‘Landscape approach’ to SDG indicators proposed

Publication Date: 

Monday, 15 December 2014 - 2:34pm


Measure What Matters

An expert panel from the Global Landscapes Forum, meeting on the side-lines of the UN climate change meeting in Lima, has endorsed using the principles of the ‘landscape approach’ in design and monitoring of the SDGs.

“We need to demonstrate the relevance of the landscape approach, demonstrate why it’s fundamental to the full delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals targets,” said Paula Caballero, Senior Director of Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice at the World Bank.

“Landscape approaches” seek to provide tools for managing land to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives in areas where agriculture, mining, and other productive land uses compete with environmental and biodiversity goals.

“The landscape approach should become a prism for the full SDGs agenda. That means that we don’t just look at the obvious targets that focus on terrestrial ecosystems, or forests, or water or oceans, but that we take those targets that might not be so obvious, and put a landscape lens on them.”
Paula Caballero

Caballero says the current draft set of 17 goals comprising 169 goals and targets are “a good start” and could remain the same under this new approach. But it is at the level of indicators, one step down from the targets, that applying a landscape approach would be helpful.

“We shouldn’t assume that because we have 169 targets we have to multiply that by five or seven indicators per target. There are so many indicators out there: we don’t need more indicators. If we’re intelligent and come up with really smart indicators that cut across and establish linkages between sectors, then we might end up with a proportionally smaller number of indicators than we have targets,” Caballero said.

But what would these smart indicators look like? Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), suggests a simple set of four indicators of performance that could be applied across landscapes at different scales the world over.

“These measures are all scalable, they can be widely understood—I can explain them to my teenagers or to a politician… and they can be applied universally across developed and developing countries.”
Peter Holmgren

The main point with a small set of four indicators is not to define exact measures of performance, he said, but rather to establish alignment on a common language for analyzing how to move toward sustainable land use.

  • The first indicator is improved landscape livelihoods—you could measure farmers’ income and assets over time, which resonates well with the overall SDG ambitions of eradicating poverty and enhancing green growth.
  • The second is improved ecosystem services, measuring the biomass content in vegetation and soils in the landscape. “More biomass doesn’t necessarily equal more biodiversity, water or ecosystem integrity—but as a general proxy, it can work quite well,” Holmgren said.
  • The third is improved resource efficiency in land use, measured as greenhouse gas emissions from land-based sectors—which includes how much fossil fuel energy we use to produce things from the land.
  • And the fourth is supply of food and other products—measured in quantity or value, and ensuring that we keep an eye on the need to increase food production for a growing population.

“If we are asking the finance community to contribute to sustainable development, then fund managers need to have something to hold on to when they analyze financial returns and associated sustainability performance. Tangible measures like these four indicators could be proof of moving in the sustainability direction – and they could be applied geographically anywhere,” said Holmgren.

This article has been re-posted in part from The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) website and is available here in full.

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