In recent centuries, half the world’s forests have been completely cleared or degraded. Yet this loss is also a great opportunity: More than 2 billion hectares of deforested and degraded land worldwide may have restoration potential.
Recognizing this prospect, in late 2011, the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) announced the first worldwide call for the restoration of deforested and degraded lands, with a target of restoring 150 million hectares by 2020. WRI is a member of the GPFLR and played a key role in building support for this target – the Bonn Challenge – by working with partners to quantify the restoration potential of the world’s forest landscapes. This work enabled a measurable restoration target to be set.
Restoring Forests, Improving Human Well-being
Forests provide hundreds of millions of people with food, fuel, fiber, and livelihoods. They also store carbon, conserve biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, improve water supply, and promote climate resilience. While international efforts to maintain forest benefits have largely focused on preventing deforestation, momentum is growing for complementary efforts to restore deforested and degraded areas.
In September 2011, a Ministerial Roundtable took place in Bonn, Germany, hosted by the German Government and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on behalf of the GPFLR. This event—in which ministers, private sector CEOs, and high-level representatives of international and non-governmental organizations participated—launched the Bonn Challenge.
The GPFLR is encouraging and assisting countries and companies to restore health and productivity to deforested and degraded landscapes, not just by planting trees, but through creating a mosaic of land uses that benefit both people and nature. A restored landscape can include sustainable agriculture, protected reserves, ecological corridors, agro-forestry systems, and riverside plantings that counter erosion.
In its first year, the challenge inspired pledges by the United States, the Mata Atlântica Restoration Pact of Brazil, and Rwanda to restore a combined 18 million hectares of land. When the goal of 150 million hectares (370 million acres) is reached, an area the size of Mongolia will be underway toward restoration.
Making a Difference: WRI’s Role
WRI played a leading role in the development of the first-ever detailed, global map of forest landscape restoration opportunities, working together with South Dakota State University and IUCN on behalf of the GPFLR. This assessment located more than 2 billion hectares of land with restoration potential worldwide. This map paved the way for the Bonn Challenge by answering three important questions that countries were asking:
“Where might restoration opportunities be located?” (thereby making restoration spatially explicit);
“Who could do restoration?” (thereby showing that most countries can play a role in and benefit from the Bonn Challenge); and
“How much restoration might be possible?” (thereby providing the quantitative basis for the 150 million hectare target).
WRI’s contribution was made possible by financial support from the governments of Germany, United Kingdom, and United States, and from the Program on Forests (PROFOR) and IUCN.
Promoting forest protection and sustainable agriculture in the Amazon region is vital for local livelihoods and biodiversity, as well as for global climate regulation.
In early 2011, the state legislature of Mato Grosso, Brazil passed a controversial new state zoning law (ZSEE) that opened up 50,000 km2 of new forest areas for conversion to agriculture. In February 2012, following a high-profile civil society campaign and a public civil action suit, the law was suspended through an injunction by Mato Grosso’s State Court. The injunction states: “It is true that… there were… vices of form capable of undermining the law… However, more important is that by reason of these vices, there was impairment of natural goods and services and sustainable development, so there is a risk of impairment of human life. This is the strongest argument that… imposes the granting of the injunction.” In March 2012, Brazil’s Federal Zoning Commission ordered the state government to redraft legislation.
The Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV) – a founding partner of the Governance of Forests Initiative (GFI) – led the successful campaign by producing and distributing their analysis of the ZSEE / MT. This analysis was then used by civil society – including indigenous peoples, social movements, and researchers – as well as legislators and prosecutors in Mato Grosso. Civil society used all opportunities—such as seminars, public events, and protest letters—to denounce the new law. Meetings with more 250 people in attendance were convened.
Curbing Forest Loss
Within a month of the Governor sanctioning the new ZSEE, IMAZON, the other GFI partner in Brazil, documented a more than 500 percent spike in deforestation in Mato Grosso. The immediate public outcry, enforcement actions by the state, and the start of the state case in September, however, acted as immediate deterrents, and the rate of deforestation stabilized. However, without the decisions taken by the State Court and the Federal Zoning Commission, this increase in deforestation would likely have lasted longer, as the law effectively sanctioned past clearing and allowed new areas to be cleared.
These decisions marked an important victory for democratic decision-making and government accountability in a region where the rule of law relating to forests and agriculture is sometimes circumvented for political and economic gain.
Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role
GFI is a set of civil society organization partners in the United States, Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia dedicated to improving forest governance through evidence-based advocacy.
In 2010, WRI helped ICV to conduct a governance assessment of the Mato Grosso ZSEE process using a diagnostic tool, the GFI Framework of Indicators (v.1), developed by WRI, ICV, and IMAZON. ICV collected information and conducted interviews to compile a record of expert and civil society inputs into the bill’s drafting over 10 years, from 2000-2010. Armed with this evidence, ICV was able to quickly demonstrate the problems with the new law and start the outcry that led to this outcome.
This post was co-authored with Carita Chan, an intern with WRI's forests initiative.
As the crisis of tropical deforestation reaches a new level of urgency due to forest fires raging in Indonesia, an important question is how can the world satisfy the growing demand for forest products while still preserving forest ecosystems? This week, some of the world’s largest companies will join U.S. and Indonesian government officials in Jakarta at the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) meeting to discuss this issue.
The meeting comes three years after the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a group of the world’s 400 largest consumer goods companies from 70 countries, announced their commitment to source only deforestation-free commodities in their supply chains and help achieve net-zero deforestation by 2020. The TFA 2020, a public-private partnership established in 2012 at the Rio+20 Summit, aims to provide concrete guidance on how to implement the forum’s pledge.
Yet, in a new WRI analysis of 32 country proposals, we identify the need for stronger commitments and strategies to address land and forest tenure challenges. While most countries identify secure land tenure as critical to successful REDD+ programs, relatively few outline specific objectives or next steps to address weaknesses in land laws or their implementation. Lack of clear strategies to address land tenure challenges could significantly hinder efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
How can Indonesia—the world’s fourth-most populous country and an emerging economic powerhouse—reduce deforestation and promote sustainable development across its vast, rapidly changing landscape?
That was a question recently posed by Nirarta “Koni” Samadhi, Deputy for the Indonesian President's Delivery Unit on Development Monitoring and Oversight and Chair of the REDD+ Task Force Working Group on Forest Monitoring. At an informal meeting of forest and development experts at WRI’s offices in Washington, D.C., Koni explored possible answers, while reporting on the Indonesian government’s efforts to map and monitor forests and improve land use policies across the country.
Koni shared some of his insights with us in a video interview. Check it out below.
Since the very first Earth Day more than four decades ago, the environmental movement has tackled a wide range of problems, including air pollution, contaminated water, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and more. But this Earth Day, I propose that there are two fundamental issues the movement must address over the coming decade if it is ever to defuse the tension between development and the environment. In fact, these two issues underlie many, if not most, of the world’s environmental challenges.
Food production has significant―but often underestimated―impacts on the environment. Take climate, for instance: About one-quarter of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are agriculture-related. In particular, nearly 13 percent of global emissions comes from livestock, fertilizer use, and farm-related energy consumption, while another 11 percent results from the clearing of forests and other ecosystems, primarily for agriculture.
Our future is inextricably linked to forests. The social and economic benefits they provide are essential to realizing a sustainable century. A key litmus test of our commitment to this future is our response to a growing, global threat: illegal logging and the criminal timber trade.
Forests are a vital source of biodiversity and livelihoods. More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, including 60 million indigenous people who are wholly dependent on forests. They are also natural carbon storage systems and key allies in combating climate change. They are vast, nature-based water utilities assisting in the storage and release of freshwater to lakes and river networks.
While deforestation is slowing in some places – most notably Brazil – it still remains far too high. The loss of forests is responsible for up to 17 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, 50 percent more than that from ships, aviation and land transport combined.
As the old adage suggests, it is important to see the forests for more than just the trees. While an estimated 500 million people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods, the entire world depends on them for food, water, clean air, and vital medicines. Forests also absorb carbon dioxide, making them critical to curbing climate change.
Despite some encouraging anti-deforestation efforts in places like Brazil, Indonesia, and Africa, globally, forests are under threat, particularly in the tropics. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 13 million hectares of forests were lost every year. About 30 percent of the global forest cover has been completely cleared, and 20 percent has been degraded.
This dilemma begs the question: What is the outlook for forests in 2030? Are we missing the opportunity to preserve forests and ensure they continue to deliver the goods and services we need for a growing global population? How can we use forests to build a thriving global green economy?
Asking these questions is important. Finding answers to the challenges they raise is imperative.