BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Countries that have pledged to restore millions of hectares of deforested and degraded land as part of a major reforestation initiative will take an important step toward making that a reality at a meeting March 16-17 in Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil.
The Bonn Challenge event will bring together government ministers, leaders of research and advocacy organizations, and business executives to explore innovative ways to implement and finance forest landscape restoration.
Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion hectares of land have been deforested or degraded. Much of that land could be restored by creating mosaic landscapes of naturally regenerating forest, sustainable cropland, orchards and tree plantations.
The goal of the Bonn Challenge, launched in 2011, is to bring 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020. At the U.N. climate summit in 2014, that goal was increased to 350 million hectares by 2030. Nearly 50 countries have already made pledges totalling 160 million hectares, surpassing the initial target.
“The Bonn Challenge has really put landscape restoration on the map in a significant way,” says Stewart Maginnis, director of the global forest and climate change program at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN is providing support for the meeting, which is sponsored by the governments of Germany and Brazil.
“Prior to 2011, the focus was on avoiding deforestation,” Maginnis says. “That is important, but it was missing a piece, which was about how one restores deforested and degraded landscapes.”
Forest landscape restoration involves restoring ecosystem functions in ways that benefit communities, not only tree planting.
“The idea of restoring functionality at the landscape level interlinks with countries’ social development priorities as well as conservation goals,” Maginnis says.
“While there are an encouraging number of commitments, the difficulties lie in implementation on the ground,” says Tim Christophersen, U.N. Environment senior program officer for forests and climate change.
The upcoming meeting in Brazil is meant to help countries prepare for the practical challenges of making their pledges a reality. The first day of the two-day, high-level meeting will be devoted to discussion of those issues, with round tables on implementation, with examples of successful projects, as well as innovative strategies for financing restoration and monitoring results over the long term.
Many countries lack strong regulations and enforcement, which can make implementing forest landscape restoration more difficult, Christophersen said. Unclear land tenure is a persistent problem, and land titles or agricultural subsidies in some countries still favor clearing forests instead of restoring them, he says.
“There is also a lack of sustainable, long-term finance for restoration, which can often be a process that takes many years,” he says. “We need to build more ‘bankable projects’ around our restoration efforts, as there is a growing interest in private investments in ecosystem restoration, but so far a lack of concrete investment opportunities.”
On the second day of the meeting, participants will see how one pledge is already taking root. The Cultivating Good Water project is designed to protect and restore the watershed around the 14,000 MW Itaipu hydroelectric dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay.
To ensure an adequate supply of water to generate electricity, Itaipu Binacional, the company that operates the dam, protects more than 100,000 hectares of land, according to Ariel Scheffer, the company’s superintendent of environmental management.
“We started maintaining natural areas many years ago (when the reservoir was built), because the company needs water security,” Scheffer says. “It needs to have all the ecosystem services running well to supply water to the system to generate energy.”
As part of its Bonn Challenge pledge, the company will work with local farmers to bring 5,000 hectares under restoration, creating a natural corridor between the area conserved by Itaipu Binacional and Iguaçu National Park. Participants in the Brazil meeting will help seal the deal with a tree planting ceremony.
Momentum for forest landscape restoration has been building worldwide since the Bonn Challenge was launched.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, where most emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change are related to land-use change and forestry, the 20×20 initiative aims to bring 20 million hectares of land under restoration by 2020.
In Africa, more than 20 nations have pledged to restore 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030.
The countries face various challenges as they work to meet their goals. They must design many different types of forest landscape restoration projects to respond to different characteristics and expectations, and they need systems for monitoring results far into the future.
“All of these obstacles can be overcome with the right amount of political will,” said Christophersen.
The meeting in Brazil is expected to take a major step in that direction.