Will all the gold of Paris shine?

Climate Change, Methodology

The Paris climate talks concluded last week with an agreement being reached between developed and developing nations. In parallel to these historical negotiations in other meetings across the French capital, stakeholders gathered to discuss related topics. Daniel Morchain, Global Adviser on Climate Change Adaptation & Resilience, tells us his experience at one of these side events on global landscapes last week.

At a time of top level multi country negotiations and big promises by big people one can be blamed for wanting details about how these promises will be implemented and for wondering to what extent policies will support on the ground efforts. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to big, transboundary problems like climate change you need these big people to play ball and steer the boat, and there’s no denying that the recent Paris climate talks went a long way and boosted the UNFCCC process.

But I will write about a side event to the COP; not the climate change negotiations in Paris.

“This is all very well and good, but why isn’t there a smallholder farmer sitting here?”

One of the more interesting questions asked at the Global Landscapes Forum in the French capital on 5-6 December came from someone in the audience after a session which focussed heavily on the importance of having smallholder farmers and marginalised community members (‘the smallholder vulnerables’) be part of the decision making processes for managing natural resources and indeed for governing landscapes. The lady in the audience said, “This is all very well and good, but why isn’t there a smallholder farmer sitting
here, discussing with you and us?”

Some will find it easy to argue that there are spaces for top level negotiations and spaces for local level discussions and that both are happening in parallel in different rooms, and possibly continents. But doesn’t that contradict the principle of integration that the landscape approach promotes? Why, really, were there no ‘smallholder vulnerables’ in these discussions; or so few, at best?

I will venture it is because theory doesn’t yet fully align with practice. As the former Minister of Finance of Nigeria, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, attending the event complained, “Every forum you go to, people talk about innovative financing, but nobody’s doing it.” I felt a divide in perceptions between the global North and global South, and perhaps also a divide between governance levels in the global South.

Whilst in overcrowded rooms in Paris few of us moved beyond noble principles of cross-sector work, innovative financial instruments and interdisciplinary research, and the World Bank’s Senior Director for Environment & Natural Resources Global Practice, Paula Caballero, asked for a focus on implementation of integrated landscape management in 2016- the ‘smallholder vulnerables’ were absent. 

Yet without them at these top level meetings, multi-stakeholder and rights-based landscape approach discussions will have only so much to offer those actually doing the implementation.

Another speaker, Joan Kagwanja, UNECA’s Chief of Land Policy Initiative, brought an interesting factoid to the discussion: 80-90% of land in Africa is managed through customary systems and we actually don’t know too much about how it’s being done. Top level principles about landscape approaches are welcome, but maybe we need to give more space to talk about decentralisation, land rights, local partnerships and social capital rather than focus on topics that often don’t reach the ground, like innovative financial instruments, or on
top-down research agendas.  80-90% of land in Africa is managed through customary systems

On the second and last day of the forum, Maria Teresa Vargas, Executive Director of Fundación Natura Bolivia put it simply, “Long term sustainability is built through strong local institutions and community funded initiatives.” I’m sure a lot of us are doing this, yet I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not high level thinking and policy-making on integrated landscape management is recognising and prioritising this as much as it should.

Looking at a landscape from within that very landscape and through the voices of the people inhabiting it provides clarity and puts forward ideas that help advance development; there is widespread agreement on this. Now let’s also ensure that developmental strategies emerge by combining inputs from voices both at the top and at the bottom of the power balance.

In the climate change adaptation ASSAR project we are having our modest go at this . One thing that became clearer last month in Botswana is that representation is simple: the best way to represent mopane worm harvesters’ interests is to bring a mopane worm harvester to the discussion and make her a key decision-maker.

Read more

Read more about the ASSAR project 

Read about the VRA workshop held in Botswana last month

Read more on COP21 from our blogs 

Photo: The Global Landscapes Forum held in Paris on December 5-6, 2015. 

Author: Daniel Morchain
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.