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How Can We Create Jobs, Reduce Food Prices and Boost Economies?

The fate of heads of state across the globe is tied in large part to their ability to ensure employment, economic growth, and access to cheap food and clean water. Rising food prices have helped topple dictators across the Middle East. Europe, the United States, Japan and other major economies are spending trillions of dollars to restore growth and jobs.

Too often, efforts to address environmental challenges such as pollution, habitat loss and global warming are seen as in conflict with job creation, economic growth and development. Some have suggested that protecting forests will lead to scarcity of land for farming, exacerbating the rise in food prices.

While there are often trade offs, this is not always the case. Recent analysis by WRI’s team of experts, working with the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, has unveiled one of the greatest potential opportunities for combined economic and environmental gains. We estimate that over two billion hectares of land has potential to be restored, providing better soil, water, and natural resources that improve human wellbeing locally and globally. These “lands of opportunity” have suffered various forms of degradation. All were originally forested and would benefit people with varying degrees of restoration.

Global Map of Forest and Landscape Restoration Opportunities (click to enlarge)

Restoration at Work

In the Sahel region of Africa, lands have been degraded on a massive scale by overgrazing, inappropriate agriculture and periodic drought, fueled by misguided policies that have prevented local people from taking proper control of land with certainty that they will benefit from their efforts. Now, after 30 years of effort by well-grounded development workers who have watched, listened and understood deeply local needs and motivations, unimagined transformations are taking place. In Niger and neighboring countries over five million hectares of land has been restored to productivity through an innovative combination of trees and crops, together with the government giving ownership of trees to locals. Five million lives have been improved as harvests have grown and family incomes have increased from selling tree products. Women spend less time collecting firewood, small businesses are being created, nutrition has improved and the annual “hungry period” greatly reduced.

Starting in 1993, in the Loess Plateau area of China, the World Bank with Chinese partners and a great deal of persistence, helped restore a ravaged, eroded landscape devoid of trees to an area with productive fields, less soil erosion and a healthy economy. Incomes doubled, unemployment fell from 30 to 13 percent, grain output doubled, and sediment flowing into the mighty Yellow River was cut by 100 million tonnes annually, reducing problems downstream.

<p>Mosaic restoration could improve the functionality of this landscape in Uganda. Photo credit: flickr/weesam2010</p>

Mosaic restoration could improve the functionality of this landscape in Uganda. Photo credit: flickr/weesam2010

In Shinyanga District, Tanzania, 350,000 hectares of semi-desert, that had earlier been rich miombo and acacia woodland, has been restored, greatly benefiting the three million local people. Soil fertility and productivity improved once the government revoked certain regulations and enabled villagers to practice traditional tree management techniques. Incomes leapt as a result of improved livestock productivity and income from tree products.

Each of these three examples of restoration, from regions suffering decades of degradation, highlight the clear benefits -- environmental, social, and economic -- of restoration. Many other similar stories are being collected, most impressively by visionary film maker John Liu. John is systematically documenting, through long time series of repeated visits to the same places, stories of restoration success. He uses the films that result to help spread the word that restoration works.

Landscapes of Opportunity

These examples add up to millions of trees planted, nurtured, and owned by millions of people who directly benefit. But as WRI’s analysis shows, there is potential and need for dramatic amplification and replication of these efforts. The founders of the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration recognized this opportunity, most notably the head of the UK Forestry Commission Tim Rollinson, and IUCN’s Stewart Maginnes.

<p>Dr. Göran Persson announces the Global Restoration Council at the Ministerial Roundtable in Bonn on September 2. Photo: WRI</p>

Dr. Göran Persson announces the Global Restoration Council at the Ministerial Roundtable in Bonn on September 2. Photo: WRI

The Partnership has steadily build support for a vision of scaling up restoration worldwide. Their efforts helped inspire my colleague Lars Laestadius to design the global analyses. Stewart and Lars, with their teams and local partners are now taking the next step and designing national assessments of restoration potential in Ghana and Mexico. These efforts are finer scale and are driven by local partners and ultimately by the local people who live on and own the land in question.

The Bonn Challenge and Global Restoration Council

A global process has gradually gathered steam to support local restoration efforts. This process got a major boost in Bonn on September 2, 2011, where the German Government hosted a meeting of ministers and experts who together announced the “Bonn Challenge” calling for action to restore 150 million hectares of land by 2020. Governments including India, El Salvador, the United States, and Norway joined with Germany to lend their support to the process.

To further build political support to help meet the Bonn Challenge, WRI proposed the creation of the “Global Restoration Council.” Our board member, Dr. Goran Persson, who was Prime Minister of Sweden for 10 years and led that country’s economic recovery, announced the Council and will lead its creation. Other leaders of similar stature are being invited by Dr. Persson to join the Council and then work to mobilize resources and leadership to further enable local restoration efforts.

Below is a transcript of Dr. Persson’s short speech announcing the Council.

“I want to salute this initiative, the Bonn Challenge, it is bold, it is visionary, and it is -- perhaps the most important thing said this morning by Mr. Rollinson -- it is doable.

We can do it and we can achieve it if we act.

Many times in politics, we discuss what we want to do but we seldom have the ideas how to do it. In my experience the difficulty is not to realize what we want to do but to be able to do it. Here we have something in front of us that we can say is doable.

One hundred and fifty million hectares of restoration. Let’s do that! It is within reach, and if we do so we contribute not only to combating climate change, we also contribute to combating poverty, and we conserve biodiversity. Many things at the same time.

And perhaps the most important thing, we can turn to our friends, the ministers of finance – and I have myself been a minister of finance, it was a very good job I must say! – and we can say, “Look, what we want to achieve is not a burden for the economy, it is an asset, it is a driving force for economic growth.” That is important to say, because often measures of this kind are seen in ministries of finance as a burden, something they want to avoid, no, but this is a driving force for economic growth.

And the same goes of course when we discuss climate change, the only possibility to combat climate change is the modernization of societies. Stop wasting energy, wasting raw materials, wasting resources, we need to get more for less.

“Modernization” and “respect” are the key words if we want to be able to combat climate change and underpin economic growth.

Modernization of the economy, respect for nature, respect for individual persons, respect for their traditions, respect for their ideas. Modernization and respect.

To support this important Bonn Challenge, we have decided to launch a “Global Restoration Council” consisting of political leaders with a background as Prime Ministers and Presidents from around the world, combined with business leaders and scientists, to give political support, to raise resources, and to make the Bonn Challenge doable.

We launch this Global Restoration Council today, and we will present our first measures next year in Brazil, celebrating the 1992 Summit, which I attended as a young man. There I realized, for the first time, the need for international cooperation. And the need for respect, because sometimes we believe we have the idea that we are each the owners of the solutions to solve these problems.

We need to listen to each other, we have different experiences. My experience is mainly from politics and I want to collect colleagues together with business leaders to give you full support for the Bonn Challenge, Good luck!”

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