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Social ecological systems approach to landscape planning: identify eco-services, action to enhance their functionality and meet the SDGs.



To help meet the ambitious climate change agreement from Paris Dec/2015 and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) agreed in Sep/2015, it is necessary to use social ecological systems approach to land use planning at landscape level, assessing ecosystem services, how they contribute to human wellbeing/ meeting the development goals and formulate actions to maintain/enhance their functionality, by following a step- wise approach by identifying

1) The services that are essential to maintain ecological integrity of the given landscape.

2) How do they contribute to the accomplishment of the sustainable development goals/human wellbeing?

3) Eco- services that are being impacted under current business as usual management.

4) Climate change scenarios projected and how are they likely to impact the ecosystem services provided by the given landscape.

5) Policy analysis to ensure policy relevance of action proposed. 

6) Actions required to restore/ ensure sustainability of those services taking account of current impacts and future climatic changes forecast.

7) How are proposed actions enhancing ecological equilibrium, sustainability of the services provided by the landscape and the accomplishment of the SDGs, including  climate change mitigation.

The particular features of each landscape are bound to be different from case to case. That is why this proposal, suggests a generic steps-wise approach that can  be followed and implemented in any given situation. 

The use of social ecological systems approach here proposed also meets the requirements of the IPBES conceptual framework. 

What actions do you propose?

The methodology here proposed is aimed at adopting a holistic approach to climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore with little policy changes it could be included as part of climate change adaptation and development policy actions undertaken at country level.

The application of this methodology to analyse future and current development, can facilitate the work of government decision makers and development planners’ decisions as to what natural resources is essential to preserve and or restore at country/ regional level. As well as the necessary actions to achieve nature restoration and ecological sustainability in compatibility with climate change policy objectives (adaptation and mitigation) and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) i.e. human wellbeing especially in terms of food security, water security and low carbon energy for all. 

The methodology should be endorsed by policy makers and or included as part of the policy suit of mitigation/adaptation actions and accomplishment of the development goals nationally and then be cascaded down to local/ regional levels as applicable according to the project scope defined. The methodology should be applied to any major development project; to areas of importance for nature conservation; and where human wellbeing requires specific attention to adapt to climate change and meet the development goals.

Rather than undertaking costly and time consuming environmental mapping of all natural resources for each project; it is recommended to inform step 1 and 3 of this methodology using studies already conducted and systems developed by other institutions such global databases developed by UN agencies and international NGOs and/or  national research institutes.

Step 3 can also be aided by revision of environmental impact assessments already conducted for development projects undertaken in the area in question.

An understanding of current land use will aid assessment of the development goals better met in the area and those that should be a priority for action. 

Who will take these actions?

The project(s) should be managed by qualified consultant(s) who should seek the involvement of national and local stakeholders such as:

Government authorities leading on Climate change and SDGs National implementation.

Relevant local stakeholders such as schools, community leaders, health sector, productive sectors with stake in the areas: Agriculture, fisheries, industry, tourism, mining, etc.

Decisions of actions for enhancement of natural functions of the ecosystem and improvement of social well-being shall be proposed by all stakeholders involved and voted on by  participants to ensure social inclusion and generalized representation. 

It should be noted that in the case of rivers, the agreed scope for such analysis is at River basin level. So in the cases of trans-boundary river management, the area may include several countries. The project team will conduct the evaluations but the personnel involved to implement the actions proposed shall include all government authorities from the affected countries.  

Where will these actions be taken?

The action should be initially taken at the level of the Ministries of Environment, Development and Climate Change of the countries to decide if they are to adopt a holistic methodology to Climate Change and the Development Goals.

Subject to this approval, the scope of the area for the project/evaluation should be determined. The criteria for selecting the area can be:

a) Areas where major development is being planned/ undertaken.

b) Areas of sufficient social concern to require dedicated attention to push the country’s accomplishment of the development goals.  

c) Area important for nature/biodiversity conservation such as protected areas and their vicinity where it is important to ensure ecological sustainability as well as human wellbeing of local communities. 

As noted above, trans-boundary rivers analysis will result in actions that will be relevant to the countries involved in sharing the resources. 

