Drynet Side Event at COP 14: From Global Frameworks to Local Actions


  • Graciela Metternicht (UNSW/ GEF STAP): Transformational change beyond projects: changing behaviours and narratives for policy in order to achieve change at a deep scale
  • Marioldy Sanchez Santivañez (AIDER/ Drynet/ SPI): Bringing home the implications of recent scientific reports to land users and land-use decision makers to stimulate transformative action
  • Mariam Akhtar-Schuster (DLR-PT/ Desertnet/ SPI): From global frameworks to local actions – How to achieve a positive spin-off to inspire action
  • María Angélica Fernández Garcia (IHMEA/ SPI): Creating synergies for action between biodiversity and land degradation
  • Johnathan Davies (IUCN/ SPI)

Facilitator: Noel Oettlé (EMG/ Drynet)

The context of the Side Event was a discussion about how recent scientific reports by the SPI, IPBES and IPCCC on the intersections between people, land, ecosystems and climate can inform and galvanise the sorts of action that is needed in response.

Mariam Akhtar-Schuster presented her reflection on ‘From global frameworks to local actions – How to achieve a positive spin-off to inspire action’. She reminded all that we know we are in a serious situation, and are feeling the effects of human induced climate change and biodiversity loss, with major “boomerang” impacts, and stated that “we scientists are determined to be part of the solution.” In future, global assessments should focus on how to identify barriers to action and provide scientific evidence for action in an inter-governmental level. Impact at the local level and success stories should be included, along with guidance for policy makers. The SPI report on Land Degradation Neutrality focused on showing the elements to create an enabling environment. These proposals have been considered by the CST and turned into draft decisions that will hopefully be adopted tomorrow. All of these intergovernmental consensus finding processes should lead to “smoother language”, which is important despite the inherent compromise involved in finding consensus. There is no other process available for agreement on at least a minimum of agreed action.

The work of grounding the decisions is also important. The development of a willing coalition of stakeholders based on the global assessments is vital. For example, the agreement on pollinators a few years ago laid the ground work for a CBD agreement on pollinators. This coalition is growing, and now has more than 30 countries. The international coalitions to fast track action require national mainstreaming of scientific evidence. For Germany it was spectacular that 2 ministries (Agriculture and Environment) joined this coalition.

We can provide the evidence for mainstreaming, for example for synergic goals for sectors and SDGs. None of us may care about insects, but these are crucial for our food supply.

Mainstreaming of LDN across government sectors supports and reduces trade-offs when countries develop their sustainable development plans. For example, food security funds can support LDN.

Access to reports, including the summaries for policy makers are only available in stilted language and in the official UN languages. This makes it difficult to break them down into language that makes them actionable at the local level. Nevertheless, they do provide agreed upon intergovernmental agreements.

In Germany, the IFTAS report on pollinators was used as a tool for action by following these steps:

  1. Translation into German
  2. Assessment against national policy and legislation
  3. On-going initiatives were assessed (including those undertaken by CSOs) to find viable pathways.
  4. The German translation was made available to the public at an Open House Day of the German Government, and at other occasions, and provided to all stakeholders and experts.
  5. Inspired mass national funding programmes to address loss of insects were launched
  6. Stakeholders were made aware of implications of insect loss (a good example of this it that in Bavaria a “safe for bees” law is being passed)
  7. Finally, the German national IFAS coordination office has been approached to provide a list of pollinator-friendly plants.

In conclusion:

  1. Positive changes are not always spectacular, but they are highly significant. We should share these stories, because they inspire.
  2. A minimal institution structure to support the policy level to absorb international processes and decision is important.

María Angélica Fernández Garcia (IHMEA/ SPI) spoke on the topic of ‘Creating synergies for action between biodiversity and land degradation’:

“We know that there are many environmental challenges, influenced by political issues, such as the Amazon question in Brazil. All countries have similar problems and need to address these in common by making the clear links between biodiversity, climate change and land degradation, and relating these to ecosystem services. Different ministries and disciplines need to work together and create synergies, despite their diverse functions. For example, we need to look at the impacts on drivers of land degradation, such as land tenure and land use. Issues of consumptive flows also need to come into the conversation, and this came into the CST discussions and decisions in the past week.

In Colombia, “Banking CO2” is a programme that is working in the space of environmental services, specifically eco-system services. This is difficult, because land users need to have livelihoods. If companies want to buy land, we encourage the people to stay and pay them to conserve the land.  More and more companies are joining this network. It is providing incomes, conserving ecosystems in the humid highlands and elsewhere. Many crops degrade the land, and the government is encouraging people to produce alternative crops that do not degrade.

