Time to scale up land restoration to advance Sustainable Development Goals, says new report

Forest landscape restoration in Ethiopia CIFOR/Mokhamad Edliadi
28 August 2018

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NAIROBI (Landscape News) – Industrialization, rising population and runaway consumption have accelerated land degradation worldwide. Poor land management is already having an impact on the well-being of 3.2 billion people and, by 2050, degradation and climate change could reduce crop yields by 10 percent globally and by up to 50 percent in certain regions. But there are ways to steer away from these projections.

Since tree loss plays a central role in land degradation, forest and landscape restoration is set to be instrumental in correcting course by improving livelihoods without damaging the environment.

“We need to use this momentum to draw together political support, financial muscle and the entrepreneurship of the private sector, and massively scale up restoration from promising pilot initiatives to an area of many million hectares,” says a new report by the Global Partnership for Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR), an alliance of nearly 30 governments and international organizations and non-governmental organizations.

The document, launched ahead of the 2018 Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Africa conference in Nairobi, explores how the various actors can best collaborate to reach the Bonn Challenge, which calls for the restoration of 150 million hectares of land by 2020 and 350 million by 2030 –- an area almost the size of India.

Potential gains are significant: there are about 2 billion hectares of degraded land worldwide suitable for restoration, an area bigger than South America, and the net benefits from restoring 350 million hectares are estimated at $9 trillion.

“It’s clear that there is a growing movement for large-scale landscape restoration,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “All our international partner organizations working in this field agree it’s now time to significantly scale up this work. There is clear potential for an area of 350 million hectares of degraded land to be restored by 2030, something that will give a huge boost to the fight against climate change, biodiversity loss and poverty. It’s essential that we mobilize and seize this opportunity.”

According to the GPFLR, scaling up restoration is also vital to meet international commitments on biodiversity, climate change and desertification, and to advance U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from protecting terrestrial ecosystems, to food security, health and water.

UNLOCKING PRIVATE CAPITAL

As of 2018, almost 50 countries have committed to bringing more than 160 million hectares into restoration, and regional platforms such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) and Initiative 20×20 are helping them move from pledges to on-the-ground implementation to reality.

These and other efforts have brought the movement to an important threshold, note authors, who believe the time has come to “cross it, and scale up restoration to match the opportunity that it represents.”

An estimated $837 billion are needed reach the 350 million hectare target by 2030, so a first step is boosting investment. “While increased support from governments and international financial bodies will be vital to scaling up restoration, much of this funding will have to come from private sources,” states the report.

The document notes restoration is best suited to attract private investment when it generates direct economic benefits that can be captured by private actors, such as higher agriculture or timber yields and market premiums on products from restoration.

The GPFLR encourages the development of markets that provide payment for ecosystem services, especially those created or revived by restoration. Redirecting incentives towards the rehabilitation of degraded land; allocating proceeds from carbon taxes to restoration; and leveraging climate finance are other strategies to unlock private capital.

Additional factors holding back private investors are risks surrounding the legal, technical and financial feasibility of projects; a shortage of investment-ready opportunities, and a limited capacity among partners in developing countries.

“The members of the GPFLR can help to create a critical mass of economically viable and successful restoration projects, build critical partnerships between different sectors and communicate the business case for restoration investments,” states the report.

Members include the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), UN Environment, the World Bank, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

POLITICAL TRACTION

Restoring the health, productivity and resilience of lands and forests will also take stronger leadership and outreach. For the authors of the report, the restoration message must reach decision-makers at the highest levels and it must be seen as a solution for both the economy and the environment.

“Making the case for restoration means explaining that its costs are far outweighed by its benefits, including job creation in rural areas,” says the report, which also calls on dispelling misperceptions that it creates competition between forests and food production.

Other recommendations include establishing cost-effective monitoring schemes that help refine the practice over time and show its positive impact, and increasing technical support at regional, national or sub-national level, where implementation takes place.

Political traction is important to get restoration moving, but so is the engagement of local stakeholders in the design, implementation and evaluation of projects. A reason is that restoration is not only about hectares, but also about outcomes for sustainable agriculture, food security, and rural economies.

Another reason is that “much of the work ahead will be done quietly and inexpensively by people pursuing better lives and livelihoods for themselves and their children.” For the GPFLR, they can help drive a transformational shift toward a sustainable future with the support of governments, experts, donors and international bodies.

“Extreme weather events around the world remind us that climate change is real, and it’s happening. Restoring degraded landscapes around the world is one of the most cost-effective measures to tackle climate change, and can improve agricultural productivity and resilience at the same time“, says Tim Christophersen of UN Environment, chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. “We have identified the restoration opportunities. Now we need governments and the private sector to implement them.”

Taking forest and landscape restoration to the next level will take a concerted effort from the local to the global scale, but the partnership believes restoring the ecological basis of humanity’s economic and social activity is well worth it. After all, “nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Learn more at the Global Landscapes Forum in Nairobi and online on Aug. 29-30. Click here for information.

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