In 2014, Latin American and Caribbean countries – which hold 27 percent of the world’s forests – came together and committed to bring 20 million hectares of degraded lands under restoration by 2020 in an effort aptly titled Initiative 20×20. With the region’s precious ecosystems continually under threat, 18 countries are now banded together in Initiative, with a more ambitious horizon: protecting and beginning to restore 50 million hectares by 2050.
Every year, the Initiative’s countries and more than 120 partners gather for an annual meeting to discuss progress, needs and plans for the year ahead. In the wake of COVID-19, this year’s meeting in late May was held virtually and with a slightly different tone, heightening the intersection of ecological and human health on country and partner agendas and the crucial role of restoration therein. Here, Landscape News spoke with Luciana Gallardo Lomeli, a research associate with the World Resources Institute (WRI) who manages the Initiative’s activities in Central America and Mexico, to summarize the discussions.
What is the purpose of the annual partners meeting?
These meetings are meant to gather country representatives, impact investors and technical partners and define how we are supporting countries and their ambitions in achieving their restoration goals. Before 2014, restoration was not well defined on the international agenda, and the movement hadn’t yet connected partners.
But the number of partners coalescing around restoration and sustainable land use since then has seen immense growth, and now, there are over 80 technical partners, 22 impact investors and private companies working on restoration in Latin America and the Caribbean alone.
Of course, the priority within the meeting is to highlight that restoration is a major nature-based solution for climate action, and that it is also important for biodiversity and for food systems. Hence, the meeting focuses on inspiring greater action from stakeholders to support the process.
How did COVID-19 affect the conversations?
The pandemic has certainly been a priority in government agendas. But governments are looking toward restoration and sustainable development in the land-use sector as a way to “build back better,” so they remain invested in integrating sustainable solutions to the land-use sector. They’re looking at restoration as a pathway that can help build their country’s resilience.
How did the meeting help bridge gaps between partners?
What Initiative 20×20 and the annual partners meeting does is facilitate access to information, the process through which restoration programs are built, and how sustainable development in the land-use sector helps achieve climate goals and ensure water and food security. Reporting on such progress and general efforts on restoration by partners fosters collaboration and brings all stakeholders closer to technical know-how and resources that may unlock even greater action. I think this opportunity to learn how the movement is evolving is one of the most valuable insights from the meeting.
The Initiative has now garnered USD 2.5 billion of investment in the restoration strategies of its partners. How is this money being used?
Private investors play a complementary role in the Initiative. The role they play in bringing restoration to scale is crucial because governments’ capacity alone is not sufficient to meet the financial demand for restoration. So private partners – financial partners, impact investors and companies – can support the scaling through sustainable business models based on the value derived from sustainable land-use practices that are profitable.
Their engagement in restoration is quite diverse. The way they deploy and earmark their funds varies because each investor has a unique investment philosophy. For instance, you have a group that’s focused on business models that are linked to the sustainable management of secondary forests, and another focused on coffee and cocoa production that enhances biodiversity and bird habitats, and others that rely on revenue from carbon credits. Occasionally, financial partners might also rely on public restoration incentives or technical assistance from existing public programs. Finally, quite often they will also look to work with local communities and ensure that they are supporting sustainable livelihoods.
How does the Initiative work to overcome challenges in restoration activities?
Our definition of restoration encompasses many different approaches. It’s not just ecological restoration – we consider other activities that increase the functionality of land in a sustainable way. These interventions or management approaches can occur not only in forested lands but also in other ecosystems – grasslands, mangroves, agricultural lands. Restoration approaches within these ecosystems are varied, and so are the emerging challenges: I can think of wildfires, the current use of public incentives to ensure sustainable land use and promote restoration, or how independent monitoring techniques are used to track and report on progress, tweak struggling programs and encourage further investment. However, the challenges are greater than these few.
The way that Initiative 20×20 focuses on these issues is through our nine task forces. They bring together the technical know-how and expertise of the technical partners on specific issues. These task forces serve as working groups, that with participation from the technical partners help deliver clear messages on key aspects of restoration.
What is the Initiative’s role in stopping deforestation in the Amazon?
The Initiative is aware of the increase in the rate of deforestation and dieback of the Amazon and other crucial ecosystems in Brazil. We know that to curb such dynamic requires a stronger leadership from country authorities. Initiative 20×20 is highlighting the effort of some of its partners who are dedicated to finding solutions and collaborating around deforestation in the Amazon – Funbio, Kaete Investimentos and Symbiosis Investimentos, to name a few.
Ultimately our focus on Brazil is to ensure that Brazil’s ambitions to restoration remain well defined and community engaged. For example, the Novo Campo sustainable cattle ranching program, started by Brazilian NGO Instituto Centro de Vida in 2012, is a pioneering project in the Alta Floresta ranching hub of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state. Novo Campo aims to prove that sustainable small-to-medium-sized ranches that implement a package of better animal nutrition, husbandry, and health policies are profitable and can help restore degraded land.
For participating ranchers, their methane emissions are down and their stocking per hectare, productivity, meat quality, and gross profit are all up. It’s a system that emits less and produces more, without any deforestation. As it expands, the program will be a fundamental step towards the realization of fully traceable zero-deforestation beef.
What are the goals for partners to reach ahead of next year’s annual meeting?
There are several efforts going on at the moment. One goal is to increase private sector engagement, and to achieve this, I can say that we are promoting project development and readiness for investment. Our Land Accelerator program seeks to bring budding entrepreneurs through a training and mentorship program so that they are able to present and pitch to investors or other financiers.
Engaging countries on their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Climate Agreement is another goal of the Initiative, because embedding restoration goals in climate commitments is a process that may benefit from continued political dialogue and technical support. There are several countries that acknowledge the importance of restoration but still must reflect their restoration ambitions in their climate agendas. And so, supporting these countries in learning from the experience of other countries is something on which we’ll continue working.
Read about more 65 ecosystem restoration and conservation projects in Latin America on the Initiative 20×20 website here.