Paula Caballero: Address in high-level session, GLF 2015

15 December 2015

Senior Director for Environment & Natural Resources Global Practice, World Bank, Paula Caballero, speaks at the thematic high-level session on “Resilient landscapes to reduce fragility, conflict and migration” on the second day of the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum in Paris, France, alongside COP21.

In this session, experts in landscape management explore how to position the landscape approach as a key tool for poverty reduction and for managing rural-to-urban migration, build a bridge between Latin America and Africa on sharing experiences of landscape interventions, and build partnerships with the private sector for sustainable landscapes.

Paula Caballero highlights the problems of “the myth of renewability” and “short-termism”, and calls for action and implementation in 2016 and beyond.

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


It’s a pleasure to be here with you today, and thank you for joining us for what is doubtless one of the key panels that we have to address here and beyond.

Why is this linkage between fragility, conflict, migration and environment so important? As Senior Director for Environment and Natural Resources, I find myself constantly having to make the case that environment is not just about a specific toad or a specific fish or a panda bear. That is, it really is, at its core, about people.

And that seems obvious, but when you start to look at situations of crisis, it’s very, very difficult to get long-term environmental considerations on the table. As I say, on a good day in many governments – and I include my own; I’m from Colombia – environmental issues are very difficult to assign the priority that they deserve when you talk about development. And then when you move into situations of fragility and conflict, it becomes ever more so because there are so many other pressing, short-term, immediate, urgent humanitarian needs.

So that’s our first challenge, really. How do you embed long-term environmental considerations? Understanding that it’s not just about the environment; that it is about building in the resilience to human systems, whether they be biophysical, economic or social. And this is all the more urgent because, as we all know with what’s happening across the city, climate change is a massive threat multiplier.

And when you have situations of very marginal land, marginal people, limited or restricted access and use of increasingly scarce and degraded resources – that would be central to long-term human wellbeing and security – well, then you have a potent mix that needs to be addressed.

One myth that I want to put out there at front is what I call the myth of renewability. As a human species, we’ve been amazingly good at transforming our physical environment and turning it into halls like this; into cities like Paris; into countries like France. Which is fantastic in terms of what it has meant for human wellbeing and development. But we have been lulled into the sense that we can tech-fix and imagine our way and sort of innovate our way out of anything. And innovation is fantastic, but there are tipping points beyond which degradation is not reversible.

One of my (unfortunately) favorite examples is the Grand Banks cod fishery. And if you go to Nova Scotia today and walk up and down that coast you will see communities whose livelihoods have been displaced, have been degraded, and are gone forever. Because that great fishery, despite all the sustainable management efforts that came afterwards, has not recovered.

And if we just go to Google Earth and look at the Aral Sea, and remember what it was and what it has become, then we start to understand the myth of renewability and why action, implementation, is so important. And so of course migration, crisis and conflicts have many causes.

I don’t want to overstate only the environmental dimension. But there is a very key role for environmental governance, and there is a key role for making sure that we can keep in place functional systems and services in a natural space.

75 percent of the world’s poor today live in rural areas. That means these people depend on natural resources not just for their livelihoods, but also for social safety nets. And when these social safety nets erode and disappear, the impacts – together with those disappearing or eroded livelihoods – can be very devastating.

So degradation, I would say – and I would invite us to understand it as simply, to translate it into really simple terms – is a loss of opportunity. And what environmental management is about is keeping opportunities. Keeping those options open so people have hope, so people can think of investing their resources, their effort, their children in a better tomorrow.

So let me turn to what I think is the second big challenge and that’s what I call the short-termism. We operate in budget cycles or electoral cycles or project cycles. And a lot of the environmental degradation requires investments and efforts over a really long period. And as human beings, we’re also not that good at that.

So a challenge that we have – a challenge I face at the Bank, a challenge I faced before when I was in government, a challenge I faced before when I was working with NGOs – is how do we overcome that short-termism and start to put in the longer term? How do we measure results over decades? And how do we build the appetite for that kind of result over the long term, with our boards, with our parliaments, with our taxpayers?

I would just finalize by saying that we have to understand that environmental migration is not a new form of migration but climate change makes it different.

I think we have a great panel ahead of us, a panel that will really delve into these root causes, but above all into solutions and above all into trying to understand what the options are.

We’re culminating a completely amazing year. We’ve had Financing for Development, we have Hyogo, we have the SDGs, and now we should have a Paris agreement. So it’s been a fantastic year in terms of policies and frameworks and agreements. The day after the COP: I would like to say that’s the day when 2016 starts. And 2016 and beyond has got to be about implementation.

So, what I would like to ask the panel today is to forget this as an academic or an intellectual exercise. If we’re going to implement, if we heed this call for action – this driving, urgent call for action – what do we need to do? What do each one of us need to do? What do we need to incentivize others to do? That’s our challenge and that’s the challenge I would like to pose to the panel.

Thank you.