Governments around the world have pledged over 150 million hectares of forested land for restoration, but only five million have been subject to such interventions so far.
“We already know how to restore degraded landscapes at small scales, but uncertainty remains as to how to create a global movement that is well resourced, socially supported and technically competent,” says Jaboury Ghazoul, plant ecologist at ETH Zürich and organizer of the 2018 Latsis Symposium.
Held in Zurich rom 6–7 and 9 June, the event brought together scientists and practitioners from various disciplines around the challenge of scaling up forest landscape restoration (FLR) to meet regional and global goals.
It was “a first step in generating a common vision on how to scale up FLR globally,” says Manuel Guariguata, Senior Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
The symposium acknowledged that significantly raising the global area under restoration in the coming decade requires solutions for financing, implementation and conflict resolution.
The time to find these answers, says Ghazoul, is now: “We are potentially on the cusp of a global transition that could drive rapid and meaningful global restoration of degraded landscapes.”
The stakes for people and the planet are high. Land degradation is estimated to cost the global economy somewhere from USD 2 to 4.5 trillion each year, while economic benefits of restoration efforts could hit 84 billion annually.
Taking FLR to the next level is “as much about increasing the area under restoration as it is about resolving conflicts among stakeholders with competing interests,” says Ghazoul.
FLR can result in many types of forest, each with different benefits to different groups, explains Marc Metzger, reader in Environment and Society at the University of Edinburgh.
One of the risks is that existing power inequalities determine how restoration is implemented and who benefits from it. For Executive Director of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, Robin Chazdon, potential “land grabbing and increased marginalization of poor and powerless people is a big concern.”
This particularly comes into play in places “where governments do not respect local people’s land rights, and where state lands – often considered ‘empty’– are given away to investors and NGOs,” adds Chair of the Netherlands Land Academy Annelies Zoomers.
But there are ways of mitigating those risks. For Metzger, a good start is developing agreed-upon best practices on how interests from stakeholders are captured.
“It is important to understand the aspirations and motivations of the various groups to avoid conflict, understand trade-offs and maximize synergies,” he explains.
Part of the problem is that “forest restoration means different things to different people,” notes Guariguata. In other words, there is no single, globally accepted definition of FLR.
Metzger points out the need to accept a plurality of approaches to restoration. “Ideally, though, they would all be based on a set of agreed sustainability principles and goals, as well as on guidelines for transparency.”
Metzger and Claude Garcia, Group Leader of Forest Management and Development (ForDev) at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecosystems at ETH Zürich and CIRAD Senior Scientist, similarly believe it is important to develop a common vision, at least within sub-national and national regions. And this should be based on learning and managing adaptively.
Chazdon believes “it is fine” if restoration activities fall across a spectrum ranging from productive or conservation goals. After all, she says, the needs and capacities vary widely in each context, as do governance and land tenure systems.
One way to empower good practices is to establish minimal guidelines for FLR practice, says Katharine Suding, Plant Community Ecologist at University of Colorado Boulder. Yet, she is careful to state that the degree of acceptance and minimum level of these principles will vary from case to case.
The private sector could also become a positive agent of change. As long as there is a clear return on investments, risk aversion means private investors might be more likely to support programs that demonstrate an adherence to FLR principles.
For the time being, though, the private sector remains the biggest cause of degradation through land grabbing and forest conversion. This is why it is important to include timber plantations as part of the solution, said Benoit Jobbé-Duval, Managing Director at the Association Technique Internationale des Bois Tropicaux (ATIBT).
Zoomers calls for efforts at various levels: from building the capacity of local communities to managing the expectations of different groups and developing new types of benefit sharing, while also striving to understand the root causes of deforestation including adverse effects of well-meaning investments.
Reaching millions of hectares with restoration activities, though, will also take resources. Guariguata says that “a critical step is generating enough evidence that FLR delivers.”
He believes a concerted effort should be made to measure the effectiveness of FLR interventions under an evaluation framework, as is the case with REDD+. “Identifying emergent, global patterns will be key to attract funding from donor agencies and investors.”
Chazdon estimates that public-private partnerships will become increasingly important in securing funding, and that it should be tied to demonstrated efforts to adhere to FLR guidelines.
“We need financing opportunities that are transparent and that provide benefits for local people, and we must create a restoration-based economy that will replace a degradation-based one,” she says.
Restoring forested landscapes matters, hold experts at the Latsis Symposium. It helps mitigate climate change, provides goods and services to support sustainable livelihoods, and maintains biodiversity.
The constellation of political will, national pledges and societal interest has created real opportunities to scale up forest restoration efforts to meet global targets. To secure success, “the benefits of restoration at scale need to be realized across many different interest groups, and that is the greatest challenge,” concludes Ghazoul.
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