Synopsis

By declaring the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the UN has recognized that there are only 10 years left to restore the world's degraded land. Countries are striving to fight climate change by 2030 through their Paris Agreement commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But in many cases, their climate and development agenda are disconnected, even though sustainability and development go hand in hand – especially for rural communities.

The divide is particularly severe when it comes to restoring degraded land. We know that restoring land can boost crop yields and income for farmers, improve access to water, enable people to stay on their ancestral land, and help communities adapt to the changing climate. But with so many competing uses of the land, it is difficult to focus restoration efforts where they can help communities most effectively overcome climate change and rural poverty, while also halting deforestation and protecting vital biodiversity.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WRI have created a new guide, The Road to Restoration, to help governments, businesses, communities and anyone actively restoring land identify priorities and set up goals grounded in reality. Using real data, they can create systems that support and keep track of their efforts. By measuring progress, countries like El Salvador, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Malawi have followed the road to restoration to craft customized and implementable strategies to fight climate change and rural poverty.

The tool guides users through basic questions about the process to restore land: Why is restoration needed in the first place? What will the restored land be used for? What are the barriers that could prevent sustainability (including drivers of degradation and enabling factors)? What are the constraints and priorities for monitoring restoration?

These questions help people establish goals, identify quantitative data, and track progress.

We have ten years to achieve the world’s most ambitious goals: to beat climate change and help billions of people overcome poverty, and restoring degraded land is key to both. Helping governments, companies, and communities that restore land choose their own goals, identify their own barriers to success, and measure their own progress is the only way that to achieve the world's goals.

Key Findings

How can the guide help you?

  • First, identify why you are restoring land and how the land is currently and will be used.
  • Then, identify your priorities, available high-quality data, and constraints, allowing you to tailor your monitoring system to your needs.
  • Narrow down your goals to build a system, choosing from a variety of specific indicators and metrics to track your progress.
  • Because there are most likely several related goals, like boosting food security and rural incomes, the guide can also help build an index to measure progress on all set goals simultaneously.

The benefits of measuring progress:

  • Success stories backed by strong data can help convince decisionmakers that investing in restoration makes financial sense.
  • Keeping track of results encourages communities to restore more land because it provides evidence that water quality, food productivity and livelihoods are improving.
  • Transparency, accountability, and measurable results help people prove to governments and the private sector that restoration works and that their targets are realistic and achievable.
  • Companies that restore land to produce food, timber and other products can show their shareholders that restoration is profitable, which can help secure further investment.
  • Tracking progress shows that building strategies to restore land with clearly defined and realistic goals works well, is cost-effective for governments, and creates value for local communities and businesses.

Executive Summary

This guide aims to help stakeholders develop a monitoring system tailored to their needs by identifying indicators and metrics to monitor progress toward their set goals.

Measuring progress on restoration focuses on understanding the practitioner’s goals for restoration and the themes they fall under, whether they be community, culture, food & products, water, energy, biodiversity, soil, or climate. The guide emphasizes the need to make choices and understand potential trade-offs and synergies when designing a restoration project.

The guide walks users through seven questions considering goals and targets for restoration, land-use interventions, and barriers to sustainability. Through country examples, the guide identifies considerations regarding constraints and priorities, data access and availability. It also discusses suitable indicators and identifies how to create an index from those indicators.

This guide does not intend to be prescriptive. It is a supportive starting point designed to help stakeholders focus on a specific landscape context. It provides different entry points for considering goals and targets such as biophysical and social factors, ecosystem goods and services, or goals under UN initiatives in order to allow a flexible approach.

RESTORATION IN CONTEXT

More than one billion people worldwide live in degraded areas. Land degradation reduces the productivity of land, threatening the economy and people’s livelihoods. In addition, degradation can lead to reduced availability of food, water, and energy, and contribute to climate change (Sabogal et al. 2015). Forest and landscape restoration (FLR) can counteract these challenges.Restoration is a process and set of practices to return vitality to the land. The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) emphasizes that restoration activities bring people together to identify, negotiate, and implement these practices. Restoration offers ecological, social, and economic benefits by improving the land with forests, trees, or vegetation. Restoration is increasingly important on the international stage. The international environmental community has encouraged commitments to promote restoration and sustainable land management. As of September 2019, governments around the world have pledged to restore over 170.6 million hectares (Mha). Commitments have been garnered at the global and regional levels through a variety of initiatives.

GLOBAL COMMITMENTS:

  1. The Bonn Challenge targets the restoration of 150 Mha by 2020 and 350 Mha by 2030.
  2. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Aichi Target 15 states that, by 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks will have been enhanced through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and combating desertification.
  3. The UN New York Declaration on Forests aims for 350 Mha under restoration activities by 2030.

