By Tim Christophersen, UNEP Senior Programme Officer, Forests and Climate Change
The world is on track to deliver the largest-ever ecosystem restoration effort: restoring 150 million hectares of degraded forest landscapes by 2020. To keep the momentum, countries need concerted coordinated support and finance from the international community for action on the ground.
“Nature has developed powerful carbon sequestration machines: they are called trees. And we are now at the point where just reducing emissions will not be enough,” said Tine Sundtoft, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, at the Bonn Challenge Ministerial meeting on 20 and 21 March 2015. “We must actively remove carbon out of the atmosphere. Forest restoration is the most cost-effective carbon capture option we have”. Ms Sundtoft’s call for more forests and trees in the fight against climate change was echoed by meeting participants from around the world. Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Liberia and the Republic of Korea provided detailed insights into their restoration actions. Already 61.5 million hectares have been taken under active restoration since the first Bonn Challenge meeting in 2011, with further pledges in the pipeline. The target was recently made even more ambitious in the New York Declaration on Forests which added another 200 million hectares to be restored by 2030, putting the total envisaged total area at 350 million ha, equivalent to the size of India. Achieving this target could remove up to 1.7 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year and create well over 80 billion USD per year in ecosystem services.
I have been following the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration for eight years, and we have made some progress. But what we saw at the Bonn Challenge meeting last week was truly a game-changer. The world has finally woken up to the fact that the magnitude of the climate crisis requires equally large and comprehensive responses, which must include the way we manage ecosystems. Planting trees to restore degraded landscapes is not only a mitigation effort: it helps enhance the ecosystem services people desperately need to adapt to a hotter and water-stressed world. Powerful examples of successful restoration from Ethiopia, China, and Tanzania show socio-economic transformations towards a green economy triggered by large-scale landscape restoration.
Participants in Bonn were reminded about the historic precedent of the economic, ecological and social re-birth of South Korea from when forest cover was less than half of what it is today and the country experienced soil erosion, malnutrition and drought. In the 1950s, Korea looked similar to how Haiti looks today: a once lush country turned into a near-desert, barely able to feed its population. The turning point in Korea was a nation-wide concerted forest restoration effort. Today, Korea has a forest cover of 65 per cent of its land mass, worth over 100 billion USD in ecosystem services or about 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. In the process of the decade-long and centrally controlled restoration effort, hundreds of thousands of jobs were created and agricultural output grew more than four per cent each year.
However, it is important to note that the Korea example would proceed very differently today. We now live in a world where participatory approaches have largely replaced top-down and command-and-control actions and where the awareness of the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) has been growing in the wake of REDD+ efforts. This is a huge opportunity, because forest landscape restoration that builds on the aspirations and contributions from local communities will be even more durable and more easily attract external and local investments.
Broad and inclusive restoration approaches are emerging in many countries. In Brazil, new legislation is under way to restore 12.5 million hectares within 20 years and create up to 190,000 new jobs in the process. In El Salvador, the Government has pledged to restore over half of all land area following a detailed LIDAR assessment of its forest baseline. They see landscape restoration as an essential investment into ‘natural infrastructure’ for sustainable development.
Political vision and leadership in both these examples is key. El Salvador has set up a ‘sustainability cabinet’ including the Ministries of the Interior, Tourism, Environment, Agriculture and others to collaborate on making investment decisions and developing legislation for sustainable development. And Brazil is contributing to all relevant global commitments with their restoration efforts, on biodiversity, climate change, and desertification. While these efforts are encouraging, the international community is often not yet ready to respond to such efforts in an equally well-coordinated way, and with adequate financial support. The emerging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give us a unique window to demonstrate the contribution of well-managed forests and landscapes to poverty eradication, food and energy security, and a green economy.
Linking forest landscape restoration with REDD+ is becoming increasingly important. The large and growing body of experience with REDD+ safeguards and stakeholder engagement and planning cost-effective actions can and should be a foundation for restoration efforts. In Uganda, the UN-REDD Programme and IUCN aim to fully integrate forest landscape restoration efforts with national REDD+ planning and implementation. The results will be made available to all 58 UN-REDD partner countries, with a view to ensure the international community helps developing countries to integrate land use and climate change. . This would also make for a stronger business case for further public and private sector investments.
UNEP, CIFOR and other partners will convene 150-200 of the world’s leading experts from private, corporate, finance and other sectors in London on June 10 2015 to make a strong case for investments into sustainable land use and forestry. A clear signal of coordination from the UN and other bilateral actors on forests and REDD+ and a close alignment with the SDGs would certainly support a strong business case.
About the author: Tim Christophersen is the lead expert of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Forests and Climate Change. He is a member of the Management Group of the UN-REDD Programme, a collaborative effort of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNEP, which is currently supporting 58 developing countries in REDD+ readiness and implementation.