Global change impacts on development

rural transformation

By global change, we mean the wider economic, social, and ecological transformation processes that are affecting every region of the world. Within this broad theme, our cluster focuses in particular on the transformation processes underway in rural areas, examining their causes and effects. As a result of rapid economic and population growth, limited natural resources are becoming ever more scarce and a diminishing amount of fertile land is available per person. The growth of export- and industrial commodity-oriented agriculture is putting increasing pressure on small-scale farming. Examples include the production of rubber in Laos or biofuels in Brazil. Global warming is increasing desertification in arid areas and affecting water supplies by causing glacier retreat. The potential for sustainable development is being profoundly affected, often endangered, by these change processes. The consequences include overuse of limited resources like water and soils, as well as social conflicts, poverty, and increased migration. CDE’s Global Change Cluster examines and measures these change processes, and supports the identification of solutions for sustainable development. We work on various levels, from the local to the global, and also study the connections between these levels.

Effects of land acquisitions in the global South

How do large-scale land acquisitions impact local populations and sustainable development in affected countries and regions?
Globalization means that land use in the global South is increasingly influenced by the decisions of consumers, investors, and policymakers in the North. Investors have the opportunity to acquire large tracts of land in foreign countries. Policy decisions in Europe, such as the promotion of biofuels, accelerate these trends. As a key member of the Land Matrix, we collect data on large-scale land acquisitions in the global South, analyse them, and study their effects. Together with local stakeholders, we support creation of geographic information platforms – so-called national land observatories – to achieve a better overview of such land acquisitions. The aim of our research is to enable greater transparency, to support fairer negotiations, and to provide decision-makers with evidence on which to base future regulatory measures. Additional research activities seek to identify and summarize the main insights furnished by a growing pool of case studies as well as to derive generalizable findings from them. This task is critical for governing land acquisitions at the national and international levels.

Monitoring relevant indicators for sustainable development in rural areas

What sorts of indicators and methods can be used to measure and analyse sustainable development in rural areas?
Measuring and evaluating sustainable development in rural areas is a complex endeavour. It requires comprehensive data, for example on the quality of soils and water resources, the status of vegetation cover, or the social and economic situation. We collect and analyse such data in various regions. For example, we have created socio-economic atlases, geographic maps, and geographic information systems for Mongolia, Ethiopia, and Sudan, making them available to local decision-makers. In this way, we provide governments, civil society, and the international community with instruments that enable more precise assessment and steering of sustainable development. The data enable us to give decision-makers more targeted advice for planning development programmes. We are also committed to making such data publicly accessible in order to give weaker stakeholders a chance to participate in negotiations over sustainable development.

Development of mountain areas

What sorts of indicators and methods can be used to measure and analyse sustainable development in rural areas?
Mountain areas are a quintessential rural focus area of CDE. Mountain areas are especially sensitive to the effects of global change – for example, through climate change, creation of protected areas, energy production, tourism, and mining. For this reason, we have long been involved in both research and implementation projects centred on sustainable development in mountain areas. CDE runs the editorial office of the scientific journal Mountain Research and Development. A number of current research projects are focused on promotion of sustainable development in the Swiss Alps and other mountain regions across the globe. CDE is an active member of Mountain Agenda, an informal group of scientists and development cooperation workers worldwide that advocates sustainable development in mountain areas.