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

This proposal aims to fulfil the need for an approach to scaling up sustainable landscape management to ensure water, energy and food security at the same time of reducing significantly GHG emissions. As a general proposal that is applicable to any landscape it is impossible to make a specific projection as to how much GHG can be reduced compared to business as usual. 

Since the criteria for the selection of actions is the enhancement of functionalities of the environment to provide food, water and energy. Consequently some of the actions proposed will favour land use changes/planning that will capture GHG. However other actions, especially those geared up to enhance provisioning services, may imply greater GHG emissions. 

Therefore, the evaluation of the suitability of the actions proposed should take account of emission reduction targets in a way that ensure the net reduction and capture of GHG, in line with emission reduction targets proposed/projected by the country in question. 

What are other key benefits?

In addition to the environmental benefits, this evaluation will have great social benefits as it will give a voice to the affected stakeholders in the process of proposing actions and voting to set priorities for implementation. Furthermore, it will facilitate the process of government officials in implementing solutions to achieve the emission reduction targets and the accomplishment of the sustainable development goals at the same time.  

What are the proposal’s costs?

This is a project applicable to any part of the world. As such, the cost of the evaluation and selection of priority actions will vary depending on the specific context of the area evaluated. As it will incur in costs of engaging with stakeholders collecting and analyzing the data; which will vary depending of the case, size of the area, country etc.

The project will also incur in costs of  producing outputs such as: Evaluation of the main eco-services,  policy analysis relevant to the area analyzed and an action plan with set priorities; geared up to enhance food security and water provision using low carbon solutions. Which shall be implemented by local/national authorities. And subsequently results evaluated by the project staff. 

Time line

Up to 2020: Present proposal to national government policy makers; receive uptake of the approach and request/ suggestion for areas where the evaluation is to be conducted. From 2020- 2021- pilot the approach and train personnel to work as part of the consulting team. From 2022- on ongoing basis conduct landscape evaluations and produce outputs. Form 2023- on ongoing basis countries to implement solutions proposed. From 2025- on ongoing basis, project staff to evaluate results and implementation of the proposed actions, in order to provide data to be submitted on 2030 to evaluate the SDGs. In the short term: (up to 2030) the aim is to conduct the landscape evaluations and provide data of the results of the implementation so far to inform the evaluation of accomplishment of the SDGs in 2030. However, it is envisaged that the restoration of ecosystems should be an ongoing process well beyond 2030 as it should be the evaluation of the reduction of GHG emissions to ensure that we (as humanity) meet the GHG emission reduction targets to ensure we stay within 2 Celsius by the end of the century.  

Related proposals

The following proposals and other that did not fit due to word count




BSR, 2015. Making the visible invisible: Analytical Tools for Assessing Business Impacts and Dependencies Upon Ecosystem Services.

Dinar, S. 2008. International Water Treaties: Negotiation and Cooperation Along Transboundary Rivers. Routledge, Tailor and Francis. London.

Greig-Gran M. 2008.  Cost of Avoiding Deforestation. Update of the Report Prepared for the Stern Review. IIED. 2008

Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) *. Integrating Ecosystem Services into development planning.

Maize, G. et al, 2012. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services a Multilayer Relationship.

Peet, R. and M. Watts. 2004. Liberation Ecologies: Environment Development, Social Movements. Second edition. Routledge, Abington Oxon, UK. 2004.

Raudsepp-Hearne, C . D. Peterson  and E. M. Bennettc, 2010. Ecosystem Service Bundles for Analysing  Trade-offs in Diverse Landscapes.

Rodrigues, I. and Levin, S. 2012. Trading-off fish biodiversity, food security, and hydropower in the Mekong River Basin. PNAS. 109:15, 5609–5614.

 IPBES, 2015. Conceptual Framework: Connecting Nature and People.

 IPCC, 2000. Special Report: Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry. ISBN: 92-9169-114-3

IPCC, 2015. Afforestation Reforestation and Deforestation.

UN-RED * Programme policy brief

UN, 2015a. Millennium Development Goals and beyond 2015.

Walker, B. et al. 2006. Exploring Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems Through Comparative Studies and Theory Development: Introduction to the Special Issue. Ecology and society. 11:1.

 *: not known publication year