Global Conference Highlights Land Conservation Solutions in the Face of Urgent Challenges
In the wake of major global agreements to protect biodiversity and address climate change, hundreds of leaders and practitioners gathered virtually for one of the world’s most significant international conferences on private and civic land conservation.
At the 3rd Global Congress of the International Land Conservation Network and Eurosite–European Land Conservation Network, leaders in the field discussed how to increase the scale of conservation work to meet ambitious global targets, such as protecting 30 percent of the earth’s land and water by 2030. The conference attracted more than 900 registrants from some 89 countries on six continents.
“Let’s step up to the responsibilities that we have to pass on, to our children’s children’s children and beyond, the beauty and the value of the earth,” International Land Conservation Network Director Jim Levitt said at the closing of the conference.
“The global private and civic land conservation community is diverse and multifaceted,” said Tilmann Disselhoff, president of Eurosite–European Land Conservation Network. “We can learn a lot from our colleagues around the world, but we don’t have to copy everything from one another. When we come across an interesting solution or a new idea from another part of the world, let’s adopt it, if it’s good. But let’s also adapt it to our needs.”
The conference focused on five themes: conservation finance, organization and governance, law and policy, land stewardship, and large landscape conservation. What follows are a few highlights (recordings of all sessions will be available online at no cost in the first quarter of 2022).
The scale and complexity of private and civic land conservation projects often requires a mix of financing, from both traditional investors and from those focused on social and environmental impacts. Complex projects need an effective intermediary who can balance the needs of multiple investors and incorporate the perspectives of other stakeholders, experts said in a session titled, “Blended Finance and the Role of Intermediaries.”
Intermediaries play several key roles. They articulate a project’s goals, establish key metrics for success, provide technical support, and communicate between different parties. While individual investors might care mostly about a single outcome such as sequestering carbon, intermediaries can provide a more complete picture of a project’s benefits.
“I’ve never seen a biodiversity or nature project that wasn’t also, on some level, a social project,” said Stephen Hart, a senior loan officer for the European Investment Bank.
Organization and Governance
“There’s no future in conservation unless we’re building meaningful relationships with the original holders of these lands.” That assertion by Nathan Cardinal of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) was part of a wide-ranging and sometimes deeply personal conversation, “Private Land Conservation and Indigenous Rights: Developing an Ethical Framework and Good Practices.”
Acknowledging that the contemporary conservation movement has benefited from generations of stewardship and land management by Indigenous communities, experts emphasized the urgency of supporting Indigenous rights—a theme that wove through other sessions as well—by taking actions including returning lands to their original owners, ensuring that Indigenous voices are at the table, and providing long-term funding opportunities. “Aboriginal people have managed this land for thousands and thousands of years,” said Cissy Gore-Birch, a Jaru/Kija woman with connection to Balanggarra, Nyikina, and Bunuba country who works as the National Aboriginal Engagement Manager for Bush Heritage Australia. “We are the protectors of the land, and the land speaks to us.”
Law and Policy
As global leaders set ambitious conservation goals, questions about how to reach that target are naturally arising. One answer might well be found in Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures, known as OECMs. The concept behind this emerging approach is to complement and connect traditional protected areas by identifying areas where conservation already occurs, though the land is primarily managed for other purposes.
Examples include school campuses, military grounds, cultural sites, and ranchlands. In “The Role of OECMs in an Integrated Conservation Landscape,” panelists agreed that OECMs hold great promise, but that their effective implementation will require more resources, conversation, and collaboration. “As a community of practice, sharing our experiences is going to be important,” said Lisa McLaughlin, vice president of conservation policy from Nature Conservancy of Canada. “. . . We need to keep that going with respect to sharing and learning—the good things, but also talking honestly about the mistakes and the barriers as well, so that we can all accelerate together and not have to learn in parallel.”
Land Stewardship and Management
Clare Cannon’s family manages a 6,500-acre sheep and cattle farm at Woomargama Station in New South Wales, Australia. They use two-thirds of that land to raise their livestock, but a few years ago the family set aside the rest—a mix of native grasslands and woodlands—to be managed by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust. In addition to protecting the land, that decision now seems likely to generate new income in the form of biodiversity payments authorized under Australia’s newly adopted National Stewardship Trading Platform.
Grasslands—known as prairies in North America, pampas in South America, and savannas in Africa—are increasingly being eyed as a climate solution for their ability to sequester carbon. By engaging in sustainable, lower-impact practices, farmers and ranchers from Australia to Colombia, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom can help maintain the integrity of grasslands; reduce the climate impacts of livestock by avoiding or minimizing activities required for conventional agriculture such as deforestation and the cultivation of resource-intensive fodder; and still succeed economically, explained panelists in “Stewarding Grasslands: Good for Grasslands, Good for Climate, Good for Farmers.”
Landscape-Scale Conservation and Restoration
As climate change disrupts natural systems around the world, land conservationists can use technology to target their work to help species adapt to changing conditions and maximize the reduction of greenhouse gases. In “Sustaining Nature Under Climate: New Science to Inform Conservation,” Mark Anderson, Director of Conservation Science for the Eastern U.S. for the Nature Conservancy, demonstrated his organization’s Resilient Land Mapping Tool, which uses geospatial data to identify the areas where conservation resources can achieve the greatest impact.
The tool, which covers the United States but carries the potential for expansion worldwide, analyzes biological, geophysical, and climate-related conditions—everything from sun exposure to soil characteristics—to determine which habitats will enable species to thrive in a warming world, which places currently contain the greatest stocks of stored carbon, and which have the greatest potential for future carbon sequestration.
The Nature Conservancy used the tool to identify what it calls a Resilient and Connected Network, comprising a third of the continental United States, to prioritize for conservation. The network currently stores 29 billion tons of carbon and sequesters an additional 236 million tons of carbon a year.
“That’s the equivalent of taking 188 million cars off the road every year. Why would we want to lose any of this network?” said Anderson, who is also the Lincoln Institute’s 2021–22 Kingsbury Browne Fellow.
Established in 2014, the Lincoln Institute’s International Land Conservation Network helps build capacity for private land conservation through research, training, and exchanges between conservationists from around the world. In February 2022, the Lincoln Institute and ILCN will publish a Policy Focus Report, From the Ground Up: How Land Trusts and Conservancies Are Providing Solutions to Climate Change, which will present case studies of organizations that are using land conservation as a tool for mitigating and adapting to climate change. The next Global Congress will take place in 2024.
Photograph: Marti Garcia via iStock/Getty Images.