But this is often how development takes place in a region. Each new
project gets planned at a site-level, without the benefit of a regional
blueprint. As a result, opportunities may be missed for integrated
development, like sharing infrastructure among projects. Likewise, the
cumulative effects of multiple projects may not be addressed, such as
watershed impacts that collectively affect water security for
Three changes we need to make
Blueprints for a Greener Footprint – Sustainable Development at a Landscape Scale,
a paper recently released by the World Economic Forum, The Nature
Conservancy, and RESOLVE, makes the case for transforming development
planning in three ways. It calls for development planning to be
- At a landscape scale. Landscape-scale planning is
an approach for harmonizing multiple goals within the same geographic
area, which may be defined by biological, watershed or jurisdictional
boundaries. This helps clarify critical values, potential cumulative
impacts of multiple projects, and the options for more integrated
- In advance of major project decisions. This turns
what is often a reactive approach to project-level environmental and
social impacts into a pro-active process for assessing opportunities and
risks across multiple development projects within a landscape.
- For a more comprehensive set of goals. This supports an understanding of tradeoffs across multiple objectives, the best pathways for development, and the potential contribution to SDGs.
5,000 years of planning
Humans have been planning their development - particularly their
cities - since the Bronze Age, with evidence of planned development from
civilizations including Minoan, Mesopotamian and ancient Egypt. That’s
5,000 years of experience, and yet it appears we still have much to
Today, science tells us that planning at the landscape-scale
planning (LSP) offers many benefits beyond what can be achieved through
project-level planning alone.
- It promotes comprehensive risk management and offers greater
predictability and transparency to businesses and communities. This can
reduce social conflicts, project delays, and costs. For example, the
U.S. Bureau of Land Management adopted a “solar energy zones” approach
for the southwestern U.S. that is accelerating solar development while
minimizing negative environmental and social impacts. This approach has
already reduced the project permitting time by more than half.
- It helps in identifying new development options for shared
facilities among two or more operators, or broader opportunities for
integrated development corridors. For example, two Canada-based mining
companies in northern Chile’s Atacama region have created a joint
venture to combine their assets across two potential mining projects
into a single $3.5 billion project. This will significantly reduce the
environmental footprint and reduce capital costs to less than half the
cost of developing the projects separately.
- It informs strategies for long-term landscape resilience,
such as ensuring functional watersheds for clean drinking water,
connected habitat for species, and buffers against climate effects. For
example, the government of Mongolia has supported LSP for all regions of
the country, taking into account biological resources, ecosystem
services, climate change considerations, and projected development.
Despite all these advantages, planning at a landscape scale is not common practice.
This needs to change. Fortunately, technological advances are
rapidly increasing our power to execute more integrated planning at a
reasonable speed and cost.
But it will also take collective leadership from government,
industry, development agencies, and financial institutions to break down
planning silos, support public-private initiatives, and increase
resources for landscape-scale planning. To achieve the SDGs, we will
need blueprints for a greener footprint.