2015 Global Landscapes Forum: Eduardo S. Brondizio – Keynote

Professor of Anthropology from Indiana University Bloomington, Eduardo S. Brondizio, speaks at the high-level plenary session from the second day of the Global Landscapes Forum 2015, in Paris, France alongside COP21.

The session builds a bridge between the research and policy communities, focusing on the role landscapes play in achieving SDGs and new climate goals. The session explores how useful the landscape approach is for achieving the new climate and development goals, provides concrete suggestions for policy and practice, asks how climate action in landscapes work, how we analyze changes over time, and how policymakers and their institutions acquire “environmental intelligence”.

Eduardo S. Brondizio speaks about landscape governance and the institutions necessary to deal with land use challenges and solutions at multiple scales.

Sunday, 6 December 2015
Global Landscapes Forum, Paris, France
#GLFCOP21 #ThinkLandscape


Thank you to the organizers. Thank you to our French colleagues who are hosting us so well.

You should be really proud of this meeting. I think it’s an enormous success and an incredible feat. And I’m humbled to be here, to be honest, to speak in front of you. And to follow such a high bar that has been set at most of this conference. So I’ll try to do my best.

I’ve been kind of going over several panels and discussing. And we have a feeling at this day of the meeting that almost everything has been said. What I want to do is reflect a little bit on the advances we have done, how far we have come in addressing many of these issues.

I put that in the context of the global situation that we are in nowadays. And, in doing so, what I try to do is to look ahead. And try to bring forward those wicked problems that we have to face during the next 20 years. To sustain the advances that we have done and to face new advances we have not addressed. And I will try to do both – to call attention to some of those advances, and to bring those [advances] that have been in the shadows to the spotlight; that have not, I think, received the attention they deserve for the role they have in shaping our landscapes.

This is an image of the world that we live in. It’s a moving target. We live in a time of accelerated change, and we live in a time of high connectivity. What are the implications of that? On the one hand, you have improving conditions on – if I had time to explain those graphs on the left – and you have pressures mounting on the other side.

As an academic, when you try to understand these changes (and in the region where I work, the Amazon) you are always reflecting that what we understand is overwhelmed by the changes that take place. So the analytic tools that we have, the solutions that we have, are suddenly overwhelmed by the changes that happen around them. And we’re very badly equipped as scholars and practitioners to cope with complexity and accelerated change.

And I want to get to the ground, to the Amazon, to reflect on issues that I think speak to many other regions. I think the Amazon is not only a keystone region for the global environment. But it is an emblematic region of the development problems that we have in many places. And the lessons that we get from regions like that will help us reflect on problems that we have elsewhere. So I want to look at the shadows of the spotlight here, and look at some of the underlying social processes that are there:

The governance issues that are related to our property rights – how have our property rights evolved to deal with complex and connected landscapes, or not? The nature of collective action – how have ourselves as communities been able to cope and to move beyond our territorial thinking and our local thinking into coping with connections and issues that affect us from the distance?

And finally, what I think is the elephant in the room and the least addressed issue in a context like this, which is the urban issue: both from the perspective of vulnerability to climate change and on the perspective of how it shapes the landscapes in the regions where we work. I don’t think we have given enough attention to the connections and importance of the urban areas for that.

Here’s an example of areas where we have advanced in many ways. The past 20 years in the Amazon are emblematic of that. We have been able to cope with the expansion of agricultural frontiers by creating a variety of institutional arrangements that protect the rights of local populations and serve as a buffer to deforestation. It’s an enormous advance. In a region like the Amazon, in a few years, 40 percent of the region has been set aside or is in some form of arrangement that addresses those issues.

That approach has a limitation and we see that limitation now very clearly. I’m calling it islands of landscape governance. While indigenous peoples and local communities have been successfully addressing the boundaries of their reserves to buffer the pressure from the outside when possible, those governance arrangements that function well at one level are not enough to deal with problems that come from the outside.

Pollutions come through watersheds, smoke comes through the air, and pressures come through the borders. We need to think about moving to multi-level governance that puts those areas in the context of changing landscapes. So not to lose the advances we have made in the previous years, we need to move a step ahead to address the pressures that we now face in this context.

