Climate change, biodiversity and the peace process in Colombia

By Claudia Munera Roldan and Carolina Figueroa of the Luc Hoffmann Institute Conservation Futures project.

In 2012 the latest efforts towards a peace process in Colombia began to put an end to a 52 year- conflict with the FARC. After lengthy negotiations, the Colombian Congress finally approved the peace agreement in December 2016.

The uncertainty the process presents both for Colombian society and conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity became apparent in 2014 when the Luc Hoffmann Institute first started engaging with WWF Colombia on the Conservation Futures project.

Conservation Futures aims to help protected area planners and managers navigate pressures such as climate change, the spread of invasive species and habitat loss, which all come with a level of unpredictability. The peace process adds another layer of complexity and uncertainty to the management of biodiversity and this makes Colombia a challenging but fascinating place to work.

With the origins of the conflict emerging from disagreements over land tenure, a big challenge is to find land for the 6 million people displaced by the conflict, creating concerns about the pressure to change the land tenure map. Although protected areas in Colombia are legally protected, there is uncertainty about whether the post-treaty period will follow a sustainable development path or reflect ‘business as usual’ with continuing pressure from deforestation, mining, and so on.

Over the past 50 years Colombians have had to live with uncertainty surrounding the conflict and attempts for peace. While we can’t be sure about the consequences of the treaty, it is fair to say that a major social transformation is underway. It is against this backdrop that climate change, and responses to it will unfold in Colombia. The current social and political transformation foreshadows an ecological transformation that will be driven by climate change in the longer term.

Which brings us to the major challenge facing the Conservation Futures project: How do you make decisions now, for impacts 20-50 years into a future that you can’t possibly predict?

This question was the subject of a ‘Futures Dialogue’ held in Bogota last October. In collaboration with our WWF Colombia colleagues, we hosted a workshop with Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, to understand the implications of ecological transformation that climate change may bring, and possible impacts on the social and ecological values of Colombia’s protected area network.

As we gather more information and improve climate projections, models become more complex and uncertain, particularly in understanding how climate drivers interact with each other and impact biodiversity conservation. Adapting to climate change involves learning how to live with, and make decisions in a context of uncertainty.

Climate uncertainty may be a whole new ball game, but we are not starting from scratch. There is a lot to be learned from past experience. In the short term, the stressors will remain much the same: floods, droughts, invasive species, illicit crops, agriculture, mining and development. Protected area managers deal with these on a daily basis. We know more or less what types of adaptation and management strategies can be used to cope with these stressors. It is often a case of finding agreement on social values, and getting the right rules in place to enable action. But there is a group of adaptation challenges that we don’t yet know how to deal with – social, political or institutional barriers – that may prevent the implementation of adaptation measures, such as weak environmental policy frameworks or inconsistent cross-sectoral policies. Learning how to deal with these challenges is a critical part of the adaptation challenge.

Although good progress has been made regarding climate adaptation by the Colombian government through policy statements (the National Development Plan and the National Adaptation Plan), it is still difficult to identify good examples of planning, policy and management working together at different levels and between sectors. Strategies for addressing climate risks need to be paired with efforts to tackle the barriers to adaptation. Climate adaptation in an uncertain future requires creating and strengthening governance processes, including decision making, planning and management.

With the implementation of the peace process we may expect changes. There is much work to do, much thinking needed and many questions arise: What will happen to the millions of displaced Colombians? What can we expect for the establishment of new protected areas and the ecosystem services they provide under a climate change/peace process scenario? How do we maintain the current social and ecological values of protected areas as the climate changes?

Colombian society will need to acquire the information and skills to address emerging challenges. But perhaps the incidental upside of years of uncertainty the country has faced, is that it is well equipped to adapt to change. The peace process is a big deal for Colombia and we hope it will help rather than hinder the ability of the country’s protected areas to continue providing critical ecosystem services and conserving our rich biodiversity in the long term.

