A new map shows a world of opportunity for restoration of forest landscapes. COP-15 negotiators should take note.
Stopping deforestation is a critical part of global efforts to fight climate change. In Copenhagen, most discussions about forests focus on policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD). Much of the conversation is focused on countries where forests are disappearing at a rapid rate, such as Brazil and Indonesia.
But recent research suggests huge opportunities for restoration of forest landscapes as well. The Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) with WRI and South Dakota State University recently released a map showing where global forests have great potential for recovery. While many maps show forest loss, this one is the first of its kind to show areas where forests could be regained. This has significant implications for climate negotiators that are working to reduce and reverse carbon emissions from forests.
The map suggests that globally, over a billion hectares of former and degraded forest land offers opportunities for restoration; a global combined area greater than that of China. These are areas that do not produce crops and are not subject to intensive land use, although they may be densely populated. The Partnership expects the global map to act as a catalyst for more detailed assessments at the country or regional level, e.g. in West Africa and/or China where potential for forest restoration could be further explored.
Although the sheer size of the areas with potential for restoration alone is noteworthy, negotiators at COP-15 have other reasons as well for paying attention. The restoration potential is not limited to countries with rapid deforestation. Developing and developed countries on almost every continent, including India and China, have opportunities to restore forest landscapes as a way to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Restoration could provide many co-benefits, such as reduced erosion, reduced risk of flooding, improved agricultural productivity, and production of wood fuel and timber. The successful restoration of the Loess Plateau in China, recently featured in a New York Times op-ed, is one such example.
It’s important to keep this big picture in mind as negotiators at COP-15 decide the future of REDD policies. REDD, combined with forest restoration, may present a much larger opportunity to curb global warming than we have imagined, and many more countries can play a part in the solution.