You can look at another region in Brazil where we have a co-evolution of many kinds of property regimes. Next to each other and overlapping with each other. Those property regimes have evolved to function well with particular types of resources, but they do not address flows. They do not address other kinds of commons that are related to ecosystem services. So you see the pressures from the outside. And those pressures reflect not only economic pressures, but they reflect the way people get attached and are attached to landscapes.

For indigenous peoples who have a landscape within, that is part of their identity – that is part of their way of life. For feople who want to get the primary productivity out of the landscape are both. And for the humongous pressures of mining that has a landscape below. Those property regimes are now challenged to find cross-border governance, to find ways and commitments in which we have a common contract to deal with the problems that transcend the boundaries that we are able to govern so well.

People are reacting in first-person enforcement, as the news from the Washington Post shows recently, which is not a new issue in the Amazon but is becoming a more pressing issue of the Amazon – of protecting your borders with guns. And you have other examples where people have been proactive in trying to reach out and find other forms of collective action and social capital that address those connectivities that we now face.

But you have on the other side an elephant in the room. The Amazon is an urban region. Urban networks and urban growth are shaping the landscape today, are shaping the flow of people, and will shape the landscape in the next 20 years. It’s the flow and connections – physical, social, economic and cultural – that will define the Amazon and many other parts of the world in years to come.

The face of urban conditions in the Amazon is the face of climate change vulnerability that we have not addressed enough. In this region, which is the Amazon estuary, the vast majority of the population is there. And that accounts for about 1.5 to 2 million people, living in conditions of vulnerability to floods, vulnerability to violence, lack of sewage, lack of good water. That impacts not only them but impacts upstream and downstream.

And that’s the situation that we need to face. We cannot treat landscapes as isolated from urban reality in which people move between those landscapes. And where, really, the mass of the vulnerability to climate change is concentrated.

That creates different dimensions for collective action. Here you have a situation where you have the fisherman on the right who, until not long ago, had a collective action problem to do with other fishermen. It was a problem of dealing with the technology of fishing – a problem of dealing with how much we should catch. That same fisherman is now subsumed under a condition of pollution and a condition of urban sprawl. A condition that is much beyond the collective action mechanisms the form of agreements we have are aligned to do.

So the same social norms, the same rules that we develop at a local scale between people that are more or less similar, with similar goals, are not enough to capture the problems that come from the outside.

They are basically subsumed under conditions they have no power to change. The people who use the water and depend deeply on the water, and used to know where to go for a bath, used to know which tides would clean the surroundings so you could use the water, are now confronted with urban pollution both solid and organic and confronted with industrial spills like the one on the bottom – which have become a common occurrence in this part of the Amazon.

They are part of a landscape. It’s a landscape largely defined by urban areas. But although there’s all the accelerated changes, most of the social institutions, most of the forms of collective action, are still organized at a small territorial level. It’s a different challenge cognitive and of social interactions.

To conclude in just a few minutes, we should make no mistake. Landscapes in the next 20 years will be shaped by the co-evolution of urban areas, agrarian systems, and all these kinds of reserves. And we need to develop different kinds of thinking. We need to develop complex system perspectives to cope with a world in accelerated change. And understand the implications of the solutions that we put, that sometimes create structures that are not adaptable to new realities.

So just some final remarks – and maybe we’ll pick up some of those issues as we sit for discussion – we have made advances in governance systems to protect many of our territories. We need to think in a landscape way about bridging institutions. To put emphasis on ways of bridging, not of separating, landscapes.

I think the question of funding of climate change, that comes up so often here, to me it’s less a question of where it’s coming from but more a question of where is it going? What are the priorities that will allow us to apply those funds in a way that make an impact, that make a difference, and that make an incremental improvement over time?

In a region like the Amazon you hear all the time: oh, we had that before. You know? We had that incredible plan before and it was abandoned. It’s incremental changes that will make a difference in the lives of people. And how we apply those funds and where we apply those funds will help us to set a process of continuous adaptation to change, instead of a static perspective that we think is going to solve our problems.

And we have an enormous role in that, as academics, as practitioners, to rethink the limits of our conceptual approaches, rethink the limits of our analytics frameworks – to actually cope with the complexity of problems that our concepts and our disciplines are handicapped to do.

With that, I’ll leave it to Robin to continue this conversation. Thank you very much.