Guest Article #2

Breaking the Isolation: How a Landscape Approach Can Help Boost Investments for the UNCCD

As we edge ever closer to a post-2015 development era, the time is ripe to step up integrated, landscape-based solutions to tackle the triple challenge of climate change, biodiversity conservation and land degradation.

There is a growing consensus amongst countries that land degradation can no longer be tackled in isolation. After all, it is intrinsically linked to the other issues that originally brought leaders to Rio in 1992, including how to foster economic development without ruining the planet for future generations.

Twenty years on at Rio+20, countries reaffirmed the undoubted economic and social value of good land management in meeting global targets on green growth and poverty alleviation. And only last week, as the 11th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP 11) held in Namibia drew to a close, countries made it clear that they are determined to accelerate efforts to ensure that productive, healthy lands are recognized for the global benefits they produce, including building resilience to climate change and boosting food and water security.

But turning political good will into action on the ground will require that governments ensure that the right balance is struck in the management of our precious natural resources. Land, water, energy, climate, biodiversity and food production are all interconnected issues, which demand integrated policy-making.

Yet, in many cases decisions and policies are still set by different governmental departments and agencies with little regard for the impacts on other sectors. We must break this isolation and instead look at land degradation within the context of entire landscapes, both physical and institutional, taking into account the interactions between our natural capital and the ecosystem services they produce. Only then will we maximize productivity, improve livelihoods, and reduce negative environmental impacts.

This must be matched by increasingly diversified, mosaic approaches to accessing the requisite financing to transform degraded landscapes. With Official Development Assistance leveling out, countries must increasingly look to other sources of finance including private capital, to help manage their natural resources.

The private sector is well positioned to help fill this gap, and private flows are expected to continue to grow as investors explore new investment frontiers. The good news is that countries appear increasingly ready to adopt broad approaches to identifying and accessing financing opportunities, as can be seen from the decision at COP 11 on financial flows, which aims to package finance from public, private and innovative sources into integrated investment frameworks.

At the national level, cross-sector collaboration between different ministries and other actors is crucial to better understand options, competing demands, and interconnections that affect the use and management of natural resources. Stepping up interaction and forging dialogue between different sectors and policy processes are crucial actions to capture the true cross-sectoral value of land and maximize opportunities to boost financial resource allocations.

However, the call for increased investments in sustainable land management (SLM) will continue to fall on deaf ears, unless countries can provide compelling evidence for the economic savings and benefits generated. If one is trying to lobby for greater budgetary allocations from the Ministry of Finance, the first question will always be "what are the financial returns?"

We must build clear economic evidence of the positive impacts of better land management, including improved agricultural productivity, environmental sustainability and social equity. Until recently, the value of land was exclusively determined by its agricultural and economic productivity. However, a growing body of scientific evidence proves that considering the values of services such as carbon sequestration, air and water purification, nutrient cycling and pollination can lead to better land-use decisions. Understanding the full value of ecosystems and their services is essential in determining preventive solutions and in identifying rehabilitation and restoration opportunities, as well as generating socio-economic benefits and long-term environmental sustainability.

It is therefore hugely encouraging that countries, such as Zambia, Tanzania, Cambodia, Panama and Viet Nam, are beginning to calculate the total economic costs and benefits through economic valuations of land. This will no doubt help demonstrate the socio-economic viability of SLM investments and provide environmentally sustainable land-use options to public and private investors. It will also help to establish effective incentive and market-based mechanisms to attract more funding from public budgets as well as from businesses, financial intermediaries and capital investors.

There is a mounting sense that the potential to generate long-term global benefits through the safeguarding of healthy and productive lands is finally within our grasp. Now is the time to ensure that SLM assumes its rightful position at the center-stage of this century's key development challenges and turns this potential into a reality. Finance and investments, from all sources, will play an important role in rising to this challenge and is already high on the post-2015 development agenda, with countries exploring new and innovative ways to attract investments in a more sustainable future.