Landscape governance and planning

Inclusive and participatory spatial planning and land governance are becoming more and more important, as cumulative pressures from urban expansion, food, feed and biofuel production lead to increasing competition for natural resources. To halt the resulting global loss of biodiversity, and put nature and ecosystem services back on a path towards recovery, there is a clear need for transformative change to move away from business-as-usual pathways. Landscape approaches can facilitate the process towards more nature-positive societies and recommend cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder and policy integration at the ‘appropriate’ scale.

This webpage provides an overview of various knowledge resources that can be used to inspire the further global operationalisation of landscape approaches and the development of policies that support this. These knowledge resources result from activities developed by PBL in collaboration with various partners since 2015, mostly as part of the work programme for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A landscape approach to governance and planning

Current sustainability challenges, often referred to as wicked problems, require context-sensitive and iterative spatial planning and landscape governance, where multiple objectives are pursued and balanced, and all actors in society are involved and able to participate. This implies aligning interests, synchronising actions, improving policy coherence and advancing institutional development in order to support the sustainable use of natural resources, fair and equitable access and benefit-sharing, and conserving and restoring biodiversity. As a socio-ecological system that is organised around distinct ecological, historical, economic and socio-cultural values and characteristics, the landscape is the spatial context within which managed and natural ecosystems interact, the interests of many different stakeholders converge and co-benefits between SDGs, climate, restoration and biodiversity ambitions can be created in an effective and equitable way.

The iterative process of integrated landscape management

Integrated Landscape Management (ILM) can be seen as an umbrella term that captures various methods of integrated landscape management, involving local, regional and sometimes even international stakeholders, such as farmers, businesses, NGOs, indigenous people, local communities, and various government organisations.

Infographic Iterative process of integrated landscape management
Iterative process of integrated landscape management

An effective ILM process is one that is aimed to create an improved understanding amongst stakeholders of the values, conditions and dynamics within a landscape. Together, the stakeholders discuss and agree on a shared vision to, simultaneously, achieve multiple goals with respect to food, water, climate and biodiversity. By developing planning strategies and scenarios, an ILM process can inspire long-term thinking and mainstreaming of biodiversity and ecosystem services in decision-making. This enables transitioning to more nature-positive and community-driven development pathways in landscapes that mitigate environmental trade-offs from productive sectors and development investments, and increase the momentum for developing alternative, more sustainable and just, business models.

As illustrated in the figure above, the iterative ILM process consists of several sequential phases that build on the landscape-related collaborations, coalitions and stakeholders partnerships. The following sections briefly describe each phase and provide links to relevant resources, networks and initiatives related to PBL and partner activities.

Header Landscape partnerships

Over the past decades, individual citizens, businesses, governmental and non-governmental organisations and other interest groups around the world have become more involved in landscape governance, starting their own initiatives aimed at developing effective strategies that combine sustainable development and inclusive conservation. These initiatives are reflected in numerous projects, networks, multistakeholder platforms and coalitions, taking on active and often voluntary roles in environmental stewardship.

Overall, such initiatives are referred to as ‘landscape governance arrangements’ — i.e. practical examples of landscape approaches — and seen as place-based multistakeholder initiatives of dialogue and decision-making on sustainable land use. Landscape governance arrangements address sectoral thinking and seek to advance landscape performance by reconciling multiple objectives (e.g. livelihoods, agricultural production and conservation) and build on collaboration between various sectors and actor groups, at multiple levels. These initiatives also often involve indigenous people and local communities.

