The Bonn Challenge – only an idea four years ago – has become an international movement to restore degraded lands around the world. Already more than 20 countries have committed to restore more than 60 million hectares (nearly 150 million acres) to productivity. With more national commitments coming, the Bonn Challenge could be halfway to its 2020 goal of putting 150 million hectares (370 million acres) into restoration this year.

There was a leap forward in March when government ministers gathered in Bonn for the second in a series of historic meetings – Bonn Challenge 2.0 – aimed at building support for ambitious global targets for forest and landscape restoration. Convened by Germany, Norway, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Resources Institute, the event drew leaders from Indonesia, Ethiopia, Brazil, China, Korea, Rwanda, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the private sector and civil society to discuss how to turn the Bonn Challenge’s ambitious political commitments into action.

Achieving the main restoration goal would generate $85 billion a year in net benefits from carbon sequestration, watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products and could also reduce conflict in some fragile states, according to IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.

Ethiopia has already made progress in restoring 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of degraded land and creating six million jobs, said State Secretary Kebede Yimam Dawd. In Brazil, senior officials Fernando Coimbra and Carlos Scaramuzza described their ambitious new program, PLANAVEG, which aims to expand policy and finance to support the recovery of native vegetation on 12.5 million hectares (30 million acres) over the next 20 years. They expect this to create up to 200,000 jobs, diversify rural income, reduce the risk of natural disasters such as floods and landslides, improve water availability and mitigate climate change.

Adrie Mukashema, Deputy Director General of Forests and Nature Conservation for Rwanda, aptly summed up the spirit of the meeting saying, “We face one thousand challenges but have three thousand opportunities.” In a similar vein, El Salvador Environment Minister Lina Pohl said, “We are committed to restoring half of our country. This is not ambitious! It is simply necessary!”

Despite major achievements for restoration, there is still much more work needed to hit the Bonn Challenge target and set the stage for new goals such as the New York Declaration on Forests, which aims to place 350 million hectares (865 million acres) into restoration by 2030. The conference proposed four major actions:

  1. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Barclays Bank will work to develop concrete proposals to mobilize funding and deepen understanding of key funding constraints. Barclays Bank Vice Chairman Jeremy Wilson introduced the Banking Environment Initiative and explained under what conditions private capital could join public efforts to scale up restoration.

  2. Countries and private sector companies will establish learning exchanges on key topics including business models, effective policies and planning, citizen mobilization and capacity building and training. Asia Pulp and Paper noted the turnaround in their company’s policies from an approach heavily dependent on clearing forest for new plantations, to a commitment to restore 1 million hectares (about 2.5 million acres) working with diverse partners.

  3. Organizers of the Bonn Challenge should ensure that the capacity to monitor restoration progress develops in countries. This can occur through knowledge sharing, exploring innovative tools or by using simple progress indicators. Agencies like China’s State Forestry Administration, which stated that 134 million farmers have directly benefited from restoration, are leading by example in developing capacity and innovative platforms to monitor restoration’s benefits.

  4. Bonn Challenge countries must bring the discussions closer to the field to deepen understanding of constraints and opportunities and enable neighboring countries to share their experience. Several countries have already offered to host regional meetings, including Liberia, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Indonesia.

The Global Restoration Council, a small group of inspiring leaders, will support these critical next steps under the new leadership of Wanjira Mathai, Chairwoman of the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya. The council also includes Bianca Jagger, Felipe Calderon, the former president of Mexico, and is co-chaired by former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson.

Mathai, who could not attend in person, offered this video statement:

Countries, businesses and NGOs were energized and ready to turn political commitments into action on the ground, with continued support pledged by Norway and Germany to drive the movement and the new regional gatherings forward.