REGIONAL COMMITMENTS:

  1. In Latin America and the Caribbean, Initiative 20x20 aims to begin restoration of 20 Mha by 2020.
  2. In Africa, the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) focuses on bringing 100 Mha under restoration by 2030.
  3. In the Mediterranean, the Agadir Commitment has a goal to start restoring 8 Mha by 2030.
  4. In the Asia-Pacific region, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has made a commitment to place 20 Mha under restoration by 2020.

A GUIDE TO IDENTIFYING PRIORITIES AND INDICATORS FOR MONITORING FOREST AND LANDSCAPE RESTORATION

Restoration is a process, not an end goal. Although many organizations and researchers focus on ways to restore land, restoration may be used to pursue a wide range of different desired outcomes. For example, restoration can target watershed development, improved soil health for food security, and enhanced biodiversity conservation among other outcomes. Restoration usually aims to achieve both environmental and socio-economic objectives. Under the many existing commitments to restoration, the goals and impacts of actual restoration projects, programs, or initiatives can be very different across projects, countries, or jurisdictions.

WHY DO WE NEED TO MONITOR FOREST AND LANDSCAPE RESTORATION? Countries and other jurisdictions monitor forest and landscape restoration for a variety of reasons, such as to:

  1. Ensure transparency and provide evidence of progress, achievements, and impact in relation to specific goals and objectives, including periodic assessments of who benefits and how from restoration interventions (pay for performance).
  2. Communicate positive results and outcomes and learn from negative results to encourage positive momentum, inspire replication, and transfer relevant knowledge.
  3. Guide and support project implementation and provide feedback, including continuous and collective learning for adaptive management.
  4. Enable investors to see progress toward their investment goals.
  5. Share evidence with restoration investors to enhance trust and foster additional investments for scaling up.
  6. Support robust monitoring of restoration impacts and regular reporting on progress toward achieving national, regional, and international commitments.

Monitoring restoration is different from monitoring deforestation; therefore it requires a different approach. Many countries have monitoring systems in place to detect deforestation. However, two unique attributes stand out regarding restoration monitoring.

First, restoration is undertaken primarily in grasslands and agricultural regions rather than in forests. Detecting the dispersed trees in these landscapes requires expensive high-resolution satellite imagery. In addition, restoration is a slower process that might be able to show tree cover gain only after several years, whereas deforestation can occur rapidly and is easily observed. Restoration needs to be tracked over longer periods of time to detect changes and measure the impacts.

Second, as mentioned, restoration can have other goals than the establishment of a closed canopy forest. The forest monitoring systems used in most countries are therefore not well suited to monitoring restoration. To detect and quantify restoration, we need distinct methods and tools.

WHO IS THIS GUIDE FOR?

This guide is intended to inform restoration practitioners working on landscape-level restoration initiatives. A landscape is defined as “a mosaic of two or more ecosystems that exchange organisms, energy, water and nutrients” (SER 2002). The landscape level applies best to those involved in restoration efforts on the ground. The guide is useful to several types of practitioners. Organizations conducting restoration at the landscape level may want to understand whether restoration efforts are improving incomes in local communities.

Landowners implementing restoration may monitor the results of their restoration efforts to improve next season’s planting. Governments may focus on the impact of restoration on ecosystem services like water provision. The guide provides additional guidance to practitioners using our accompanying web-based tool or app (under development). In many countries, the web-based tool or app may be more accessible than this guide.

WHY NOW?

There is a drive to turn restoration commitments into action. Since the Bonn Challenge was launched in 2011, the restoration movement has grown. This momentum has inspired a huge surge of government commitments to bring land under restoration. We have the commitments, but it is imperative to act on those commitments and turn them into projects on the ground. In turn, we must be able to monitor change on the ground.

There is an opportunity to address the issue collectively, and to learn and adapt the process. Successful restoration at the global scale will require collaboration. In 2016, FAO initiated the Collaborative Roadmap for Restoration Monitoring, which brought together more than 70 experts from a wide variety of organizations. The Collaborative Roadmap aims to encourage and support countries, implementers, and other relevant partners to monitor restoration outcomes. This guide forms part of the roadmap. The app and webtool will provide options to upload data to share with other practitioners so that they can learn from and adapt the process to their needs.

IDENTIFYING PRIORITIES AND INDICATORS FOR RESTORATION MONITORING: HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE

This guide walks practitioners through a three-step process to help them make decisions regarding restoration monitoring. Although much literature exists on monitoring specific restoration goals, this guide takes a novel approach by walking users through the considerations necessary to identify goals, priorities, and indicators before monitoring occurs.