Ultimately, the capacity to make decisions for a long term, uncertain future requires a learning approach, taking risks, following up progress and being adaptive as more is learned about the implications of climate change and the efficacy of adaptation measures. So, in addition to asking what will happen to protected areas in the post-treaty period, we should also be asking what can we learn from the past 50 years about strategies that help us to live with change and uncertainty.

Main image: © Pablo Corral / WWF


Enabling co-creation: aligning values, rules and knowledge

By Lorrae van Kerkhoff, member of the leadership team for the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s Conservation Futures project which helps protected area managers and agencies plan for future ecosystem changes.

How do we improve? In the context of sustainable development, we continually confront the question of how we can develop meaningful and positive actions towards a ‘better’ world (social, ecological, economic outcomes) despite inherent uncertainties about what the future holds.

Co-creation is one concept among several that seek to reorientate us from simplistic, largely linear ideas of progress towards more nuanced, subtle ideas that highlight that there are many different aspects of ‘progress’, and these can be deeply contested and challenging to reconcile. Enabling co-creation, then – or operationalizing it – means finding practical ways to work together, to deal with our different experiences, aspirations and expectations as well as the uncertainties of the future.

Co-creation sits within a learning paradigm that suggests engagement, social and mutual learning, adaptation and flexibility are key to enabling action in the face of uncertainty. But how do we think about learning?

Read the full article on Integration and Implementation – a blog about research resources for action-oriented team science.


Main image: ©  Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom, Luc Hoffmann Institute – WWF


Beyond talk – time for action: Integrating people into conservation

Greater effort is needed to make people part of the equation in conservation projects. This will increase local support and the effectiveness of conservation

That’s the main conclusion of a study ‘Understanding and integrating human dimensions to improve conservation,’ recently published in the journal Biological Conservation. In the study, an international group of scientists outlines the need to consider people’s livelihoods, cultural traditions and dependence on natural resources when planning and carrying out conservation projects around the world. Among the authors is Carina Wyborn, Research Adviser at the Luc Hoffmann Institute (LHI).

“People often say that understanding people is as important to conservation as understanding biodiversity,” she says. “We’ve been talking about integrating social science into conservation for a very long time, but it still seems to be a major challenge.”

As species decline continues unchecked, conservation organisations traditionally emphasise natural science to solve ecological problems, neglecting people’s relationships to natural resources.

“Despite many calls to provide more people-centered approaches, conservation is still often viewed as being about the environment with biophysical science being prioritised over social science,” Wyborn adds.

Increasingly, natural scientists and social scientists are working together to try to consider the needs of both nature and people. These integrated approaches offer hope for the future of conservation.

“When we don’t understand the social aspects, conservation strategies can have negative impacts on people living in a region, or are not feasible within the local policy context. Conservation social science can help us to understand when, where and how our conservation strategies are likely to be more effective”

says Wyborn.

This paper follows dozens of studies that point out the need to consider people in environmental management and conservation, but few have articulated the benefits of doing so and exactly how to do it. This paper is the first to bring together the entire storyline by listing the practical contributions the variety of social science disciplines can offer to improve conservation. It calls for action to ensure that we learn from past failures and successes when ignoring or considering human dimensions and the governance context of conservation.

Successful conservation projects happen when both natural and social scientists work with government, nonprofits, resource managers and local communities to come up with solutions that benefit everyone. This can take more time and resources at the outset, but the paper argues that social scientists can help make this a more efficient process.

“Conservation research has operated in silos for far too long – social scientists in one community – ecologists in another, but to develop robust, long-term conservation strategies, we need to understand the social, political and ecological landscape as an integrated whole,” says Wyborn.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute is using social science methods to build the capacity of protected area planners and managers to address climate change. Despite many studies of climate impacts on biodiversity, there is still a gap when it comes to implementing adaptation strategies. LHI’s Conservation Futures project is developing an approach to understand and overcome the barriers to adaptation. Integrating social, climate and ecological science gives a more complete understanding of the challenges of preparing for change in the long term.

Read the full paper here.

