Indigenous leader says business investments should put Mother Earth front and center

Monica Evans
31 May 2018

WASHINGTON (Landscape News) — Reforestation and restoration of degraded landscapes worldwide is a priority for climate change mitigation and adaptation. How can we pull together to make this happen?

At the closing plenary of the Global Landscapes Forum Investment Case Symposium in Washington on Wednesday, speakers from diverse sectors shared their views and visions of what’s needed now to scale up reforestation efforts into a “global mosaic” of land use that serves the needs of people and nature.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” said Karin Kemper, senior director for Environment and Natural Resources at the World Bank. “We know that if we continue with business as usual, 100 million people will be pushed back into poverty by 2040, and by 2050 more than 40 million forced to leave their homes. It’s a global responsibility to limit temperature rise to below 2 degrees.”

Lina Dolores Pohl Alfaro, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources in El Salvador – one of the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change – agreed. “People are already dying in my country because of climate change,” she said. “In one tropical depression, we had 1.5 metres of rain in ten days, and we lost 6% of our GDP. So we urgently need to restore.”

PRIVATE SECTOR ROLE

While government officials like Pohl Alfaro have important roles to play in progressing restoration agendas, they can’t do it in isolation. “90 percent of the finances available in climate funds for adaptation can’t be used in El Salvador, because we don’t have large forest areas,” she explained. “So our implementation is limited by doing things only with national funds. We need private investment, too.”

As Kemper corroborated, “the event has shown us the importance of both the policy side – tenure reforms, payments for ecosystem services and so on – and the innovative financing needed to mobilise more private sector funding for sustainable landscapes. Natural capital needs to be part of a balanced portfolio in a country: it’s fundamental to the wealth of nations and to the planet.”

Chief Tashka Yawanawa, of the Yawanawa people in Acre, in the Brazilian Amazon, added that the global responsibility to contribute to climate change mitigation includes the private sector as much as anybody.

“Taking care of Mother Earth is not just a responsibility for indigenous people, it’s also a responsibility for business people,” he said. “Because how are you going to have a safe environment for doing business in otherwise?”

Yawanawa also pointed out the increasing pressure on companies to source supplies ethically and sustainably. “These days, people want to know where things come from. If you don’t make sure your business practices line up with social and environmental goals, in a few years no-one will buy your products,” he cautioned.

David Brand, CEO of sustainable forestry company New Forests, laid out some concrete steps for tapping into institutional funding to create sustainable landscapes, by developing core assets like plantation forestry and then adding in other social and environmental initiatives around them.

“So there’s a core commercial investment that’s also linked with other outcomes, creating support for environmental restoration work,” he explained.

An audience member expressed concern about the immense volume of private-sector investment still going into activities that degrade and deforest: much more than that going into restoration and reforestation at present.

Brand agreed, and emphasized the need to accurately price externalities, which other speakers had mentioned earlier in the day. “Otherwise, you just get this steady erosion of natural capital and conversion of that into consumption,” he said. “So part of that is getting the price signals right, and then it will flow into the right place.”

Charles Batte, entrepreneur and CEO of Tree Adoption Uganda, reminded the audience about the importance of involving young people in restoration initiatives.

“When environmental commitments are made, it’s the young people who get really excited, because they want to go and plant a tree, and tweet about it, Instagram it, Facebook about it,” he said, “but they don’t have the resources to do it.”

He raised a challenge to investors to make room for supporting smaller, younger organizations like his. “One of the things we hear most often is: “You’re too small for us. We’re looking for bigger deals”. But I say, be more innovative. Stop saying we are too small for you. Find ways you can fit us in.”

He also pointed out the importance of including and valuing smallholder farmers within forums like GLF, and investment processes themselves. “If you were to monetize the amount of labor and land provided by a smallholder farmer, you would see that what he or she is investing is equal to what an impact investor is putting in,” he observed.

“So these farmers are not just passive recipients, but equal partners. We’re not just helping them, we are actually collaborating with them.”

SCALING UP

In his closing address, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) director-general Robert Nasi posed an important challenge to the audience: “Now what? I think we need to use this opportunity to see what we can develop together.”

Kemper added: “Looking forward, there’s a large scaling-up agenda ahead of us.” For Kemper, bringing in different sectors, beyond forestry and agriculture, is a key part of progressing this agenda. “So we need partnerships like the GLF and the Bonn Challenge to bring us all together,” she said.

As Nasi reiterated, “We need to continue – this is not the end, it’s the beginning.”