Measuring up: IUCN tracks progress of global forest restoration efforts

21 December 2017

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) – A new report highlights progress on the Bonn Challenge, an effort to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) launched a report based on findings from its assessment tool for the initiative on Tuesday at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany.

Stewart Maginnis, global director of the Nature-based Solutions Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) moderated the launch of the Barometer Spotlight Report 2017 where representatives of three piloting countries, El Salvador, Rwanda and the United States, discussed progress on restoration efforts.

Maginnis explained that the “barometer” is a demand-responsive tool. Designed to help keep track of progress, the focus is not only on quantifiable results. It also allows countries the opportunity to disseminate progress to other countries.

“It’s responding to the need of governments, funding agencies, Maginnis said. “The reason we need it is because for many years the issues of land degradation and the opportunities around restoration is a bit of a blindspot. It is a process to identify restoration opportunities.”

He said that a lot of the focus over the past 10 to 20 years has been on managing productive agriculture land, safeguarding and avoiding deforestation and sustainably managing productive areas.

“The whole issue on degraded lands and the cost to national and local economies has been a blind spot,” Maginnis said. “There have been various approaches, but they tended to be piecemeal.”

“This is not about tracking compliance and making sure that everybody follows the same rules, it’s actually about getting a sense of the climate for restoration and the progress around restoration at national levels,” he said, explaining why the tool is known as a “barometer.”

Designed to help keep track of progress, the focus is not only on quantifiable results. The barometer allows countries the opportunity to disseminate progress to other countries.

El Salvador, one of the pilot countries, is increasingly becoming vulnerable to impacts of climate change, and significant land degradation has led to low levels of environmental resilience – putting at risk 90 percent of the population, 95 percent of the country’s land and 90 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Lina Pohl, El Salvador’s minister of environment and natural resources, stressed the importance of restoring half of El Salvador’s forests under the Bonn Challenge.

“Without it our country will not survive — it’s not ambitious because we have to do it.”

“With high resolution maps, it’s possible now to determine where to invest for restoration, and this in turn can attract more private investments.”

The restoration plan in El Salvador includes restoring mangroves as barriers to impacts of hurricanes. Currently , the country has created a forest and landscape restoration action plan for 2018 through 2022.

Horst Freiberg, head of the Division of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) said that six years after the first Bonn Challenge, the initiative has take off and received global recognition.

“There were a lot of new initiatives supporting the Bonn Challenge, until it reaches 350 million ha by 2030,” he said.

However, Freiberg said that the global response brought out the need to support implementation.

“This (barometer) project was born as a concrete response,” he said. “We have to do something which helps facilitate countries who have committed to the Bonn Challenge; use it as their political umbrella in order to get forest and landscape restoration started implemented in their countries.”

In a similar manner to El Salvador, Rwanda ambitiously pledged to restore a large amount of forested lands, and was among the first to adopt the Bonn Challenge. Felix Rurangwa, senior official at the Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority, explained that “Rwanda pledged two million hectares to be restored by 2020, and as I am speaking now we are around 50 percent off the target.”

“The government of Germany has allocated some funding for Rwanda to pilot the forest and landscape restoration in two districts. The project is still ongoing,” he said, adding that along with other countries in Africa, Rwanda still face challenges of deforestation and forest degradation.

In Rwanda, forest covers almost 30 percent of total land area, supplying 98 percent of domestic cooking and contributing to 5 percent of the country’s GDP. Drivers of deforestation and forest degradation are 95 percent derived from subsistence agriculture, urbanization, infrastructure development, and mining activities, Rurangwa said.

To be successful, restoration efforts need to involve various stakeholders, sometimes with conflicting needs and different agendas. Leslie Weldon, deputy chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service said to avoid snags in the process it is important to bring all stakeholders together up front.

“At the very start, everyone can talk about what is important to them about the landscape. The role that we carry with some of our key partners is to explain more from an ecological standpoint.”

Radhika Dave, IUCN Senior Forest Programme Officer, Bonn Challenge Barometer explained that “the IUCN will work with partners to systematize the information on advances of the barometer to facilitate and improve the many complexities, and the specific challenges that main Bonn Challenge jurisdictions face or have faced in implementing their commitment and to identify the various opportunities that exist to support the Bonn Challenge pledges.”