Ecology and economics experts emphasize landscape perspective, need for collaborative action to answer Earth’s largest challenges

Integrated landscape management (ILM) and collaborative landscape partnerships were front and center at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, a conservation and sustainable development event that happens every four years.

This year’s WCC took place in Marseille, France and online in early September, with international attendees representing some of the more than 1,400 IUCN member government, civil society and Indigenous peoples’ organizations.

Finding a common language for landscapes

Several core members of 1000 Landscapes for One Billion People (1000L) spoke to a global audience. They advocated for the professional community to adopt a common language, develop regenerative agriculture skills and resources, and attract more investment. Also discussed was the need to collaborate with the diverse local stakeholders that direct any particular landscape’s restoration and flourishing, a group of leaders collectively called landscape partnerships. 

Commonland CEO Willem Ferwerda discussed how his organization communicates the beneficial results that landscape partnerships can achieve by adopting ILM, a conceptual framework called the 4 Returns. This construct offers users the ability to address ecosystem restoration and effectively communicate the value of doing so.

Ferwerda spoke at a session titled “Transforming the Food System—the TEEBA Agrifood for Business.” Unlike other frameworks that focus on a single result or a short time frame, he said, the 4 Returns framework focuses on four interconnected impacts over 20 years. The presentation prompted a productive conversation among panelists and attendees. One area of interest focused on the approach’s ability to guide restoration and thoroughly capture economic effects.

Jasper Bertels, Commonland’s senior landscape finance specialist, described how an ILM perspective that takes a holistic approach to landscape restoration steers his organization’s work and is woven into its 4 Returns framework. Bertels’s presentation shed light on how the 4 Returns framework can help overcome obstacles, including short-term perspectives, limited information for investment decisions and the often discounted true value of restoring ecosystems.

Daniel Zimmer, the EIT Climate-KIC director of sustainable land use, joined a panel discussion at the “Innovations in Landscape Finance” session. Zimmer stressed the meaningful benefits of considering environmental, economic and social variables when looking at landscapes, holding stakeholder meetings to understand their motivations, and leveraging a systemic approach to help create value and reduce investment risk across a landscape. Key political actors need to be engaged, he said, and stressed the need to consider the impact of all forms of land use on climate and biodiversity goals beyond conservation, agriculture and ecosystem services.

Voices rise to call for a landscape-level approach

1000L wasn’t the only initiative leading the conversation on ILM. Encouragingly, other event panelists also advocated for taking a landscape perspective. 

“Instead of piecemeal adoption, we need to implement on a landscape-level to see watershed-level impacts,” Ximena Rueda, an associate professor at Colombia’s Universidad de Los Andes, said during the panel “Agricultural Finance as a Force for Conservation: Innovations for and from the Global South.”

Loic Simonnot, an agronomist for NITIDAE, a France-based partnership, declared the need to go beyond a sector approach and develop one based on landscapes. On a similar note, Oliver Withers, the biodiversity lead within Credit Suisse’s sustainability strategy, advisory and finance group, challenged attendees to ask how they could start investing at a holistic and sustainable landscape level.

“A multi-sector approach is really important if we want to create impact at a landscape level,” said Mabel Agba, EconoBio Project Coordinator of Ghana-based Noé.

Achim Steiner of UNDP said landscapes are important frames to help people evaluate the consequences of development and land-use choices we have made as a society. In his remarks during the WCC’s opening plenary, Steiner also noted that landscapes indicate a nation’s or society’s ability to bring people and nature together.

Panel sessions and conversations with 1000L members reinforced other recurring themes expressed throughout the conference—the critical importance of partnerships, the increased need for funding, integrating diverse voices and gender equity, proper governance and the need to address biodiversity loss and climate change in an integrated way.

In part two of our report from the WCC, we will focus on the wealth of insights and perspectives shared by our peers during the event’s many panels and discussions.


  • David Hecht

    David Hecht is a finance intern at EcoAgriculture Partners. He supports research on innovative landscape finance mechanisms and the work of the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People Finance Accelerator team. Hecht David
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