Imagine that we have the chance to cut greenhouse gas emissions, boost household incomes and increase crop yields, while making vulnerable areas more resilient to severe weather and improving the lives of people in some of the world’s poorest regions.
The fact is, we could do all this and more by restoring the world’s degraded landscapes to productive, sustainable use.
The New York Declaration on Forests set a global target to restore 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded forest landscapes by 2030. WRI and IUCN helped get consensus on the long-term goal, encouraged national leaders to announce country-specific contributions, and developed maps and analyses documenting restoration's benefits in some countries.
We all depend on forests for water, food, livelihoods, shelter, wood products and medicines, as well as to stabilize weather and climate and support biodiversity. Yet since the dawn of agriculture, nearly 30 percent of global forests have been cleared, with another 20 percent degraded, making billions of hectares underproductive.
In 2011, signatories to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) committed to restore 15 percent of all degraded ecosystems by 2020. Also in 2011, the Bonn Challenge sought to restore 150 million hectares by 2020. But few governments would commit to specific restoration targets without knowing how much land could be restored, where it was, or what the economic and social benefits might be.
WRI and partners, notably the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), worked with the 2014 UN Climate Summit organizers to get forest landscape restoration on the agenda. The two organizations helped build upon previous targets to get consensus on a longer-term restoration goal, and they encouraged national leaders to announce country-specific contributions. With support from the German government, WRI and IUCN developed national-level maps and analyses for some countries, documenting restoration’s benefits and showing which lands might most feasibly be restored.
On September 23, 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests was announced with 130 signatories from government, civil society, indigenous peoples and companies, setting a global target to restore 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded forest landscapes by 2030. The same day, Ethiopia, Colombia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala and Chile committed to contribute 28 million hectares toward the new target, building on 20 million hectares pledged earlier. These contributions make it more likely that countries will commit domestic resources and international funding sources will support their efforts, building momentum for a game-changing global restoration movement.
WRI in partnership with 50 organizations launched Global Forest Watch (GFW) in February 2014. The online platform uses satellite and other data to track forest cover change in near-real time. It has catalyzed a dramatic increase in action against unsustainable and illegal forest practices, and governments and businesses are using GFW to improve forest management transparency and accountability.
The world lost nearly 13 million hectares of forest—an area roughly the size of England—every year between 2000 and 2010. Agriculture and logging were largely responsible, which in turn led to higher greenhouse gas emissions, regional haze, water pollution and a decline in biodiversity. The lack of timely, reliable data on what is happening in forests, where degradation is occurring, and who is responsible makes it difficult to prevent further deforestation.
In 2011, WRI began building a network that’s grown to 50 organizations to create a publicly accessible, user-friendly, online tool to provide accurate, up-to-date data on the status of the world’s forests.
Global Forest Watch’s (GFW) launch event in February 2014 offered a window on global tree cover loss and gain, and provided national statistics, tree cover loss alerts and vast amounts of other information. By July, two new applications were also available: GFW Commodities, which shows the impact of palm oil suppliers and other commodities on forests, and GFW Fires, which monitors and analyzes forest fires across Southeast Asia.
While WRI led this work, the mobilization of a path-breaking partnership was central to its success. Partners include the University of Maryland, Google, Esri, Center for Global Development, Imazon, GFW Canada, ScanEx, Transparent World, Jane Goodall Institute, CartoDB, Vizzuality and Blueraster. Major funding came from Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, USAID, Global Environment Facility , DFID, Tilia Fund, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Sida, Bobolink Foundation and Danida.
GFW has catalyzed a dramatic increase in action against unsustainable and illegal forest practices. Governments and businesses are using GFW to improve forest management transparency and accountability. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil has used GFW to help members disclose where palm oil companies operate. Indonesia, a core partner, uses GFW Fire’s ultra-high resolution images to crack down on illegal burning. And the tool has received worldwide attention, with more than 450,000 unique visitors, more than 1,200 media stories, and countless interactions via social media.
The New York Declaration on Forests issued at the UN Climate Summit last month includes a global pledge to restore 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes by 2030.
Several countries confirmed their commitment to restore millions of hectares of degraded land, with Ethiopia making one of the most significant pledges—setting a target to restore 15 million hectares of degraded and deforested land into productivity by 2025.
Local communities are key to protecting the world’s last remaining forests. Indigenous peoples hold legal or official rights to one-eighth of the world’s forests, about 513 million hectares (1.3 billion acres).
Read more about how researchers used Global Forest Watch maps to identify lower rates of deforestation where governments protect communities’ rights.