Fighting climate change while supporting well-being and biodiversity 

There are many compelling reasons to restore landscapes. The urgent need for better food and water security and more secure livelihoods among forest communities, and the growing demand for forest products and bioenergy all underscore the need to massively scale-up current restoration efforts. Meeting these needs while also increasing carbon stocks, improving adaptive capacity and addressing the decline in biodiversity cannot be achieved solely by efforts to tackle deforestation. Avoiding deforestation is critically important, particularly for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but such efforts need to be supplemented by ambitious restoration initiatives that can help take the pressure off existing forest land, provide alternative sources of forest products, improve soil fertility and reduce erosion, and generally contribute to carbon-intensive land stewardship. Forest landscape restoration therefore complements other approaches to improving food security and climate change mitigation and adaptation, including climate-smart agriculture and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). By integrating these two concerns within a landscape approach and bringing degraded land back into production, FLR helps expand the world’s stock of agricultural, agroforestry and forested land.

FLR and climate change mitigation

FLR has major potential as a climate mitigation mechanism through massive carbon storage. Achieving the goals set out by the Bonn Challenge will generate about US$ 170 billion per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products, and could sequester up to 1.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. If we reach the milestone of 350 million hectares of FLR by 2030, an estimated 5.95 GtCO2 could be sequestered. If we are to fully realise that potential, interventions must be designed to deliver against a basket of societal needs. While it may appear counterintuitive, the temptation to maximise carbon benefits in any single FLR intervention needs to be resisted. FLR implicitly involves carbon-intensive land stewardship but that seldom means that a successful FLR programme will deliver the absolute maximum amount of carbon that an individual landscape could theoretically deliver. In other words, carbon should be treated as an important and abundant ‘co-benefit’ of FLR but not the sole objective.

FLR and biodiversity

FLR has the potential to generate significant biodiversity benefits. In order to maximise this potential, the following issues should be considered: 

  • The potential of restoration to re-establish connections between different habitats – In many ecosystems, there are habitats that have become fragmented as a result of degradation. Restoration can be used to recreate these connections thereby facilitating the movement of species (e.g. migration corridors).
  • The potential of restoration to increase habitat extent – In situations where very little of a given habitat remains or where a habitat has been lost completely, restoration can be used to recreate a semblance of it.
  • The potential of restoration to improve habitat quality – Restoration, by ensuring that a greater diversity of species is found in a given habitat, can be used to improve habitat quality. In identifying possible areas for restoration, consideration should be given to opportunities to improve the extent, quality and connectivity of high-biodiversity areas, including areas rich in biodiversity or home to threatened or endangered species, as well as those that deliver important ecosystem services. Better accounting for the potential biodiversity benefits of restoration can help ensure that these biodiversity benefits are optimised. These impacts can include improved provision of ecosystem services (such as water supply, pollination, erosion control or carbon sequestration) and more resilient ecosystems that are better able to cope with stresses and adapt to climate change. In addition, accounting for biodiversity in restoration activities can help countries meet their international commitments such as those associated with the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

FLR and human well-being

Over 1.6 billion people depend on forests for at least part of their well-being. The vast majority are from more vulnerable groups such as poorer households, women and those living in remote communities. Forests provide fuel wood, commodities and products that sustain livelihoods; they protect watersheds for agriculture and promote freshwater access, and they provide immeasurable cultural and health benefits. In economic terms – the restoration of 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands in biomes around the world – in line with the forest landscape restoration (FLR) approach – will create approximately US$ 84 billion per year in net benefits that could bring direct additional income opportunities for rural communities.