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:

  1. “Where might restoration opportunities be located?” (thereby making restoration spatially explicit);
  2. “Who could do restoration?” (thereby showing that most countries can play a role in and benefit from the Bonn Challenge); and
  3. “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.