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forest restoration

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Trees have become an iconic image of environmentalism, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should plant millions of them.

While scale is important for landscape restoration, we need to reconsider quality and not just quantity. When does the presence of a tree really make a difference, and when is it neither an environmental or economical solution to a host of complex issues? What are the implications for food security, biodiversity and landscape protection?

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There is a tremendous amount of underutilized and unproductive land throughout the world that has the potential to provide valuable ecosystem services if trees are returned to the landscape.

In collaboration with the University of Maryland and IUCN, and as part of the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, WRI recently updated its Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities. We found that more than 2 billion hectares of land worldwide have the potential to be restored—and many of them are located in some unexpected places.

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Almost half of the world’s original forests have been cleared or degraded. So naturally, most people think of the “forest restoration” movement as an effort to re-plant these lost trees.

But it’s time to see restoration as more than just the trees.

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In the world of forestry, bamboo doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Dismissed as a weed or marginalized in traditional forest management, bamboo could actually play an important role in forest and landscape restoration. With adequate attention, investment, and the right standards in place, it could become a major renewable and sustainable crop—if we can update our outmoded view of it.

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This week in Washington, D.C., members of the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) met to advance strategies to restore degraded forest landscapes around the world. Such restoration has the potential to bring millions of hectares of land back to life—a move that could help protect watersheds, ensure food security, improve the livelihoods of rural communities, tackle climate change, and conserve biodiversity.

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Natural ecosystems like forests and wetlands provide essential services to water utilities, businesses, and communities—from water flow regulation and flood control to water purification and water temperature regulation.

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President Obama is in Africa this week to discuss development, investment, health, and, notably, food security. The trip comes on the heels of the president’s groundbreaking announcement of a U.S. Climate Action Plan. So it’s a fitting time for Obama and other global leaders to take notice of a strategy that addresses both climate change and food security in Africa—re-greening.

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As the crisis of tropical deforestation reaches a new level of urgency due to forest fires raging in Indonesia, an important question is how can the world satisfy the growing demand for forest products while still preserving forest ecosystems? This week, some of the world’s largest companies will join U.S. and Indonesian government officials in Jakarta at the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) meeting to discuss this issue.

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As the old adage suggests, it is important to see the forests for more than just the trees. While an estimated 500 million people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods, the entire world depends on them for food, water, clean air, and vital medicines. Forests also absorb carbon dioxide, making them critical to curbing climate change.

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When it comes to the fate of forests, Rio+20 and the official negotiations risk becoming a side event. Instead, the main show is playing out in countless boardrooms, communities, parliaments, and villages around the world. From Brazil to Bangladesh, Canada to Cambodia, these organizations have made dramatic progress with efforts to reverse forest decline.

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As we enter a new year, the world continues to be in the grips of dual crises. A stubborn economic downturn with widespread job losses combined with accelerating global warming threatening vulnerable communities. Many argue that dealing with climate change in the midst of an economic slump will hurt recovery efforts. The underlying reality, however, is quite the opposite. Not only can preparing for climate change offer opportunities for economic growth, it would be unwise to pursue one without the other.

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Can the current food production system feed a growing population in a changing climate while sustaining ecosystems? The answer is an emphatic “no.” A new approach is imperative and overdue, one in which the world feeds more people—an estimated 9 billion by 2050—with less ecological impact. To be successful, this new approach must address both how we produce and how we use food.

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