Restoring forests seen as vital to fighting climate change, extreme poverty

Birgit Gerhardus, head of division, rural development, land rights and forestry at BMZ, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. GLF/Pilar Valbueno
Hugh Biggar
3 March 2018
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BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — In the face of a changing climate and related mass migration and social instability, international experts are now viewing forests and tree rich environments as a key way of attacking these issues at the root.

To do so, governments, businesses and international aid groups are turning to a new approach known as forest landscape restoration and ramping up investment in a number of projects across the globe.

At present, roughly 12 million hectares of intact forests are lost annually in the tropics every year, according to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and in turn contribute to a number of consequences from loss of biodiversity to food insecurity to social unrest.

Meanwhile, the Program on Forests estimates that more than 2 billion hectares (an area about twice size of China) of degraded and deforested lands globally could benefit from restoration.

PROACTIVE RESTORATION

Forest landscape restoration — the subject of a GLF Bonn session in December — involves both restoring degraded landscapes and doing so in ways that benefit local communities and are ecologically sustainable. Forests are also seen as vital carbon sinks that help sequester global warming-linked carbon from the atmosphere.

Germany has stepped up to tackle these challenges head on through BMZ, the country’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, which supports more than 30 countries and 10 regions with its Forest Action Plan (FAP).

Between 2014 and 2016, BMZ increased its commitment to an ongoing portfolio of 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) which is a steep increase of 25 percent, said Birgit Gerhardus, head of division, rural development, land rights and forestry at BMZ.

There are three main components to Germany’s plan: forest landscape restoration; rewarding partner countries that reduce emissions by curbing deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+ initiatives); and promoting deforestation free supply chains.

“We also look at forests not only from the climate perspective, but from the rural development perspective,” Gerhardus said. “The responsibility for forests shifted from our climate department to our rural development department.”

Successful restoration practices can include tree planting (based on what the land can naturally support), smart land management, reducing erosion, improving management of livestock, protecting biodiversity and wildlife, improving water quality and management, and developing alternative ways to provide local communities with income. (On the heavily-logged island of Borneo in Indonesia, for instance, a health clinic uses non-cash payments to discourage locals from cutting down trees to pay for care).

Costa Rica provides a ready example of how active forest recovery can take place. The Central American nation had lost about 85 percent of its tropical forests by 1987 as it cleared land for cattle ranches and other development, according to the World Bank. The destruction damaged sensitive ecosystems, and impacted local communities and an economy dependent on tourism and forest products. But through innovative financing, policy reforms, and assistance to landowners, Costa Rica’s forests recovered by 50 percent by 2010 and the country has also experienced a boom in ecotourism, the World Bank reports.

PATH AHEAD

With success stories such as Costa Rica in mind, the international community has recently launched larger regional initiatives. In 2011, the Bonn Challenge called for restoring 150 million hectares (about three times the size of Spain) of lost and degraded forests by 2020. And in support of the Bonn Challenge, the AFR100 is a country-led effort to bring 100 million hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030. In Latin America, Initiative 20×20, aims to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land. Meanwhile, the New York Declaration on Forests extended the Bonn Challenge to 350 million hectares by 2030.

Even so, challenges remain including issues of land rights, access to lands and resources, public policy alignment between government agencies and greater funding for forest landscape restoration.

One report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification found that between $36 billion and $49 billion are required every year to achieve agreed upon forest landscape restoration targets. The report also points out that such restoration is mostly beneficial in regions with developed legal and regulatory frameworks — conditions not met yet in a number of sub-Saharan African countries.

More positively, new research has also found that not all forest regeneration depends on large-scale funding. According to a new report, in some tropical ecosystems natural regenerating naturally passive can be effective. The study found that natural regeneration of tropical forests could boost further large-scale restoration goals for a fraction of the cost of active restoration. But the study also had concerns about the possible rate of return of biodiversity and the socioeconomic impact on local populations.

Over the long term, active forest landscape restoration will require a collective global commitment to dedicate resources and follow-through on implementation while also working to support local communities impacted by the projects.

As the International Union for Conservation of Nature concludes, “[Forest Landscape Restoration] is more than just planting trees – it is restoring a whole landscape “forward” to meet present and future needs and to offer multiple benefits and land uses over time.”


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