Measuring Progress Towards Landscape Sustainability

May 16, 2016

Posted By Blair Freeman

The landscape approach, a holistic model for natural resource management, is a prominent theme among international forums focusing on forests and sustainable development. The Global Landscape Forum is now in its fourth year as a sideline forum to the United Nations’ Climate Change conferences.

The landscape approach is not a new concept. It is a contemporary encapsulation of established principles and best practices in multi-stakeholder engagement, sustainable forest management, and active and adaptive management of natural resources. Most importantly, it represents a process through which the relevant stakeholders, from government, the private sector and civil society, can engage effectively to reconcile competing land uses.

Rural villages in Sumatra, Indonesia. Source: SLP; Conservation International

The landscape approach is promoted as the regional framework required to address a range of landscape level issues and their wider impacts – deforestation, biodiversity loss, smoke haze and CO2 emissions.

There now appears to be general consensus and acceptance of the key principles of the landscape approach, across developed and developing countries alike. Many national and sub-national jurisdictions are working on the application of these principles, through a broad range of governance structures and participatory planning processes.

However, one key challenge for implementation across most jurisdictions is, how should we measure progress towards agreed goals or objectives? Without meaningful feedback loops, the scope to support informed policy and investment decisions is constrained and the risk of stakeholders becoming disillusioned and disengaged will increase over time.

The platform for these feedback loops should be ‘landscape accounting’, based on the principles of environmental accounting and internationally recognised accounting standards. The purpose of environmental accounting is to present organised information, in a systematic and comparable way, to support decision making.

There has been substantial work done to raise the profile and improve the quality and scope of environmental accounting around the world. This includes the development of corporate ecosystem valuation techniques by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development; the preparation of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) by the United Nations Statistics Division to produce internationally comparable statistics on the environment and its relationship with the economy; and most recently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the former Millennium Goals.

That said, the complexity and ‘high level’ nature of these international goals and accounting standards can be beyond the capacity of some settings; notably the capacity of subnational governments in developing countries at the provincial and district levels. The landscape approach advocates for engaging multiple stakeholders in an equitable manner, with participatory and user-friendly monitoring of landscape information. In practice this means landscape accounting needs to be aligned with the datasets available and the needs of the stakeholders for each respective landscape.

Indufor has been working with the Sustainable Landscapes Partnership (SLP) in Indonesia, to develop a landscape accounting framework that provides meaningful information for stakeholders at the provincial level. This framework calls for a multi-stakeholder forum to identify the landscape goals and agreed performance indicators, for which data is available in public datasets. The SLP has worked with government representatives and other stakeholders in North Sumatra to establish an online dashboard incorporating the agreed performance metrics across three key themes: natural capital, production systems and human wellbeing.

The dashboard (see image below) is updated on a regular basis with the most current data for each of the relevant performance metrics. Stakeholders within government, the public sector and civil society can now access this information as required and discuss policy and investment priorities for the province using a transparent set of landscape accounts.

SLP has established an online dashboard for landscape accounting in North Sumatra, to monitor trends and changes across key indicators that are aligned with objectives of the landscape model. Source: Conservation International Indonesia

This example from Indonesia is presented only to reflect the range of landscape accounting frameworks and models in service or under development. The performance metrics selected for North Sumatra may not be applicable elsewhere. Also, the online dashboard format may not be as suitable or attractive for other jurisdictions. Further to this, the dashboard for North Sumatra is only as current as the most recent update of data for the spread of performance indicators.

Clearly, landscape accounting needs to be set up in ways that are appropriate for the stakeholder groups in each respective setting. Collectively the key stakeholders in each landscape need to discuss the overarching goals, then identify and choose the relevant performance indicators, and then set up regular reporting on these indicators to be transparent and accessible for as many stakeholders as possible. The details of these aspects will vary from one region to another.

The key message is that meaningful feedback loops are required to support informed policy and investment decisions, and in this way demonstrate to stakeholders that progress is being made towards agreed landscape sustainability goals.

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Blair Freeman

Head of Strategy and Sustainability (Australia)

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