First, practitioners are asked to determine their own restoration goals, land-use patterns, and barriers to sustainability. Second, these choices are refined by filtering them through relevant constraints, data availability, and user priorities. Third, practitioners are then in a position to develop appropriate indicators and set up an indicator framework.

Each step is guided by questions, seven in all (Figure ES-1). Practitioners can approach the first question from different perspectives, choosing to focus on biophysical and social factors, ecosystem goods and services, or goals under UN initiatives like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Land Degradation Neutrality indicators (LDN) of the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), rather than restoration goals.

This guide is intended to be used at the landscape level but can be adapted to suit local needs and different scales.The guide helps practitioners develop an indicator framework by identifying appropriate metrics and measures.Indicators are value-laden measures of development performance designed to track and calibrate progress (King 2016). Environmental indicators are used to synthesize knowledge on environmental issues and highlight environmental trends. They also help to reduce complexity, provide important links between science and policy, and provide guidance to decision-makers responsible for environmental governance (Butt 2018).

An indicator framework can provide a management tool to help countries develop implementation strategies and allocate resources accordingly to reach restoration goals. Tracking progress via indicators can act as a report card to measure progress toward restoration goals and help ensure the accountability of all stakeholders for achieving the goals (SDSN 2015). Indicator frameworks attempt to simplify complex issues but this can lead to over-simplification. Moreover, indicators often make use of information that is currently available, rather than focusing on priority issues that may require different information (Seagar 2001).

A lack of resources can lead to the use of proxy indicators, which may lead to false assumptions regarding restoration outcomes, based on confusion between causation and correlation. Social indicators are often less accurate for monitoring social processes than physical indicators are for monitoring physical processes (Mayer et al. 2014). With these limitations in mind, this guide aims to help users prioritize their goals while being practical about the availability of resources.

Different types of data can feed into creating an indicator framework, depending on resource constraints and information needs. Some restoration programs may require relatively few cost-effective indicators, based on data that can be collected locally. Other programs, though, may integrate locally collected data with big data from satellite imagery and social media. This guide intends to lay the foundations for a more systematic deep-dive into the logistics of monitoring. Once practitioners have identified goals, constraints, priorities, and data availability, they will be able to create an appropriate indicator framework that takes into account the practicalities of available tools and approaches specific to their situation.

USER-TESTING THE GUIDE

After explaining the concepts, this guide uses country case studies to demonstrate how some practitioners have used the framework. This guide was created through an iterative process. The initial framework was designed with key stakeholders working in the field, then adapted and developed in light of country experiences. The case studies accompany each of the three steps to developing an indicator framework and illustrate the process that each country followed. These country examples offer a menu of potential indicators for measuring progress that other monitoring practitioners might find useful.

In Malawi, the government’s restoration indicator framework focused on measuring progress on the goals identified in the national forest landscape restoration strategy, allowing for a more seamless integration of the monitoring framework with ongoing national work.

In Ethiopia, establishing a monitoring system for tree-based landscape restoration started by identifying the ways in which trees and forests could contribute to economic, social, and environmental goals at the local, regional, and national levels. The monitoring system focused on the ecosystem services that would deliver these contributions and identifying which specific restoration options (e.g., restocking of degraded natural forest, agroforestry, commercial plantations, buffer zone to waterbodies) would best supply these services.

In Kenya, stakeholders brought together by the Kenya Water Towers Agency created an inclusive working group from various sectors. The group emphasized the need for collaboration in designing the indicators and weighting their importance in relation to the country’s priorities. In addition, Kenya strongly emphasized development of an integrated monitoring framework that would allow for a coordinated and consistent scientific monitoring approach to tracking the status of the water towers across the various sectors and stakeholders.

In El Salvador, the Ministry of Environment’s interest in understanding whether the measurements showed intended progress on their priority issues led to the creation of a restoration index. The restoration index provides decision support to government authorities to facilitate the implementation of restoration activities and their associated impacts.

Country Case Studies

Several countries have already started using this methodology to create real impact:

  • In Malawi, the government is measuring progress on the goals it identified in its National Forest Landscape Restoration Strategy: boosting food production and water supply, along with fighting poverty and gender inequality.
  • In Ethiopia, measuring progress on tree-based landscape restoration meant identifying how trees could contribute to the goals of reversing degradation, increasing food production, and limiting flood and landslide risk.
  • The Kenya Water Towers Agency created an inclusive working group that designed a monitoring system with the goal of boosting water quality and supply and contributing to economic growth in rural communities.
  • In El Salvador, the Ministry of Environment created an index to measure the impact of restoration on climate change adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity, water quality in rivers, and rural livelihoods.