Forest and Landscape Restoration: WRI's Vision
Over 3 billion people around the world grapple with the consequences of land degradation. Damaged forests, farms, grasslands and mangroves lead to less water and food, declining rural incomes and creeping deserts.
In 2019, the world lost 11.9 million hectares of tree cover in the tropics, the rough equivalent of 4 billion trees — an area the size of Honduras or the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. This situation is growing ever more dire, as 100 million people risk falling into extreme poverty in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.
In response, more than 70 governments have committed to restore over 210 million hectares—or roughly the size of Mexico—of those degraded landscapes through the global Bonn Challenge. By growing trees, revitalizing grasslands and building healthy farms, they are fighting the twin challenges of rural poverty and climate change.
Private investors are on board, too: Nearly $3 billion is earmarked for country-led regional initiatives like AFR100 in Africa and Initiative 20x20 in Latin America. And in 2020, major corporations stepped up their ambition by pledging to protect and grow 1 trillion trees.
The commitments are there for this key nature-based solution, but evidence suggests that the world is not on track to reach these ambitious goals before the end of 2030, the final year of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the New York Declaration on Forests and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
WRI’s Strategy for Restoring Landscapes
We need action to restore more land, better and faster. Local communities, entrepreneurs, and young people need to be firmly in the lead. Our Global Restoration Initiative is a team of nearly 50 experts in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Washington, DC working to accelerate this locally led, globally important movement to restore land in three key ways:
Our team is pioneering new approaches to set baselines and track restoration progress at the global level, across entire landscapes and countries, within specific projects and both inside and outside the forest. We need to see where trees are growing and landscapes are under restoration, how much carbon they store and what other types of benefits (e.g., food, economic, biodiversity) they provide to people and the environment.
Tracking tree growth helps governments, companies and NGOs to understand progress on their pledges, encourages people to replicate successful projects and tweak struggling ones and inspires funders to continue investing where they can see past progress.
We are helping local leaders build a solid understanding of the baseline state of their landscapes and a clear, collaborative vision for the future. WRI is also training government officials and the managers of tree-growing projects to co-create and run their own monitoring systems, marrying the latest geospatial data advances and artificial intelligence (AI) with collaboratively-produced biophysical and socio-economic data.
Every $1 invested in restoration creates up to $30 in economic benefits. Restoration can bring $1,140 per hectare in extra revenue for local landholders in Latin America. WRI research has helped put restoration on the global agenda as a cost-effective nature-based solution to climate change and rural poverty.
Building the right tools is not enough. People restoring land need access to training, mentorship and finance to sustainably scale up their work. Through the Land Accelerator, a months-long bootcamp for businesses that restore land, we have helped entrepreneurs from Africa, Latin America and South Asia pitch investors, improve their business plans and create rural jobs.
Within these networks, WRI is working to mobilize finance for people restoring landscapes. TerraMatch, the matchmaking platform that connects tree-growing projects with serious funders, has moved more than $4 million to local organizations in Africa and Latin America. To match entrepreneurs with sustainable financing, the Rural Prosperity Bond aims to mobilize more than $70 million in private investment.
The public sector needs support, too. Through the Restoration Policy Accelerator, we are advising government officials on how to create new economic incentives for restoration and improve existing ones. Together, these leaders are building networks of mutual support and sharing their experiences.
3. Connecting People Restoring Land
Through AFR100 in Africa, Initiative 20x20 in Latin America, and the work of WRI Indonesia and WRI India, we are connecting government leaders from 50 countries, impact investors, and technical experts through regional meetings, online webinars and trainings, and peer exchanges. In our target landscapes, we are supporting local leaders and helping them tell their stories. By turning the guiding principles of forest and landscape restoration (FLR) into reality, they are inspiring people around the world to replicate – and scale up – their work.
In Africa, WRI has worked with governments to set science-backed commitments to the pan-African AFR100 Initiative and with Malawi and Cameroon to build national restoration plans. We are now working to bring together community organizations, entrepreneurs, and government leaders to set common goals and priorities in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Niger, and Rwanda.
In Latin America, we have advised governments throughout Latin America on designing national restoration plans (Chile), building custom systems to measure progress (El Salvador), and channel investment to leading projects (Brazil).
In Asia, we are working with local communities and the government of the Sidhi District in India to map where restoration can have a positive impact on marginalized peoples and create thousands of jobs. And our Indonesia team advises the national government, companies, and communities on protecting and restoring carbon-rich peatlands.
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