STA at the American Association of Geographers Conference

Sustainable Tropics Alliance members organized two open sessions on Fostering Sustainability in the Tropics at this year’s annual conference of the Association of American Geographers in San Francisco, attended by thousands of professionals, academicians, practitioners, and students.

The sessions aimed to assess advances in developing climate-focused low-emission rural development (LED-R) models, and share experiences in on-the-ground implementation from a diversity of regions across the Tropics. Topics included an overview of progress toward LED-R across the Tropics and discussions on institutional models to foster LED-R, how different actor groups participate in diverse institutional models for sustainability, and the application and usefulness of zero deforestation policies.

The topic of “jurisdictional sustainability” was a prominent one, and presenters highlighted ways in which taking a territorial approach – as opposed to a project-level one – incorporates multiple stakeholders in the discussion of development planning and brings benefits to a wider array of actors. 

Dan Nepstad underscored this point in his presentation on progress made in Mato Grosso, Brazil advancing shared environmental and social goals among a range of private sector, government and civil society stakeholders within the jurisdiction. Tagging on to Dan’s presentation, Maria DiGiano gave the caveat that despite the advances, Indigenous peoples have not been engaged in the state-level REDD planning process to date. She was hopeful that territorial initiatives at the sub-national level can provide new spaces for inclusion of Indigenous groups, as well as benefits sharing mechanisms.

In a follow-up presentation, José Montero discussed how taking the landscape as the unit of management in Chiapas, Mexico has encountered certain barriers to implementation, such as lengthy design and community adaptation processes. However, such an approach has also led to increased awareness across different levels of government of the need for greater inclusion as well as monitoring and transparency, which has led to MRV working groups and increased political willingness on behalf of key decision makers.

After each session, conference participants contributed to a rich discussion of barriers and opportunities of a territorial approach, asking questions about transaction costs, governance structures, and . Together, the presentations showed that there is no one-size-fits-all path for LED-R in the Tropics, and the local context always needs to be considered.

Among the paper authors were Daniel Nepstad, Toby McGrath, Maria DiGiano, Claudia Stickler, and Briana Swette from Earth Innovation Institute; Pepe Montero from Pronatura Sur (Mexico); Laura Sauls from Clark University, collaborating with PRISMA (Honduras); and Joko Arif (with John Watts) from INOBU (Indonesia), who unfortunately could not make the journey so his talk was given by Dan Nepstad.