An event on the sidelines of the 2018 HLPF emphasized that global agreements must be translated for policy change at the local level, as the SDGs will be implemented "on the ground, not in Conference Room 4".
Keynote speaker Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, called for land restoration to be embedded in the larger sustainable development community, and said it can be used to address inequality.
18 July 2018: The UN has “done its work” of setting out the SDGs, and it is time for local and national action to achieve them, said Alexander Muller, TMG Research gGmbH, as he opened a side event on landscape restoration for food security and climate adaptation.
The meeting convened on the sidelines of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) at the Permanent Mission of Germany in New York, US, on 18 July 2018, organized by TMG. Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and GIZ were funding partners, alongside several implementing partners: the UN Environment Programme, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, the International Fund for Agricultural Development; the Textile Exchange; the Global Alliance for the Future of Food; The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB); the Friends of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (FEBA); Benin’s Ministry for Living, Environment and Sustainable Development; and Ethiopia’s Ministry for Agriculture and Livestock Resources.
Muller added that it is not enough to conduct local projects; they must be scaled up. He said the local level shows that the SDGs are interlinked, noting for example that SDG 2 cannot be achieved without considering SDG 15. He called for creating “enabling environments for SDG 15” and for a comprehensive approach that fosters cooperation between land degradation neutrality, forest landscape restoration, and ecosystem-based adaptation.
Dietrich called for decoupling economic growth from net land degradation.
Ingolf Dietrich, BMZ, said, “we fear the SDGs won’t be achieved by 2030” without greater speed and scale of implementation. As bottlenecks to this, he identified: funds, awareness, inequalities, and the use of integrated approaches. He added that just as we further degrade soil and land – losing an amount of protected land equivalent to one-third of the size of Germany every year – we demand more of our land to support a growing population. He called for decoupling economic growth not just from carbon emissions, but also from net land degradation.
In the keynote address, Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, said restoring degraded land is “not just another tool in our kit, but represents the very logic of the SDGs.” He called for restoration to be embedded in the larger sustainable development community. Steiner also encouraged the narrative around land restoration to focus more on investment opportunities, rather than costing, noting its potential returns of 5-9% or more. However, the capital raised must be invested in the farmers who operate small shares of land, and others who depend on the land, he said. In this way, restoration can be used to address inequality and help to “leave no one behind.”
Jose Tonato, Benin’s Minister for Living, Environment and Sustainable Development, noted that his government’s recent actions on climate change and its plastic bag ban come from the highest level, and noted its “strong political will” for synergy and coherence as it implements the SDGs. Tonato also outlined the “quite alarming” state of land degradation and decreased land productivity in Benin.
Kaba Urgessa, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources, updated participants on the changing landscape in lowland areas of Ethiopia due to erosion, poor land management, and flooding. He illustrated how water-spreading weirs, however, could increase crop productivity and food security, while creating jobs at the same time.
Jenene Yazzie, Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, said she represents communities in the southwestern US, specifically the “occupied territories known as Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.” She called for looking not only at the current condition of lands, but also the historical context in which they became degraded, and explained that her communities face challenges related to the use of their territories to support urbanization in unsustainable places.
David O’Connor, IUCN, suggested the need not only to scale up local projects, but also to “scale out.” This would mean applying the same scientific knowledge, paired with each community’s know-how and local knowledge.
Ruth Richardson, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, highlighted TEEB for Agriculture and Food (TEEBAgriFood) as a useful framework for evaluating the impacts of food systems. She described it as “essentially an SDG framework” because it shows connections with climate and emissions, health, chemical exposure, water, gender, poverty, soil, forests and more. She added that the movement to transform food systems will require a “network of networks,” not a singular leader.
Liesl Truscott, Textile Exchange, said land restoration is not only about food but also the materials used to produce textiles. She explained that by growing cotton organically, producers can eliminate chemicals while also investing in soil fertility, biodiversity, science and farmer know-how. She said that traditionally, a fashion brand considers farmers very far away, but fostering a closer relationship is the only way for a big western business to change.
In discussion with the speakers and experts, participants raised questions about scaling up projects while retaining a community’s uniqueness, and noted the need to be context-specific. They also said investing in forestland could help stop desert encroachment.
Wrapping up, Muller said the discussion had illustrated how to translate global agreements into initiatives for policy and practice change at the local level. He stressed that the SDGs will be implemented “on the ground, not in Conference Room 4.”