UNDP RR Statement at the National Dialogue on Community-Based Landscape Management for Resilient Ecosystems

July 20, 2021

National Dialogue - Community-based landscape management for resilient ecosystems

20th July 2021 (Virtual)

It is my honor to be with you virtually at the National Dialogue on “Community-Based Landscape Management for Resilient Ecosystems”. The objective of the dialogue is to share lessons learned from the community-led projects in Bhutan, which are supported by the Community Development and Knowledge Management for Satoyama Initiative (COMDEKS) program. It will also explore ways to integrate a ‘landscapes approach to development’ into national and sub-national policies as a critical contribution to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

I am particularly pleased with the opportunity today to hear how an approach, which has been practiced over a century, resonates here in Bhutan. As you know, Satoyama is a Japanese team. Its sound gives me a sense of nostalgia, filled with warm feelings. I believe it is because the term is often associated with the landscapes of the old past and motherland in rural communities where many of the urban dwellers have left behind.

Literally, sato means village, and yama means hill or mountain. Satoyama have been developed through centuries of small scale use of agricultural and forestry resources. The concept of satoyama has several definitions and represents a mosaic of different landscapes. It has been a way of life that contributed to environmental conservation and the optimal and sustainable use of resources towards zero waste.

Due to its various benefits, the concept attracted the international attention. The Satoyama Initiative was established at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 2009 as a global effort to realize "societies in harmony with nature” The Satoyama landscapes and similar landscapes around the world have been recognized and promoted as a good model for conservation of biodiversity and human well-being.

As a global leader on environment conservation, Bhutan and its people have always strived towards living in harmony with nature. And indeed, many of the beautiful and biodiversity rich landscapes I have encountered while traveling across the country reminded me of satoyama at home.

However, multiple factors are threatening Satoyama – For the first time in our history the most serious and immediate, even existential, risks are human made and unfold-ing at planetary scale. A case in point is the COVID-19 crisis, which has clearly demonstrated the direct link between environment degradation and pandemics, and how off-synch we have all become with nature.

Preserving the tradition requires conscious efforts. Satoyamas have been disappearing quickly in Japan due to the drastic shift in our ways of living and rural-urban migration. This has had visible impact on biodiversity conversation efforts. A significant number of natural habitats have lost home and their existence has been threatened. Bhutan is not an exception. Data from 2017 suggests 21.7% of people have migrated to urban hubs, leaving agricultural land fallow and houses back in the villages empty resulting in 4,800 gungtongs.

Climate change is being added to this equation, weakening the resilience of our ecosystems. Because climate change will have the worst impact on the world’s poorest people, and most of the world’s poorest people are farmers, often found in rural communities, any efforts to minimize the impact of the changes must have a focus on communities in rural settings. Climate change is forcing many farmers around the world to give up their agricultural land. That is why adaptation is a major focus for the agriculture sector globally and in Bhutan. Certainly, it is for us in UNDP.

This year’s slogan for the Biodiversity Day “We’re part of the solution” was chosen to be a continuation of the momentum generated last year under the over-arching theme, “Our solutions are in nature”. It was an important reminder that biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better from the COVID crisis, and indeed solutions lie in our actions, while we are alco causes of the problems.

Bhutan’s Protected Areas provide a refuge for many plant and animal species that are essential for ecosystem services. However, much of the biodiversity remains outside of the Protected Areas systems, where it is exposed to human activities such as agricultural production, forestry and other land uses. The fate of our biodiversity, and of vital ecological processes, depends on the sound management of resources by the local communities. This is where the role of the Community Development and Knowledge Management for Satoyama initiative comes in. The Satoyama approach of promoting communities in harmony with nature must be promoted further though participatory decision-making processes in local communities.

The GEF-Small Grants Programme, implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan since 1998, has provided avenues through which the communities can apply the Sayoyama landscape management principles in our efforts towards biodiversity conservation, climate adaptation, waste management, water resource management and sustainable forest and land management. For example, starting in 2014, the SGP initiated landscape-based conservation starting with Gamri Watershed in Tashigang, followed by lower Manas Basin in Zhemgang and finally in Lower Pema Gatshel.

Bhutan has everything lined up to show case how the landscape management principles can be catalytic. It is a country rich in traditional with knowledge and customary practices in environmental conservation; it is blessed with leadership and strong conservation policies. The Satoyama Initiative and its approaches can be meaningfully orchestrated for the good of Bhutan’s environment.

Partnerships with WWF Bhutan, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, Bhutan For Life and others, will allow for collective biodiversity conservation efforts within and beyond protected areas through the application of the Satoyama approach and ultimately contribute towards the ambitious Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which is a stepping stone towards the 2050 Vision of "Living in harmony with nature".

It is my sincere hope that today’s dialogue will not only facilitate sharing of knowing and exchange of lessons, but also lead concretely to actions that promote integration of landscape approach to development in national and sub-national planning and budgeting processes.

Unfortunately, scientific evidence is against us. While Bhutan has been leading global efforts in environmental conservation, that has not spared us from the impacts of climate change. According to research cited by a panel of climate scientists, a rise of 2 degrees Celsius would cut the geographic range of vertebrates by 8 percent, plants by 16 percent and insects by 18 percent. If we are set to pursue living in harmony with nature, we have no time to waste. The current efforts must be amplified in terms of their scope, speed and level of ambition.

I would like to thank the Bhutan Ecological Society for coming together with UNDP GEF-Small Grants Programme in organizing this dialogue and I also thank all the other partners in the Government and civil society for sharing the lessons and taking the approach to a new level.

I wish you a rich and meaningful dialogue.

Thank you and Tashi Delek!