Landscape restoration has long been overshadowed by forest conservation when it comes to ecosystem-based strategies for tackling climate change.
But now scientists and climate strategists are calling for greater recognition of the contribution of landscape restoration to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
“Let’s stop calling them ‘co-benefits’,” said Stewart Maginnis, the Global Director of Nature-based Solutions with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “They are real, tangible benefits.”
Maginnis was speaking at a panel of government representatives, advocates and scientists at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum in Paris on 5 December. Landscape restoration was one of the core themes at the Forum, which brought together 3,200 people from across sectors and regions to discuss the role of sustainable land use in achieving climate and development goals.
He referred to the Bonn Challenge, an ambitious goal set in 2011 to restore 150 million hectares of forest by 2020. If met, he said, those forests would pull a gigatonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, in addition to boosting crop yields and protecting watershed worth billions of dollars.
Ian Gray, Senior Environmental Specialist with the Global Environment Facility, made similar comments. No longer to be sidelined as a “hobby” in strategies for dealing with climate change, forest restoration should sit alongside forest conservation as “a real force to move into the future” and meet targets, he said.
GLOBAL PLEDGES, LOCAL POWER
Some 86 million hectares of forest have already been earmarked by countries for restoration as part of the Bonn Challenge, nearly 60 percent of the target with five years to go.
New major efforts include AFR100, announced in a separate session at the Forum, under which more than a dozen African nations pledged to restore 100 million hectares by 2030. The 20×20 Initiative in Latin America also announced an expansion at the Forum, with four South and Central American countries committing more than 8.5 million hectares for restoration, including 2.9 million hectares in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso alone.
We’re not engaging people for tomorrow or for a project. We’re engaging them forever.
But Bianca Jagger, founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation and a Bonn Challenge Ambassador, pointed out that the way the targets are met are just as important as the number of hectares pledged.
“This is not only about planting trees,” Jagger said. “The important part of [the Bonn Challenge] is that people are at the center of this initiative.”
Jagger cited the case of Niger, where local farmers have restored 5 million hectares of degraded land. With more trees, communities in the Sahelian nation now have better access to firewood. And, Jagger said, more trees have helped ratchet up crop yields by 100 kilograms per hectare – a boon that helps feed an additional 2.5 million people per year in the chronically food-insecure country.
This type of restoration demonstrates the power of local communities on the frontlines of climate change, she said: “Even when world leaders will fail, this will be an answer.”
Jagger’s remarks highlighted the importance of local and indigenous groups.
José Vilialdo Díaz, the head of the Climate Change Department at the National Forestry Institute in Guatemala, where indigenous people make up 50 percent of the population, agreed: “The center of landscape restoration is the people.”
Emmanuel Niyonkuru, Burundi’s Minister of Water, Environment, Spatial Planning and Urban Development, said that government policies had to be “inclusive and integrative” of a country’s people, particularly in hammering out the details of frameworks such as REDD+, as Burundi is currently doing.
This is not only about planting trees. The important part of [the Bonn Challenge] is that people are at the center of this initiative.
That line of thinking goes hand in hand with the landscape approach to sustainable development – for instance, finding ways to support livelihoods while at the same time restoring forest.
“You could not achieve the aims and ambitions of landscape restoration without fully addressing agroforestry that supports small-scale farmers,” said Maginnis. “If that was ignored and we just looked at large-scale plantations, for example, we would miss the boat on the objectives behind landscape restoration.”
And as climate change isn’t a short-term issue, solutions need to be designed for the long haul, co-moderator Peter Besseau, the Director of the International Affairs Division of Natural Resources of the Canadian Forest Service, pointed out.
“We’re not engaging people for tomorrow or for a project,” Besseau said. “We’re engaging them forever.”
And to meet targets like those set forth in the Bonn Challenge, we need to give forest restoration every chance to succeed, said Gray.
“We have a second chance with these landscapes,” Gray said. “Let’s make that chance actually work this time.”