Main image: © Jürgen Freund / WWF


Ecosystem Services and Sustainability MOOC


We are pleased to announce a new MOOC on Ecosystem Services available immediately on the Coursera platform, produced by the University of Geneva, the Geneva Water Hub, the Luc Hoffmann Institute and the Natural Capital Project.

Is this course for me? This MOOC is for anybody interested in mastering the strengths and weaknesses of the Ecosystem Services concept as a tool for promoting sustainable development. Subjects covered will be both technical (methods for valuation, data acquisition, etc.) and socio-political (how to mainstream the process, criticism of method, etc.). Watch an introductory video (3min) to get a feel for the course content and philosophy.

Who are the instructors? Learners will hear from many of the field’s leading minds. The course is taught by three primary instructors and by 29 guest instructors and interviewees coming from many of the key institutions (the Natural Capital Project, WWF, IUCN, IPBES, TEEB, Luc Hoffmann Institute) and Universities.  Learners can expect to hear multiple contrasting opinions. See the full syllabus and list of instructors on the course page.

When is the course offered? This course is offered “on-demand”. In practice, the class has cohorts that are formed on a regular basis and you can take as much time as necessary to complete the course (2-5 hours for 5 weeks is a rough estimate). The first cohort begins February 2nd 2017.

What will it cost? Access to all course materials is free. To take the exams and obtain a certificate of completion costs 49 USD. Financial aid is available (see FAQs on bottom of the course page).

Where can I sign up? Here, or type “ecosystem services” on the Coursera website.

Main image:  Juergen-Freund / WWF


Shared risk – key to guiding action on water, food and energy

The Sustainable Development Goals challenge markets, regulators and practitioners to identify where and how to act to achieve water, food and energy security.

This challenge calls for responses that are coordinated among the water, food and energy sectors and applied at the appropriate scale – local, national, regional or global. Yet compromise and cooperation between the sectors has been patchy so far and the ability to integrate policies remains limited.

‘Nexus thinking’ is a concept recognising that water, food and energy sectors are interdependent and must be viewed as one system. The water-energy-food nexus could support much-needed building of links between the 17 separate and, at times, conflicting SDGs.

The nexus concept has gained momentum with some private, public and civil society actors because it addresses the complex trade-offs involved in managing water, food and energy resources. There are concerns that blinkered development of resources in one sector reduces the effectiveness of planning and management systems to deliver a sustainable flow of basic resources, creating water, food and energy risks.

Risks are inherent to systems in which different sub-sectors share similar types of resources and face similar uncertainty. Identifying and measuring these shared risks may be a new way to generate improvements in governance and capacity. Incentives for joint action are stronger when risk cannot be managed or mitigated by one sector alone.

A paper recently published in the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability argues that knowing why policy makers make certain choices and what they can do is critical before suggesting solutions.

“This is a great example of the power of convening leaders from across science, policy and practice to rapidly analyse an issue and see a way forward”

Louise Gallagher, Research Programme Head with the Luc Hoffmann Institute (LHI), is the paper’s coordinating author. She says: “We looked critically at how the nexus concept must develop if it is to become helpful in guiding action towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

This paper, the result of an 18-month team effort by a range of partners, is an important contribution to efforts to bridge science and policy says Gallagher. It is a foundation stone for LHI’s Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Service (LIVES) project which is developing participatory methods for identifying, measuring and planning for food-energy-water nexus risks in rapidly changing and uncertain conditions.

Read the paper here.


Main image: © Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK


Do you speak lion?

In the 21st century conservations problems seem to be getting more complex and inter-connected, involving the interactions between both natural and social systems.

One potential answer to addressing these problems is the more effective engagement of social sciences into conservation theory and practice but in a recent paper, Professor Bill Adams, Moran Professor of Conservation and Development and Fellow of Downing College at Cambridge University in the UK, has argued that even when research is multidisciplinary, it may not be able to deliver the insights needed to solve a conservation problem. He spoke to Tanya Petersen about his paper ‘Do You Speak Lion?’

