March is always a big month for forests. Every March 21, the International Day of Forests celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of forests and trees for current and future generations. And every Earth Hour, which this year falls on March 30, hundreds of millions of people pledge their support for nature, with many taking action for our planet’s forests.
This month, though, is particularly special. On March 1, the UN General Assembly declared 2021-2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. This will give a big boost to global efforts to restore the world’s forests and other ecosystems – like the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2030.
So far, under that Challenge, 58 countries, states and companies have pledged to restore almost half of that target. This includes commitments as part of national climate plans, as well as regional initiatives like Initiative 20x20 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and AFR100, the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that aims to bring 100 million hectares of degraded land under restoration by 2030.
Restoring degraded landscapes and forests in particular brings multiple benefits for people and nature. Meeting the restoration goals of the Bonn Challenge could, the UN estimates, generate ecosystem services worth US$9 trillion, as well as improve the livelihoods of millions of people and help reverse the loss of biodiversity.
It would also absorb 13-26 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. Indeed, restoring forests is a critical part of every scenario mapped out by the IPCC that gives us a chance of keeping global warming below 1.5°C.
More than 2 billion hectares of deforested and degraded land worldwide has potential for restoration – an area larger than South America. This doesn’t mean returning all that land to its untouched natural state, which just isn’t possible in a world of 7 billion people and counting.
Instead, the emphasis is on Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR). This is a planned process at a large scale to regain the ecological functions that forests provide to people and nature – from supplying fresh water, food and materials to improving soils and enhancing biodiversity.
As well as increasing vegetation cover, improving productivity in these degraded landscapes reduces the pressure to clear natural forests for agriculture or over-harvest them for fuelwood. Another important aspect of the landscape approach is that it considers social, economic and environmental aspects of the landscape and involves engagement from different sectors, including landowners.
WWF is involved in many FLR projects around the world, from Madagascar to the dry forests of New Caledonia. Along with protecting and sustainably managing existing forests, restoration is one of the pillars of our vision of a world enriched by extensive, resilient forest landscapes that benefit biodiversity, people and climate.
While commitments from governments are important, one of the great things about planting trees is that anyone can get involved. Many WWF offices are using Earth Hour to encourage people to contribute to greening the world.
WWF-Kenya’s Keep Kenya Breathing campaign, for example, is encouraging every Kenyan to plant 25 trees to reach the goal of 1 billion new trees in the country by 2030. WWF-Uganda – which planted half a million native trees in the first Earth Hour Forest in 2013 – will this year restore green spaces in two towns, which will be named Earth Hour Recreation Centres. And on the Indonesian island of Lombok – where forest restoration has helped prevent water shortages – WWF-Indonesia aims to plant 2,000 mangrove trees.
A UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration offers the opportunity to multiply grassroots campaigns like these, and to spur action from governments, private companies and investors. We’re hoping to secure a New Deal for Nature and People – a legally binding global agreement to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity. Restoring forests, and the benefits they provide for people and nature, will be one way of putting it into practice.
Over the course of human history, Earth has lost nearly half its trees. Let’s be the generation that starts to bring them back.