Land-use planning for low-emissions development strategies

Farms, estates and other land uses produce food and other benefits but they can also produce greenhouse gases. To reduce these, Indonesia is working with the World Agroforestry Centre to implement land-use planning for low-emissions development strategies, say Sonya Dewi, Feri Johana, Andree Ekadinata and Putra Agung in a new policy brief


Agriculture and forestry generate food, building materials and economic returns, amongst other things of crucial importance to human wellbeing. However, they often also generate emissions of greenhouse gases and contribute significantly to global warming. Yet they have the potential to absorb carbon dioxide and mitigate climate change.

LUWES, landscape mosaic, Indonesia, emission

Reducing emissions from complex landscapes such as the one pictured requires an inclusive approach to land-use planning. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Degi Harja

If not properly planned, trying to stop such emissions by halting deforestation or changing agricultural practices can restrict economic growth and threaten the security of food supplies.

We have found that a ‘landscape approach’—rather than one-off, site-specific interventions—can more effectively reduce emissions while maintaining development targets. This is because in any given area decisions about how land is used—and therefore what emissions are produced—are made by a complex web of people with differing motivations. We call this approach ‘Land-use planning for low-emission development strategies’ or LUWES.

Using this approach with local governments to plan how land is used is critically important because it is in local villages and farms that agriculture and forestry—and any associated emissions—take place. In complex landscapes that are home to diverse and perhaps conflicting groups, an inclusive, integrated and informed planning process is much more likely to reduce emissions than a ‘top–down’ approach.

A local government’s development plan—especially in rural areas where the land-based sector is a primary source of revenue, income and livelihoods—is a reflection of past land uses and changes, as well as existing needs and constraints. Such a plan typically should detail the people involved; the targeted economic growth; and be linked to land-use plans that clearly delineate the size, and rights of use, of areas for specific agricultural and forestry activities.

To help governments achieve their goal of low-emissions development, we use LUWES to analyze the land uses and any changes that caused emissions in the past, what is happening in the present and estimate the emissions from future land-use scenarios.

A critical part of the analysis of trade-offs between practices that generate high incomes and high emissions and those that don’t is estimating the ‘opportunity costs’ of different types of land uses. Often land uses with lower carbon stock are associated with higher financial return and those with higher stocks, such as conserved natural forests, don’t generate much income. Reducing emissions by avoiding land uses and changes to land uses that emit greenhouse gases can lead to forgone opportunities to make money. Halting land uses or changes to them that emit a lot and generate low financial returns shouldn’t be too difficult. On the other hand, using degraded land for high carbon-stock systems and high economic returns should reduce emissions. Returns can be other than financial, of course, but the monetary ones can be measured in land-use profitability, poverty indicators, livelihoods improvements and through gross domestic product mechanisms.

Of equal importance is the analysis of land rights or land tenure. LUWES carefully examines the permits issued by various government departments for the use of land. Sometimes, permits can overlap because of poor transparency and coordination of issuance processes, which often can lead to conflict between residents, companies and governments. Having everyone involved and discussing any overlaps helps to reduce the likelihood of conflict.

LUWES incorporates the  Rapid Land Tenure Assessment, which was developed by the World Agroforestry Centre, to identify overlapping claims, the legal basis of contested claims, the associated rights and historical injustices and the use of contradictory and inconsistent laws and policies. LUWES does not aim to solve these kinds of land-tenure problems per se but rather to clarify how governments makes their plans, what specific policy interventions are applied and which feasible action plans can be implemented.

A key part of this is reconciling governments’ different plans with existing conditions. And making sure they are closely linked to the actual managers of the land (farmers, legal concessions etc). This helps develop planning units that can reduce emissions in the landscapes under their control. Once these complex analyses have been thoroughly discussed and the best scenario decided upon, the action plan and revised development and land-use plans are created by the planning units.

LUWES, Merauke, Indonesia, emission

The LUWES method is participatory, working closely with all people involved. Pictured are farmers in Merauka, Papua province, Indonesia, measuring carbon stock. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Degi Harja

It is important to note that at the heart of LUWES is a participatory approach, that is, we gather and analyze all this information in collaboration with local governments, farmers’ groups and residents’ associations to ensure that everyone’s knowledge is shared and their viewpoints taken into consideration. Without such respect, any plan would be unlikely to be wholeheartedly supported and would most likely fail to achieve its goal of reducing emissions while improving economic growth.

LUWES is being applied in most districts in Indonesia as part of the national program to reduce emissions by up to 41% while aiming for the target of 7% economic growth. Since this national plan to mitigate climate change will mostly be implemented by district governments it is important for the planning processes to be conducted locally. The technical steps are relatively easily absorbed during a series of training sessions and workshops and are then applied by local planners. This project is supported in Indonesia by the Danish International Development Agency, European Union and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

We have also conducted training in LUWES in Cameroon, Viet Nam and Peru.


Edited by Robert Finlayson


Read the policy brief

Dewi S, Johana F, Ekadinata A, Agung P. 2013. Land-use planning for low-emission development strategies (LUWES). ASB Policybrief 35. Nairobi: ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins.

Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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