“I believe optimism and hope are essential”

A Q&A between CIFOR head Robert Nasi and the public on restoration, biodiversity and more

Robert Nasi delivering a speech at the 3rd Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2018. Ulet Ifansasti, CIFOR
9 February 2021

In the field of restoration, knowledge is power, and the chance to learn from experienced practitioners is precious. A Q&A held on Twitter earlier this year allowed people to ask Robert Nasi, the director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), about biodiversity and landscape restoration following the release of seven recommendations on biodiversity policy put forth by the Global Landscapes Forum and its community of leading environmental organizations. Here is an edited selection of the public conversation.

You’ve recently said that we have failed nature, forests and biodiversity. Why? (Claude Garcia, Switzerland)

I would argue that we took a wrong turn when parts of humanity decided to rely on fossil fuels and the unsustainable use of natural resources as the basis for economic development.

Many good things have resulted from these, but we have been too slow to recognize the unintended consequences (look at signals like the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring), and when we did, powerful establishment forces made sure that things didn’t change. Change seems to be happening now, but it is still too timid and will be painful because of previous choices.

Which developments in the last few years have made you optimistic? (via Instagram)

2020 was pretty bleak, but I would say that there has been progress in the recognition of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), in raising awareness about climate change and diversity loss and some other good news in terms of biodiversity.

What do you see as the biggest challenges when communicating about biodiversity-related research? (via Instagram)

The challenge in communicating research (for biodiversity or other topics) is to find the right balance. Language that is too simple does not reach the desired goal while language that is too complex will be hard for general audiences to understand.  

Tree planting has been used as a strong tool for land restoration, land reclamation and ecosystem resilience. But what does it take to identify a degraded landscape? (Musa Ibrahim, Nigeria)

Degradation is a tricky concept and difficult to define universally. I would look at the landscape and compare two similar pieces of land. If one is less diverse and productive than the other, it is likely degraded. But be careful. A piece of land without trees is not necessarily degraded, and planting trees in natural grasslands is a bad idea and is not restoration. If you can’t compare two pieces of land, you might try to assess the landscape’s current condition compared to its past by using local traditional knowledge.

Just as private companies can patent their technologies, IPLCs should be able to see some form of compensation for safeguarding traditional knowledge and genetic resources. Instead, they are facing landscape degradation and biodiversity loss. How can we overcome this? (Andrea Chávarri, Peru)

This issue of intellectual property rights and the benefit-sharing of the use of biodiversity is an important and tricky one. There is a specific article, 8(j), in the Convention on Biological Diversity about it – a contentious one if any.

But we are seeing more and more cases where IPLCs have managed to have their property rights recognized (e.g. South Africa’s KhoiSan People and herbal rooibos tea). We also need to see modern science more often recognize and integrate traditional knowledge, which has been ignored for too long.

Green bonds have lacked results in biodiversity-related projects. What does it take for these financial tools to be effective, and how can the private sector get more involved? (Andrea Chávarri, Peru)

Green bonds are increasingly common, but most relate to energy or transportation. Biodiversity and sustainable land-use sectors attracted a mere 3 percent of the USD 257.7 billion raised through green bonds. The main constraints are a lack of market for biodiversity, lack of capacity and likely too much emphasis on the “need to make a profit.”

Communities with low adaptive capacity are highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and the biodiversity crisis. How can this be improved? How can we ensure a bottom-up approach in policy creation and implementation? (Idemudia Ebanehita, Nigeria)

First, determine why adaptive capacity is low. What are the causes? Are they ecological, financial, social – or are there constraints in capacity? Look at how existing legal frameworks can potentially offer enabling conditions. Then, develop actions in concert with communities to improve weak spots. Work with donors and agencies to create an enabling environment. Finally, repeat as needed. It’s not easy, but this is not a reason not to try. Having a powerful player backing you up can help as well. 

How can we promote the active participation of women and girls in landscape restoration? (Antauro, Germany)

First, restoration must become an economic and social enterprise that creates jobs, goods and services (not limited to an injection of public money for ecosystem services). Then, like in any human enterprise, gender matters, and both women and men should have equal voices, which can be ensured by proper processes.

The current best available science indicates the need for immediate action. However, it often seems that we continue with business as usual. How can young professionals stay hopeful and accelerate action for people and the planet? (Youth In Landscapes Initiative)

I believe optimism and hope are essential, even if someone feels despair. Look at what one person – for example Greta Thunberg – can achieve. We can build a movement around positive change. Then, politicians and corporations will listen. This is what we are trying to achieve with the Global Landscapes Forum and its GLFx chapters. It’s not easy, and success is uncertain, but that’s not a reason not to try.


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