The world is losing an estimated USD 6.3 trillion to land degradation every year, while restoring 300 million hectares by 2030 could have a return of USD 7 to 20 for each dollar invested.
“If the cost of inaction is way bigger than the cost of action, why are we not getting on with the job?” asked Robert Nasi, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) during the second annual Global Landscapes Forum summit in Bonn, Germany on 1–2 December.
For Nasi and fellow panelists, the way to scale up forest landscape restoration (FLR) sustainably is to make it profitable. “We need to present FLR as an enterprise that can create jobs and attract private sector investment; otherwise, in ten years, we will be having the same conversation,” he said. “We have a very limited window of opportunity, so the time to act is now.”
This means integrating FLR into the design of wood value chains and incentivizing it by leveraging the power of markets – that is, by turning degraded areas into productive landscapes such as tree plantations, or at least in part.
This can lead to more jobs, more products and benefits from forests, and progress on multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at once. “The economic feasibility of large-scale FLR depends a great deal on big investments that only productive capital can provide,” said Hiroto Mitsugi, assistant director general of the Forestry Department of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“Governments or donor communities cannot finance the restoration of the world’s forests and landscapes, it is too expensive,” said executive director of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) Gerhard Dieterle. “This is why we need to incentivize private actors to invest, both to meet climate targets and to ensure wood security in response to people’s needs.”
RULES OF ATTRACTION
Realizing this economic dimension is paramount, otherwise well-intended efforts can fall by the wayside. In 2002, ITTO launched technical and operational guidelines for the restoration of tropical forests, but they were never applied because they failed to address the issue of investments and financing.
ITTO is now collaborating with experts such as Jurgen Blaser, a global forestry researcher at Switzerland’s Bern University, to update these guidelines. “Attracting long-term investments into forest restoration requires matching public and private interests, and doing so against a backdrop of acceptable policies, governance and social inclusion,” said Blaser. “In revising the ITTO guidelines, we aim to chart a path through these investment criteria.”
Dieterle noted that a growing number of companies are interested in buying sustainably harvested timber – but trust is an issue. “We must find ways to track and verify the sustainability of a wood product throughout the supply chain; often, companies want to buy ‘green’ timber but they do not know what happens at the source,” he explained.
In order to support the growth of the global green economy, smallholders, land owners and companies must all be well-versed in what makes wood production truly sustainable and legal, which requires education and training. Dieterle believes this is crucial for attracting finance for forest landscape restoration, along with stable and clean governance; clear and demarcated land rights; and adequate guidance – legally, politically, economically – on how restoration should work within supply chains.
Mirjam Kuzee, who leads assessments for FLR opportunities at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), noted the growing interest among businesses to take on restoration activities in order to improve their reputations and respond to the demands of green-minded consumers.
“They also see FLR as a means to ensure sustained production of commodities; tap into cost-sharing opportunities; and improve their relationship with stakeholders, particularly where encroaching is a big issue,” she said.
Nasi from CIFOR emphasized the need to sustainably manage secondary forests for wood production, noting they are often converted for other uses.
When degraded landscapes are being restored, he suggested that one-third of an area be devoted to ecosystem services such as water provision or medicinal plants, another to commodity production, and the rest to other uses. “What we must make sure is that local communities and small companies involved in restoration processes benefit from them,” he said.
“Finally, we need to conserve whatever primary and untouched tropical forests are left; it is an atrocity to clear them for pulp or paper.”
The degradation of the world’s forest landscapes advances, but so do the efforts of those determined to find solutions.