Main image: © / Anup Shah / WWF


Land Use Change in a Changing Environment

Land-use changes are increasingly discussed in relation to not only climate change, but also political and socio-economic changes and because these interactions are so complex, land science is becoming broader, involving more diverse communities.

In a special issue of the journal Environments focusing on “Land Use Change in the Changing Environment”, our Research Programme Head, Louise Gallagher investigates with colleagues how Green Economy Principles may help improve development outcomes in the Mekong Basin.

Land Use Change in the Changing Environment
Guest edited by Prof. Dr. Teiji Watanabe

Green Economy Modelling of Ecosystem Services along the ‘Road to Dawei’
Bassi A, Gallagher L and Helsingen H (2016)
Environments 3(3): 19

Main image:  © Tantyo Bangun / WWF



And the cities rise up? – Reflections from Habitat III

By Luc Hoffmann Fellow, Fouad Khan

Is this a line of participants trying to get in or a traffic jam?

Is that a group of people holding an unofficial event on a flight of stairs, or a slum?

Is that a kiosk to charge your cellphones or a grid station?

The UN pavilion, is that the posh neighborhood?

The cubical exhibit with passport pics of Quito residents in different hues on the walls like a human Rubik’s cube, isn’t that the gentrifying street where bohemian kids hang out?

And the food court, well that’s just the food court.

From 17-22 October 2016 Quito’s Casa de la Cultura exhibition venue and the adjacent park hosting Habitat III were a synecdoche of the city. Nearly fifty thousand people descended on the event space, the various exhibits, pavilions and sessions to catch a drift of policy history being made. Among them leading urban and climate scientists from around the world, mayors and representatives of regional and national governments, operatives of any international agency or NGO you can name, as well as plenty of regional or local ones you can’t. The Habitat III village, as the conference organizers dubbed the event space, played host to the throngs of dignitaries, delegates and participants. The city opened its arms to the nearly twenty five thousand that came from out of town. All the hotels were overbooked, the traffic jams got worse and the night life thrived. The New Urban Agenda, a sweeping policy document intentioned to restore the rightful role of cities in the governance of human affairs was adopted with much fanfare. New scientific networks were forged and old ones revived, visiting cards exchanged probably in their millions, reports, pamphlets, products, CDs and all manner of informational miscellanea distributed in their tons. It was a right feast.

We utilized the opportunity to further our engagement with practitioners and stakeholders in order to strengthen knowledge co-production efforts – in essence, designing, managing and implementing projects together with multiple stakeholders. This included a joint session held with the city of Umeå, Sweden where we presented the data analysis and findings of our work and highlighted opportunities for further collaboration. At another joint session with Mistra Urban Futures, WWF Earth Hour City Challenge, the City of Tshwane and Global Utmaning we presented in greater detail about the extent of our partnerships with various institutions. At Habitat III, the Luc Hoffmann Institute was represented by myself, Carla Marino, a project intern based with our partner ICLEI in Bonn, Germany, and Carina Borgstrom-Hansen from WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge. In bilateral meetings with the cities of Umeå, Monteria – Colombia, Tshwane – South Africa and Boulder – USA, we started formalizing and strengthening the process of co-production to optimize transition pathways to sustainability for different types of cities. The first phase of co-production had seen the use of city submitted data to analyze comparable footprint reduction trends across cities and to develop city action profiles based on the most recurring actions a city took. Now, we were starting to deepen this co-production process through more extensive engagement with cities.

Our proposed transition pathways are basically a prioritization of action types for different types of cities. Should a city like Mexico, say, focus on waste management or renewable energy? Does Rajkot need to redirect resources towards housing? Should Malmö continue to emphasize citizen awareness? We have answers for these questions based on our data analysis, now we want to know how the cities feel about it. At Habitat III, through our interaction with the cities a few key themes emerged, perhaps none more pertinent than the tension between the different governing levels of the nation state and the city or regional entity.

An impromptu networking session on stairs or a slum?
An impromptu networking session on stairs or a slum?

