Brazil Bonn Challenge delegates evaluate forest restoration efforts worldwide

View of the Amazon Rainforest. Aerial view of the Amazon rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Brazil. CIAT/Neil Palmer
19 March 2018

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FOZ DE IGUACU, Brazil (Landscape News) — Restoring a deforested landscape is about more than planting trees. Restoration activities also create local jobs, give people a voice in managing their natural resources, and secure environmental services, such as water supplies, said delegates attending a conference in Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil, on the border of Argentina.

Representing more than a dozen countries of almost 50 that have taken up the 2011 Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020, the meeting near the magnificent Iguaçu Falls served as an opportunity to measure progress.

Pledges for Bonn Challenge initiatives have already exceeded the total target by 10 million hectares.

“The challenge now is how to implement these commitments by 2020, two years from now, (so) that trees are actually growing in the ground,” said Elsa Nickel, director general of the Nature Conservation and Sustainable Use Directorate of the German environment ministry (BMUB), which co-hosted the meeting with the Brazilian government.

The meeting was the third global Bonn Challenge gathering since 2011, since the program was launched at the 2017 U.N. climate summit in the German city.

Various countries have passed legislation to help meet their targets. For example, in Brazil, a 2012 law requires landholders to maintain or restore forest on part of their property. That law is expected to result in the restoration of 21 million hectares, nearly twice the country’s Bonn Challenge pledge of 12 million hectares.

Others have conducted inventories and devised national restoration strategies or plans. But the progress has varied from country to country, observers say, and much remains to be done to meet the 2020 goals and a more ambitious target of 350 million hectares by 2030, set at the U.N. summit on climate change in New York 2014.

Funding restoration remains a hurdle, especially for small countries, Nickel said.

“Financing depends greatly on the situation in each country, whether there is a major investor or a foreign partner, and whether the investment will take the form of incentives or a combination of options,” said Manuel Guariguata, principal scientist on tropical forest ecology and forest management at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), an observer at the meeting.

Representatives at the meeting described a variety of financing mechanisms. Guatemala’s forest law establishes an incentive program for forest restoration and management, funded by 1 percent of the country’s ordinary revenues. Other countries have earmarked funding for particular projects. Revenue from water fees in Lima, Peru’s capital, will be allocated for reforestation and restoration of the upper parts of the watersheds on which the desert city depends.

Countries that have embarked on forest landscape restoration have found that the projects pay off in various ways.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in mountainous northern Pakistan became the first political jurisdiction to fulfill its pledge under the Bonn Challenge, restoring 350,000 hectares in the Hindu Kush through a combination of natural forest regeneration and tree planting.

Along with the new and recovering forest, the project has created thousands of “green” jobs, especially for young people, with the establishment of some 13,000 tree nurseries.

That kind of local economic benefit can be a selling point for restoration, which requires strong commitment from local governments and communities, the meeting participants said.

Good implementation requires accurate scientific information about ecosystems, so planners can determine where and how to target limited resources for the greatest benefit.

Long-term monitoring is also necessary to determine the extent to which the ecosystem recovers and ensure that the benefits are maintained.

The task is complex, because countries pledge to reforest a certain number of hectares nationwide, but monitoring must be done locally to assess the restoration of ecosystem functions, biodiversity and other elements, Guariguata said.

It is also important to monitor more widely to ensure that gains from restoration in certain areas are not being canceled out by deforestation and forest degradation in others.

Various countries are using satellite images to track deforestation and new vegetation growth, but those systems have limitations. A timber plantation shows up as new vegetation, but does not provide the same ecosystem services as a natural forest, for example.

Even when an area is reforested with native species, remote monitoring can be a challenge. On March 17, the second day of the meeting, the participants visited a farm near Foz de Iguaçu, where the landowner has reforested along a river with support from Itaipu Binacional, the company that operates the huge Itaipu hydroelectric dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border.

The effort is part of a larger project to link protective forest around the dam’s reservoir with several Brazilian national parks, creating corridors for wildlife, restoring biodiversity and protecting water supplies.

The government ministers and other participants contributed to the project by planting about 30 native saplings. But monitoring narrow strips of restored land remotely is difficult without very detailed, high-resolution satellite images, said Jair Schmitt, director of the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment’s office for forests and for combating deforestation.

Worldwide, about 2 billion hectares of land are deforested or degraded. Some 650 million of them are in Latin America, where the meeting was held. The current pledges are an initial step toward restoration of that land.

The Bonn Challenge has sparked regional efforts in Latin America, Africa and Asia, bringing countries together to compare notes and share ideas.

“More and more countries want to be part of (the Bonn Challenge) now,” Nickel said. “Now we have to be very keen that the political promises are implemented and that we have very good indicators” of progress.