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This article was originally published in 2019. It was updated 1 September 2020 to reflect changes.
The first Bonn Challenge milestone – 2020 – is here. Launched by Germany and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2011, the challenge is a global commitment to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands under restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.
So how is it coming along? Pledges to restore degraded lands have surpassed the 150 million hectare mark in 2017. The Bonn Challenge website now lists commitments from 74 pledgers in 61 countries to restore 210 million hectares.
However, it’s hard to tell how many hectares in total have been restored or are being restored. It’s also difficult to determine the extent to which 2019 and 2020 forest fires have set back restoration work achieved by Bonn Challenge pledgers. As of April this year, the number of fire alerts worldwide were up by 13 percent compared to 2019, which was already a record year for fires, according to an analysis by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Boston Consulting Group. The report suggested that hotter and drier weather caused by climate change and deforestation – primarily for agricultural land conversion – as the main drivers for the fires.
In last year’s assessment of the Bonn Challenge, IUCN commended the U.S. for surpassing its pledge to restore 15 million hectares by 2020. Using mostly silviculture practices, the U.S. Forest Service brought 17 million hectares into restoration by June 2019. Another example is El Salvador, which reported bringing more than 120,000 hectares under restoration since 2014. The country used a diverse range of interventions, from agroforestry to focusing on protected lands and key biodiversity areas. IUCN also noted that nearly 71.11 million hectares of land were under restoration as of 2018.
However, the assessment’s numbers only come from 19 regions and countries out of the 57 that committed to the challenge. These countries used a progress-tracking protocol and tool developed by IUCN for identifying, assessing and tracking action on the Bonn Challenge commitments.
Brazil, El Salvador, Rwanda, the U.S. and the Mexican state of Quintana Roo piloted an in-depth version of the reporting protocol in 2018, and their reports feed data into the Barometer of Restoration Success, a website that shows each country’s progress.
The Barometer focuses on both the results of restoration interventions such as hectares, jobs generated, carbon sequestered and biodiversity areas enhanced, as well as the required conditions behind it, such as the policies a government has passed and the funding it has allocated or secured.
1.3 BILLION TONS OF CO2
These countries reported a combined 27.835 million hectares under restoration as of 2018, which is 89 percent of their total pledged area of 30.7 million hectares. Bonn Challenge–related forest landscape restoration programs in these countries created 354,000 long- and short-term jobs. They also sequestered 1.379 billion tons of carbon dioxide and generated and an average investment per hectare of at least USD 235.
According to IUCN, the reporting protocol and barometer helped these five countries anticipate and solve problems in their restoration planning. “The Barometer fills a key gap in reporting on progress against commitments and has brought countries to the table to openly share data and information on their efforts, flag implementation hurdles, and identify ways forward to achieve their targets,” IUCN senior program officer Radhika Dave said in a statement.
Shira Yoffe, senior policy advisor for the U.S. Forest Service, affirms this. “The Barometer was a catalyst for us to take a more robust look at our restoration reporting, helping us identify strengths and weaknesses in our approach,” she says.
Sri Lanka had started using the in-depth version of the protocol, reporting 9,700 hectares under restoration. This is 4.8 percent of its commitment to restore 200,000 hectares by 2030.
Thirteen other countries used a ‘rapid application’ of the protocol and reported a combined 43.7 million hectares of land under restoration, representing 56 percent of their Bonn Challenge commitments. These countries are Burundi, Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, India, Malawi, Mozambique, and Uganda.
MEASURING PROGRESS ELSEWHERE
Altogether, these 19 countries have collectively pledged a total of 97 million hectares, 71.11 million hectares (73 percent) of which were under restoration as of 2018.
“The 19 countries covered in the report are just the first step,” Dave says. “In the coming year, the Barometer will be made available to all 57 and future Bonn Challenge pledgers. We’re seeing incredible momentum around it – it’s been endorsed by countries in Central Africa and in the Caucasus and Central Asia region, and it will be a key tool for the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.”
The IUCN is working with the governments of Armenia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Madagascar, Togo and Uzbekistan to apply the protocol to their restoration programs. That leaves 38 more regions and countries to bring on board.
How are these 38 pledgers doing? The answer is out there, but it’s in a lot of different places and based on frameworks that might differ from what is used in the Barometer. Dave said their restoration progress can be found in their reports to the biodiversity, climate change and desertification conventions, as well as reports on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
However, many of these pledgers are keen on using the protocol. “The demand has been incredible,” Dave says. “IUCN is responding to their requests for technical support in applying the protocol in a variety of ways – we’re generating online learning resources on how to use the protocol, conducting in-person capacity-development exercises, and currently exploring additional ways of providing ongoing timely assistance.”
The Barometer has been “a game changer in many ways,” Dave says. “For example, it’s triggered dialogues between people who wouldn’t normally interact with each other but who all have a role to play in delivering restoration action – across sectors, ministries and different types of stakeholders.”
“We’re also really excited about continuing to grow the diverse sources of information that are available and capturing them to build this credible and tangible picture of restoration progress.”