When I was standing in the hours long queue to enter the exhibition venue on day two, I was approached by a local news team for a soundbite. I psychologically prepped myself to talk about the urban agenda while slyly slipping in a reference to my own project. “How have you found the arrangements in Quito?” she asked. I answered expecting now to talk about the theme of the conference. “Have the queues been an inconvenience? Have the traffic jams been an inconvenience? What do you think of the efforts of the city team and the management?” It’s fine, fine, fine, I said. “Could’ve been better but such conferences are always hard to tackle”, or some such platitude. Looking slightly disappointed she then moved on to talk to some locals, trying to extract appropriate levels of disgust at the mismanagement. She was not interested in the conference or its themes at all, all she cared about was the impact on her city and its citizens’ lives.

The attention to local always comes at the expense of attention to global and vice versa. At the conference it was hard to find sessions that weren’t labouring under the burden of this unarticulated dilemma. In one session on urban data the conversation kept reverting back to discussions of global climate models. Models based on data neither collected at, nor really ever downscaled to, the city level. In another session the discussion around financing urban transition revolved around structuring projects so they could be appetizing to national governments and bilateral funding agencies; perhaps simply because that’s just where the money’s at. A lot of the panels were populated by people who’d earned their miles working at the national or global level; again, understandable as the category ‘city’ is only just in the process of being defined as a discipline in science, policy or practice. But even the eagerness to embrace this new devolution of data collection, policy and politics to the scale of the city didn’t always seem to be there.

Faces of Quito exhibit at Habitat III
Faces of Quito exhibit at Habitat III

Unless we can find this will to truly empower cities to take charge of their own governance soon, the New Urban Agenda will start to sound hollow. In science this will require, for instance, as a start, listening to cities and the co-production of knowledge as well data collection at the city level instead of a downscaling of national metrics. One suggestion could be, for instance, to ensure that data reported to the Sustainable Development Goal 11 on safe, inclusive and resilient urbanization comes from the cities themselves

In our work at the Luc Hoffmann Institute we are trying to do this by further nurturing the capacity for urban data collection developed through WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge over the last few years, and by listening to cities. The representation of cities at Habitat III was strong and the New Urban Agenda reflects ambitious promises, but for all of us engaged in urban policy processes and science, it may still be good to remember that not every time the mic is put in front of us is an opportunity to pitch. Sometimes it’s best just to ask questions.


From right, Fouad Khan (Luc Hoffmann Institute), Carina Hansen (WWF EHCC), David Simon and Jan Rise (Mistra Urban Futures), Sello (City of Tshwane) and Caroline (Global Utmaning)
From right, Fouad Khan (Luc Hoffmann Institute), Carina Hansen (WWF EHCC), David Simon and Jan Rise (Mistra Urban Futures), Sello (City of Tshwane) and Caroline (Global Utmaning)

Main image: © Edward Parker / WWF


UN Habitat III – Shaping the New Urban Agenda

Over the next week, leaders from around the world will take part in an historic summit on the future of cities, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – Habitat III.

For more than a year, the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s Urban Footprint Reduction Project has been working with WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge, ICLEI, Mistra Urban Futures, Aarhus University, the University of Lund and many other academic partners to identify different transition pathways for different types of cities.

In one of the few academic projects represented at the summit, we have analyzed ICLEI’s Carbonn database of self-reported, voluntary footprint reduction commitments, inventories and actions and have developed tools for comparative performance analysis. We also studied the actions and plans that cities have proposed to develop their profiles and typify them.

Following this work we have determined nine transition pathways for nine fundamental city types, ranking action categories according to first, second and third priorities based on city’s size, economy, social, political and historical context. In the coming phase of the project we will be actively refining these transition pathways through interaction with partner cities.

We are actively seeking input into this work and encourage cities to contact us to learn more about this project.

To learn more about Habitat III and the role of, and challenge to, science in shaping the New Urban Agenda in today’s rapidly changing world see this article in the Guardian that talks about our project