Navigating a Climate-Smart Landscape

by Rachel Friedman, Ecoagriculture Partners

As the year comes toward a close – after record high temperatures, drought, and storms – it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore agriculture’s importance both in mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts. And at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, this year may be the one for agricultural landscapes.

Land-based mitigation and adaptation efforts have drawn growing attention for the past few years, and the annual Forest Day and Agriculture Day events have served the function of uniting those working on these land-based climate change efforts. But at the last ARDD at Rio+20 in June, the oft-quoted World Bank Vice-President of Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte emphasized that she did not want to attend another such day, but rather argued for a transition to ‘Landscape Days’. With landscape approaches as this year’s organizing principle, we appear to be headed in that direction.

This begs the question of what we mean by ‘landscape’, and more precisely, what makes it ‘climate-smart’? When we say ‘climate-smart’ we refer to practices that support both climate change adaptation (supporting food security through enhanced productivity and resilience to changing conditions) as well as carbon sequestration.

Three key features characterize a climate-smart landscape. At the farm field and level, climate-smart practices include mixed crop-tree systems and integrated soil and nutrient management. Across a landscape, a diversity of land uses, from various cropping systems to wildlife habitat, increases resilience to shocks. And managing the interactions of those land uses at a landscape scale helps achieve synergies between social, economic, and ecological impacts.

Yet to successfully achieve this ‘climate-smart’ landscape, we also have to account for the institutional landscape. Multi-stakeholder planning, supportive governance and resource tenure, integrated finance mechanisms, and measuring impact across spatial scales, will also be necessary to bring climate-smart landscapes from concept to reality.

Rachel Friedman is a Program Associate with Ecoagriculture Partners. Visit the Landscapes Blog for more information on climate-smart landscapes and agriculture at COP18