Since 2010, national governments worldwide, alongside technical and financial partners, have stepped up ambitious commitments to implement forest landscape restoration at large scales. In this context, the seventh biennial World Conference on Ecological Restoration (SER2017), taking place from 27 August to 1 September 2017 in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, is expected to further catalyze the restoration agenda across its many dimensions: biophysical, social, economic, cultural and legal, at the local, national and global scales.
This year’s event, with the theme ‘Linking Science and Practice for a Better World’, is hosted by the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) in partnership with the Brazilian Society for Ecological Restoration (SOBRE) and the Ibero-American & Caribbean Society for Ecological Restoration (SIACRE). It is expected to draw over 1,500 delegates, including researchers, practitioners, policymakers and community leaders.
The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) will be represented in various sessions, forums and symposiums at the Conference. Manuel Guariguata, CIFOR Principal Scientist and Team Leader on Forest Management and Restoration, spoke with Forests News ahead of the event.
What research highlights will CIFOR present at SER2017?
One of the studies we will present examines the role of public policies, national plans and relevant regulatory frameworks in either incentivizing or discouraging forest landscape restoration and reforestation in Latin American countries.
This analysis is key for governments, policymakers and also researchers to understand which are the main legal and normative bottlenecks in progressing toward the ambitious restoration goals countries have set for themselves, and to optimize potential trade-offs during project planning and implementation.
We will also present the preliminary results of an ongoing analysis on the difficulties in implementing natural forest regeneration as a restoration tool. It identifies the main governance challenges in achieving cost-effective, socially-accepted natural regeneration, as well as when it makes sense to use it as a means of restoration. Among other issues, I will emphasize the urgent need for an enhanced dialogue between different government agencies, which more often than not include both agriculture and the environment.
Another highlight is our forthcoming case study on the efficacy and effectiveness in applying the current norms and regulations regarding Environmental Compensation in Colombia. In spite of important advances in Colombia in terms of regulatory frameworks, legal loopholes and technical weaknesses still hamper effective design and implementation of ecosystem restoration as a means to offset damage to native ecosystems by infrastructure projects such as dams and pipelines.
When published, our analysis will shed light on how to best achieve land degradation neutrality via ecological restoration, not only in Colombia, but also in neighboring countries which are starting to implement their own environmental compensation laws. At present, there is a growing global movement to implement zero deforestation and degradation commitments.
Which key issues do you expect the Conference to address?
Over the last decade, there has been a paradigm shift away from restoring forests at the plot scale and moving toward forest landscape restoration: the latter is not just about planting trees and sequestering carbon, but about optimizing different land uses to create landscapes with a range of environmental services and social benefits.
This idea is well understood, but I hope SER2017 will allow us to conduct in-depth discussions about how to implement this vision in the field, select appropriate indicators and refine existing prioritization approaches to this end.
Another major challenge to be addressed is multilevel governance. That is, coordination between the international, national and local levels. This is a challenge we must tackle if we want global commitments on forest landscape restoration to work on the ground. We must ensure they are embedded into national decision-making and properly implemented with local participation.
Currently, there are very significant bottlenecks between these three levels, both in terms of overlapping or else conflicting mandates over a single resource — the regenerating forest — and also technical capacities.
The fact that SIACRE is co-hosting the conference is promising, since it will add a regional flavor to discussions on these issues. This will certainly help to align national and international priorities in a more compact manner. CIFOR is open to collaboration with SIACRE and other relevant networks as needs arise.
SER2017 is held under the theme ‘Linking Science and Practice for a Better World’. Why is reconciling the perspectives of ecologists and field managers a challenge?
Scientific publications are not always accessible to practitioners. Forest landscape restoration is bound to generate global benefits packed within a multifaceted bundle. This means that now, more than ever, there is a need to close the gap between science and practice in a holistic fashion. Agronomists, foresters, governance specialists, land-use planners, economists, ecologists and educators need to get together and think about how to create a new generation of professionals and how to engage with both decision-makers and end users.
Some international organizations do translate their research into styles and formats accessible to a broader audience. CIFOR is one of them: it adapts and translates contents into various languages and for different knowledge clients.
However, we do not work alone. CIFOR is part of the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration — an inter-agency response to the Bonn Challenge — and a member of the PARTNERS network for multidisciplinary knowledge generation and synthesis, among others.
What sets this SER2017 apart from the previous conference, held in Manchester in 2015?
Since 2015, there has been a quantum leap in terms of awareness and proclamation of national commitments to forest landscape restoration across five continents. One recent instance is the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), a country-led effort to bring 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes across Africa into restoration by 2030.
This increased global commitment means the upcoming SER Conference — the second after the establishment of the Bonn Challenge — is set to attract a fair amount of attention.
What would you like SER2017 to achieve, and what will success look like?
First of all, I would like the conference to address the often-overlooked, yet critical issue of monitoring. Otherwise, how will countries know whether they have achieved their objectives? And which could be the most appropriate tools and approaches to gauge both successes and failures at the global level while meeting local needs and aspirations? These conversations are just starting in the context of the international restoration agenda.
Again, forest landscape restoration is not just about increasing tree cover over a given period of time, but about optimizing various land uses to create landscapes that work in terms of ecosystem service provision for people. Another important issue is how to monitor and develop metrics to assess these outcomes in a cost-effective fashion.
To determine the overall success of the Conference, we may look at three indicators: the final declaration, with the highlights of the event and calls to action to donors and governments worldwide; the uptake of SER2017 recommendations by major international conventions, such as the ones on biological diversity and climate change; and the influence on policies and practices at the national level — usually a slow process.
Finally, I also expect participants to emerge with a simple, clear idea: ecological restoration is a means, not an end in itself. We live in a very dynamic planet nowadays, so flexibility is key.
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