Around the world, 3.2 billion people are affected by degraded landscapes, land that has lost some degree of its natural productivity due to human-caused processes. Restoring these landscapes can improve community resilience and enhance local livelihoods.
Restoration initiatives also hold the potential to deliver nearly 10% of the mitigation needed to attain the 1.5°C climate target, and nature’s contribution to the global economy is worth more than $125 trillion annually.
So why is investment in landscape restoration so sorely lacking?
Biodiversity collapse and the climate crisis
To date, conservation and restoration investments have fallen short of the actions needed to combat the biodiversity collapse and the climate crisis. There has been a 68% average drop in global wildlife populations since 1970, with growing numbers of species going extinct, known as the six mass extinction. These declines are largely driven by land-use changes, particularly the destruction of habitats. At the same time, climate change, land degradation and deforestation have caused tropical forests to absorb a third less carbon than they did in the 1990s.
While governments and small-scale donations play a major role in conserving and restoring landscapes, spurring additional investment will require engaging the private sector. The first step to inspire business action is making the case for investment. However, companies – and society at large – need assurances that their money is being spent on credible interventions that have lasting results. By demonstrating how and why interventions succeed or fail, the groundwork can be laid for replication at scale and in new geographies.
How to show investments work
Rapid advances in geospatial monitoring could provide a framework that promotes investor trust. Frequent, high-resolution time-lapsed imagery are becoming less costly and more accessible, allowing more initiatives to use these tools to verify that projects are being undertaken as planned. Historically, such technology has been harnessed by the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Global Forest Watch, which provides weekly high-resolution alerts to policymakers and companies spotlighting the specific location of deforestation. Transparency propels action.
While forest loss has been effectively monitored on a global scale for years, forest restoration is a longer process, and its monitoring has not yet received the same level of investment.
In a world with exponential increases in computing power, higher-resolution satellites, open-source tools and collaborative science, new levels of transparency in data are available to enable more effective restoration. By showing the results of restoration work in an independent, global and comparative way, more public and private sector actors are likely to feel comfortable investing larger sums in restoration as a part of their net-zero, nature-positive activities.
Recognizing this need and potential, a group of public, private and academic partners are collaborating to bring the best of their solutions to the table to set-up the infrastructure for transparency, trust and investment. Their focus is supporting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which is dedicating 10 years to the restoration of ecosystems with the aim to prevent, halt and reverse environmental degradation worldwide. Together, these solutions build an architecture to achieve four goals.
1. Solicit and orient investors
The 1t.org Corporate Alliance, launched in support of the UN Decade, advocates for credible corporate investment and offers companies the possibilities to pledge their commitment to conserve, restore and grow forests, while learning from peers. WRI’s TerraMatch platform matches potential funders with well-suited implementing partners, to facilitate connections and monitor project progress.
2. Plan and monitor interventions
By harnessing remote sensing technology and years of experience monitoring deforestation, WRI’s Land and Carbon Watch will independently map and monitor land-cover and its change over time, including tree cover gained through restoration and associated carbon emissions.
Restor, grown out of the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich, connects the global and site levels by offering everyone involved in conservation and restoration a suite of easy-to-use tools to plan interventions and track progress over time. Restor provides ecological data based on the location of a site, including native plant species and soil carbon, access to high-resolution times series imagery for any place on earth, and opportunities for projects to connect and learn from one another.
In a blockchain innovation, tentree’s veritree application helps ensure that the money a funder invests in trees is accurately attributed to them using on-the-ground data, reducing the risk of double counting, which has historically dogged the sector. By using the simple data collection/aggregate tool, project teams around the globe can “sign off” on field data from both offline and online environments.
3. Report on commitments made
The IUCN’s Restoration Barometer works with national and sub-national governments and private sector actors who have made restoration commitments to track progress on key enabling and success factors as well as biodiversity, carbon sequestration and economic benefits like jobs. By offering a framework of common indicators across public and private spheres, IUCN helps to standardize reporting of progress to the UN Decade.
4. Foster monitoring partnerships
The Task Force on Monitoring for the UN Decade, facilitated by FAO, brings together 100 organizations and offers an overarching coordination for monitoring through the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring (FERM) to improve data access and transparency.
Meanwhile, the Global Restoration Observatory, coordinated by Climate Focus, convenes restoration experts and practitioners to coordinate initiatives, facilitate data sharing and build linking architecture between restoration monitoring platforms. These collective efforts are driving increased collaboration among initiatives to make monitoring more effective, efficient and straightforward for companies, governments and donors.
As the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 begins, collective action is needed to tackle the interconnected challenges of biodiversity collapse and the climate crisis. Growing investor interest in nature-based solutions as a response to impending threats is being met with the infrastructure to support high quality, credible investments. By showing that these investments work, others may be inspired to get involved.
This article was written by Gill Cassar, Head, 1t.org, World Economic Forum, Derrick Emsley, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, tentree, Julian Fox, Team Leader, National Forest Monitoring, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Jillian Gladstone, Senior Consultant, Climate Focus, Swati Hingorani, Project Knowledge and Impact Officer, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Clara Rowe, CEO, Restor, Fred Stolle, Deputy Director, Forests Program, World Resources Institute