Graciela Metternicht then spoke on the topic of ‘Transformational change beyond projects: changing behaviours and narratives for policy in order to achieve change at a deep scale’.

She began by asking “What makes a project sustainable? What will be left 10 years after? Will some of the elements of the project have been taken up?”, and explained that for her this is an important outcome. She posed the question: “What is the new approach that we need for design and implementation in terms of this convention and the science? How do we change the narrative?”

Gabriela explained that when she worked with UNEP on the previous Global Environment Report the authors recognised that transformational change needs to address the drivers of degradation, not only the symptoms. However, they recognised that this is not easy, and requires a systems thinking approach. She posed the questions: “What is the political situation? What is the socio-economic situation? What uncertainties are we facing?”, and asked that we keep in mind that the policy makers are human beings. For transformational change we need evidence, but we also need stories. We also need to ensure that the cultural norms and values are aligned with the transformative change that we want to achieve.

Replication is usually thought of as scaling up and out, but if we want deeper change we need cultural change, and to address the “deep scaling” issue. Deep scaling implies changing the policy environment. For this, we need to change the narrative!

The recent Dryland Rangeland Conference addressed the need a more positive narrative to support change. Enabling resilience needs to support people in adapting that adopting new technologies. We need extension services for this!

When each part of the landscape has a function, it is stable. So too with people!!

Questions and comments:

Mariam Akhtar-Schuster commented that some people are driven to depression and suicide by the emerging realities. This is how some reports are regarded. However, the last chapter of each report provides the response options, and if we do not do this we are not fulfilling our duties as scientists. They should be down to earth and realistic.

Marioldy Sanchez Santivañez spoke to the topic of ‘Bringing home the implications of recent scientific reports to land users and land-use decision makers to stimulate transformative action’, noting that in Latin America, we have realised that we need to bring reports close to the people, because all too often these reports are only seen and reviewed in ministries, and do not reach the people. There is often avoidance of the important and critical discussion of the implication of these reports, and to addressing the drivers of change. The ball is tossed between agencies to find an agency that will take responsibility and provide coherence. We should look at ensuring that these are clarified. This lack of clarity has delayed action, so we need to translate into common language including clarification of concepts, definitions and approaches that are being used on different ways in the global reports (such as land degradation) and that are creating confusion in decision-makers and practitioners. We need to gather together all of the relevant agencies, engage the ministers and ensure that they work together.

We must also translate this into land use planning, and find ways to engage the private sector. How we communicate messages and results must be appropriately simplified.

Jonathan Davies reflected that he had been sent an article about how LDN poses a threat to peasant farmers. At first he was upset, but subsequently realised that the important question was “when the rubber hits the road, how will it really impact of farmers”? Some departments of governments might indeed take actions that have a negative impact on farmers. He argued that in all instances, cross sectoral, across governments and financing institutions, we must push for all institutions to apply the guidelines with integrity.

If transformation is to succeed, it needs leadership in government to drive it. The LDN indicators need to be adopted at all levels of govt.

He asked “what can we, as civil society, do?”, and suggested that we should actively be seeking to change attitudes, create demand, support mass mobilisation and generally ensure that these demands are heard.

At a personal level, we all must assess our own consumption and not be hypocritical. In closing Jonathan argued that the IUCN Congress next year is an important platform to engage, and noted that synergy is not easy, but under this Convention everything that you do to achieve it is positive!!

Jonathan reflected on the fact that UNCCD is actually the MEA that has made synergy between the other two Rio Conventions and other environmental commitments possible.

Final comments:

Professor Markku Kanninen, Finland noted that different actors need to play their role, for example civil society introducing and translating reports into action, etc. He reported that “in Finland we have a Climate Panel (a mini IPCC) that advises government and engages actors at all levels.”

Nahid Naghizadeh posed a question to Jonathan Davies: “how can we prevent conversion of land to other land uses?”

In response, Jonathan Davies stated that “sometimes we are not smart enough at communication of what we have achieved.” He argued that we need to make more powerful arguments, and focus on avoidance first, even though donors prefer to fix problems, rather than sustaining viable systems.

Patrice Burger noted that the complex issues are all coming together, including the Report of the High-Level Expert Panel on Food Security. “We have the knowledge that we need, but the reports tend to be fact-heavy, but too timid and shy to make strong statements.” He argued that there are 3 big trends:

  1. People who want to drive change and have the energy to do so
  2. Some people are clutching to very conservative values
  3. Some/ most people are hostage to the models, and are clinging to their incomes, even though they are disillusioned: these people are open to all the adventures, to the innovation that we must present to them.

In a concluding comment, Noel Oettlé emphasised the importance of “deep scaling” of the emerging scientific knowledge and its implications for policy, legislation and practice.