Landscape partnerships can play a crucial role in facilitating a whole-of-society approach in realising more integrated and inclusive management of natural resources. The desire for such an approach is resonating in several global policy agendas including the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the post-2020 CBD Global Biodiversity Framework, and the ambitions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Header: Shared understanding

The first phase in building an effective ILM process may consist of improving awareness and shared understanding amongst stakeholders of the state of the landscape. This includes discussing different values (e.g. cultural, ecological, economic), historical changes and various interactions that characterise the socio-ecological spatial context that stakeholders consider to represent the landscape. This essential step is focused on increasing trust, involving all stakeholders, in preparation of fruitful, long-term collaboration. Identifying shared interests, in the sense of perceived risks or benefits, is essential for triggering collaboration. Common triggers include solving conflicts related to the use of or access to natural resources, threats to human health, environmental degradation or catastrophes, or operational risks for and impacts from agricultural supply chains. Increasing shared understanding also involves building stakeholder capacities to improve landscape-level governance and thinking, and understanding how national objectives align with local actions and interest, and vice versa. Stakeholder workshops, combined with the analysis of policy documents and key data sets (e.g. statistics and spatial data on changes in population, land use and ecosystems) are useful resources in this phase. Increasingly location information is also available for activities reported to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), so stakeholders can create a more complete overview of who is working on which development projects in their landscape and where possible synergies from collaboration might exist.

Header Vision and planning

The second phase in the ILM process aims to develop a long-term shared vision and strategy covering the various stakeholder ambitions. By evaluating various scenarios with specific interventions, spatially targeted action and investment plans can be developed. This contributes to an inspiring landscape narrative. A key element in this phase is the notion that many activities and their impacts on the landscape interact, spatially and temporally; for example, relating to changes in the use and quality of ecosystem services. Spatial modelling tools can help to increase awareness amongst stakeholders about future landscape dynamics on SDGs relating to socio-economic development, food, biodiversity, water quantity and quality, and mitigation of climate change. This includes any impacts from population growth, increased urbanisation, expansion of agricultural production, infrastructural and mining developments, and various conservation strategies. As such, spatial modelling in combination with co-designed scenarios can support discussions on stakeholder ambitions and analyse how these could all best be realised in the landscape, simultaneously, where trade-offs might occur and where synergies could be developed.

Header Taking action

The third phase in the ILM process focuses on implementation of the plans in order the realise the shared vision. This includes coordination of actions by the landscape partnership, the development and financing of an integrated landscape investment portfolio, setting up a monitoring scheme for tracking the  implementation of the action plan, and communicating on the initiative to partners, policymakers and the public at large. The many emerging landscape initiatives and arrangements provide tangible examples of how multiple landscape values can be combined, by creating more spatial and sectoral synergies and by guiding the process of adequately dealing with delicate trade-offs.

Many landscape initiatives are connected to large international networks and platforms facilitating a better connection between global commitment and local action, and the sharing of knowledge and experiences. Examples of these international networks include:

These networks all share similar ambitions and are complementary, in the sense that they have different origins, institutional structure and a thematic focus. From a governance perspective, such networks can facilitate a just, inclusive and nature-positive translation of global ambitions and national commitments to landscape level implementation. This is important when it comes to realising country-level commitments on restoration and conservation, and improving decision-making in development and spatial planning.

Header Learning and impact

A fourth and increasingly important phase of an iterative ILM process focuses on learning from past and ongoing activities to improve a shared understanding and adjust strategies and action plans. Learning can be organised in various ways. It can take place within a landscape partnership, between various actors in a supply chain, within international programmes covering multiple landscapes or between policymakers involved in designing new landscape programmes. Since 2015, various organisations that apply landscape approaches in their international development and conservation programmes have been sharing their experiences on the Dutch NLandscape platform. PBL has been a part of this, and has also published a report on important lessons learned from spatial and landscape planning in the Netherlands, including non-state actor involvement in governing the Green Heart landscape.

The overall ambition of learning is to increase the impact of programmes, initiatives and networks, in their aim to successfully address complex societal and environmental challenges. This means moving beyond simply producing project output and outcome, and requires designing indicator frameworks that can be used to monitor landscape-level transformative change towards just, inclusive, productive and nature-positive landscapes, and that align with the SDGs and other global frameworks. Such frameworks could enable landscape initiatives and networks to be recognised for their contributions and also support them to make commitments and monitor them.