As well as mitigating climate change and giving wild species a fighting chance, forest landscape restoration can boost local livelihoods and economic development, restore ecosystem services that have massive socioeconomic value, and increase production of food, timber, and other important materials.
The 2021 Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use was accompanied by pledges of USD 12 billion in public funding and USD 7.2 billion in private investment.
Current commitments fall far short of the USD 36 billion to USD 49 billion that the UN has estimated is needed every year to meet landscape restoration targets.
By Fran Price, Lead, WWF Global Forest Practice
For too long, climate change and nature loss have been treated like tomorrow’s problems. It’s becoming ever clearer that tomorrow has already arrived.
This year, nobody could ignore the climate crisis. In early 2022, both poles were experiencing temperatures at least 30°C higher than average simultaneously. Temperature records sored across Europe, North America, and many other parts of the world. Years of drought, exacerbated by conflicts and other crises, are pushing East Africa into famine.
Meanwhile, WWF’s latest Living Planet Report lays bare the ongoing catastrophic decline in biodiversity. Our planet’s life support system is in critical condition. Habitat loss is the prime culprit, with the greatest losses caused by deforestation in the tropics. The newly released Forest Declaration Assessment sends another warning signal that efforts to halt deforestation are not enough and we are not on track to achieve our 2030 goals.
We can’t treat these interlinked crises as a future threat any longer: they are here, now, and we need to do everything we possibly can to address them. That means urgently reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pulling carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere, while also adapting and building resilience in the face of unavoidable impacts. It means ending ecosystem destruction and conserving and restoring habitats to give wildlife a chance to bounce back.
Forests have a crucial role to play in this. Deforestation, responsible for an estimated 10-12% of GHG emissions and one of the biggest threats to wildlife populations, must be halted. There is also huge potential to absorb CO2 emissions and reverse biodiversity loss by restoring forests in a way that can help people and nature cope with climate change impacts. More than just planting trees, forest landscape restoration aims to restore the natural functioning of ecosystems in deforested and degraded landscapes, while also supporting the livelihoods and well-being of the people who live there, contributing to several of the SDGs.
Declarations and pledges
At the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 26) last year, 142 countries signed up to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. They pledged to conserve forests and accelerate their restoration, as well as to significantly increase public and private finance and investment for sustainable agriculture, sustainable forest management (SFM), forest conservation and restoration, and support for Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
It was a welcome commitment, which adds impetus to other forest restoration efforts during the current UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. There has also been an explosion in corporate interest in forest restoration from companies seeking to meet their net-zero commitments.
Now it is time to turn the Leaders’ Declaration into real leadership – and to focus on projects that really deliver for climate, people, and nature. With UNFCCC COP 27 and the UN Biodiversity Conference around the corner, it is time to ramp up action.
The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration was accompanied by pledges of USD 12 billion in public funding and USD 7.2 billion in private investment. That is a promising start – but it is only a start. Current commitments fall far short of the USD 36 billion to USD 49 billion that the UN has estimated is needed every year to meet landscape restoration targets.
WWF recently released an analysis of public funding strategies from governments and multilateral donors. It finds that few government donors are explicitly funding forest landscape restoration (Germany is an exception), although many are prioritizing relevant areas such as climate change, biodiversity, rural development, and forestry.
We would like to see public donors show greater understanding of the role forest landscape restoration can play in meeting multiple objectives, and the social and ecological benefits it brings. While public donors cannot be expected to provide all the necessary funding, they have a vital role to play in strengthening collaboration and coordinating the long-term support necessary for ecosystem restoration.
Quality landscape restoration does not come cheap: tree planting projects that do not take account of the wider landscape, the needs of local people, or the importance of long-term management are likely to fail. Our partners at Trillion Trees recently published a white paper discussing the true costs of different types of forest restoration, including assisted natural regeneration, agroforestry, and planted forests.
Return on investment
Mobilizing the sums necessary will certainly be a challenge in the current circumstances, with the world still recovering from the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. But forest landscape restoration should be seen not as a cost but as a wise investment, particularly in the light of new research from Deloitte suggesting that unchecked climate change could cost the global economy USD 178 trillion over the next 50 years.
As well as mitigating climate change and giving wild species a fighting chance, forest landscape restoration can boost local livelihoods and economic development, restore ecosystem services that have massive socioeconomic value, and increase production of food, timber, and other important materials. Healthy forest landscapes are also more resilient to climate change: for example, restoring forests alongside rivers can buffer the impact of both droughts and floods, while growing trees on farms can stabilize soils and provide vital shade.
At WWF, we have seen these benefits firsthand. We have been involved in forest landscape restoration projects for more than 20 years, learning many lessons along the way.
We are now aiming to build on this experience on a massive scale by launching new initiatives to support countries to turbo-charge their forest landscape restoration commitments. In Africa, we are aiming to catalyze the restoration of 13.5 million hectares in nine countries by 2027, while in Latin America we are targeting 7 million hectares in 12 countries by 2025.
Ambitious? Definitely. But a crisis is no time for timid, half-hearted measures. It is a time for bold leadership, and for daring solutions – and forest landscape restoration is one of the best we have.