I mean, not totally missing, but it was understated in Copenhagen. So the Copenhagen thing was that we had these vast areas of pristine nature out there in particularly tropical countries and that they were either getting degraded or they were getting converted to things like this, which is an extensive oil palm plantation that I photographed a couple of weeks ago.

And of course it’s not at all simple like that. In fact, what we’re dealing with are incredibly complex situations. And so my theme then, my idea then, was that we really needed to balance this global, top-down agenda with a much more bottom-up agenda. Which involved all the people who are concerned with these things on the ground, the people who will feel the impacts of whatever gets decided this week and in Copenhagen, et cetera.

And so we have to recognize that achieving all the sorts of objectives that are not being attempted in landscape initiatives is going to have a huge impact on everybody. They’re going to have to change things they’re doing in a significant way. And what has been encouraging since Copenhagen is that there’s a huge proliferation of initiatives by civil society groups, by governments, by particularly local administrations – municipal mayors and people like this, corporations, everybody – to actually do these things at a landscape level. I think that’s been extremely positive.

We’ve also calculated with colleagues from CIFOR and some other CGIAR centers and Ecoagriculture Partners and other university people. We’ve looked a bit at what’s going on. It’s not hundreds of millions of dollars spent on these landscape initiatives. It’s billions of dollars.

So one of the concerns is that we need to know if this is working. We need to learn the lessons of these massive attempts to try to do this sort of social engineering on a vast scale in the landscapes where the results of all these international negotiations are going to have to be applied. Where the actual action is going to have to happen on the ground. We need to learn from that. We need to know if it’s working. We need to know if we need to do it differently. We need to know what sort of conditions are going to be applied.

Added to all of this, and it perhaps seems self-evident, is that these landscapes – where we’re trying to do things to adapt to or mitigate climate change – are also the same places where we’re trying to alleviate the poverty of billions of people who are living in very poor conditions today. We’re going to have to do it in places where we’re going to have to feed 9.5 billion people in a decade or so. And we’re doing it in places where we want to conserve biodiversity and we have major problems confronting us with water.

So this is a horrendously ambitious agenda that’s being embraced enthusiastically by many, many people. But perhaps a little too enthusiastically sometimes. It seems to me that doing these things is extremely ambitious. It requires a very long term commitment and we need to make sure, if this is the main way we’re going to do this on the ground that it’s going to work.

These sketches are all of course by my wife who sits through these meetings and takes notes on what you’re all saying and thinking about. So what we’re moving from is away from this very simple forest or non-forest or something like that, towards these very much finer scale landscapes where we’re trying to accommodate many, many different agendas. And often conflicting agendas.

And we’re going to have to do this, recognizing that there will be people who benefit from these things – hopefully, most people will benefit in the long run from these things – but inevitably some people will lose. We will confront the problems of power inequalities. Some people will be able to capture the benefits of some of these things and other people will lose out. And as you will certainly have seen at this meeting, there are many, many representatives of people who are concerned that they will lose out on the issues that we’re confronting.

So that’s the scene that I would set. I think we’re facing a real challenge here, and I would hope in this next hour that we’re going to learn something about if we’re doing it right and what we might do a bit differently. So my first speaker on this is a person who has this very excellent knowledge globally of issues related to institutions. I’d like to invite Eduardo Brondizio to make his presentation.