A flurry of conservation- and landscape-finance developments took place late in 2021, spurred on by November’s UN climate conference (COP26) and others associated with it. The private sector, governments and development banks offered bold financial pledges and commitments.
One clear example of this determination is the more than 100 countries that pledged to end deforestation and land degradation by 2030, backed by $12 billion in public funds and $7.2 billion in private investment. Among the pledges, the UK government committed at least £3 billion to promote nature and biodiversity, including a new £500 million package to help protect 5 million hectares of rainforests. Meanwhile, more than 30 financial institutions—representing $8.7 trillion in assets—said they would phase out deforestation from their commodity portfolios by 2025.
The 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People initiative (1000L) is encouraged by this momentum. However, we must ask a critical question: Will the capital pledged at COP26 reach the places and efforts where it’s needed most to reverse land degradation and restore ecosystems?
Landscape partnerships are crucial to address global challenges
Transformational and sustainable change requires practical and comprehensive support. That’s why 1000L advocates for landscape-level management. This approach seeks to build sustainable landscapes and collaborative relationships over the long term by addressing trade-offs and finding synergies among stakeholders and between different landscape parts.
Why is the landscape-level distinction important? If the global community acts without understanding local, landscape-level needs and conditions, change will be incomplete and, at best, incremental. Most national and state institutions are structured to operate in top-down, sectorally siloed modes. On the other hand, landscape partnerships involve an integrated approach that incorporates more stakeholders and local considerations.
Since core change happens on the landscape level and requires a collaborative effort, landscape partnerships must not be overlooked by new initiatives and commitments. For example, the underlying drivers of deforestation, loss of biodiversity and other destructive trends often have the direst consequences on a local level in developing nations.
Landscape-level initiatives can effectively educate local communities on the importance of, and benefits from, transitioning away from deforestation and other destructive practices to sustainable ones. One crucial solution involves helping communities broaden their understanding of financial flows. Once local partners appreciate the importance of working collectively to develop a landscape-wide financial strategy, the drivers of local landscape activities transition to sustainable practices.
The benefits and challenges of looking through a landscape lens
Transformative change—which moves us away from activities that destroy nature—results from an extensive process, not simply a pledge. Local landscape partnerships can 1) enable access to finance for farmers and communities, 2) identify and evaluate critical activities that support local stakeholders, and 3) develop investable projects that regenerate local ecosystems and economies. When local businesses and citizens recognize the economic, environmental and human well-being benefits of a landscape approach, leaders can effectively undo the drivers of deforestation and related landscape disturbances. Importantly, these partnerships can attract recognition and support from national governments and the private sector.
However, several challenges often stand in the way of landscape partnerships receiving the support and recognition they need. First, top-down development strategies often undermine local stakeholders’ visions and priorities. Effective local landscape partnerships are collaborative and inclusive, and they help ensure the engagement of local stakeholders. In contrast, most financial institutions lack a local landscape-finance orientation. Second, landscape partnerships are often unable to mobilize finance at a scale that enables the funding of a complete landscape investment portfolio. Finally, information and expertise for landscape-scale partnerships are typically scarce, costly and difficult to access.
There’s clear momentum following the COP26 pledges to restore nature and address climate change. However, pressing questions remain. Will COP commitments address these key landscape finance challenges? Will financial pledges ensure transformative change for imperiled or degraded landscapes, small farmers and other local actors?
To ensure these commitments deliver solutions at the landscape level that is so critical to ensure their effectiveness, 1000L recommends a focus on the following priorities:
- Support strategies that recognize a local landscape vision alongside the general goals of increased biodiversity, carbon neutrality and economic ambitions.
- Connect investors to pipelines of investable projects that support this landscape vision.
- Promote government policies and programs that support integrated landscape investment.
- Financial institutions should accelerate the innovation of landscape investment models and tools.
- Provide essential information and expertise to landscape actors.
We should remain mindful that the most effective solution to finance ambitious climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals is to keep local landscape partnerships at the heart of these pledges.