Want to Fight Climate Change? Restore Destroyed Rainforests

Amazonian forests in Bolivia. (Photo by Oriol Massana & Adrià López-Baucells)

(CN) – All is not yet lost in the fight against climate change if certain moist tropical forests are restored, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The authors of the study on global restoration opportunities in tropical rainforests say 11% of destroyed moist tropical forests could be restored to boost climate and environment by focusing on restoration hotspots in 15 countries.

Reviving forests in targeted areas across four continents, in Brazil, Indonesia, India and Colombia, would provide the biggest carbon, water and wildlife benefits.

“Restoring tropical forests is fundamental to the planet’s health, now and for generations to come,” lead author Pedro Brancalion of the University of São Paulo, Brazil, said in a statement. “For the first time, our study helps governments, investors and others seeking to restore global tropical moist forests to determine precise locations where restoring forests is most viable, enduring and beneficial. Restoring forests is a must do – and it’s doable.”

Researchers identified over 200 million acres of lost lowland tropical rainforests spread across Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia that present the most viable restoration opportunities to overcome rising global temperatures, pollution and shortages of water, and the extinction of plant and animal life.

Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar, India and Colombia have the largest accumulated area of restoration hotspots, according to scientists. They also pinpoint six African countries – Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo, South Sudan, and Madagascar – that have the best restoration opportunities.

Using high-resolution satellite imagery and the latest research on the forest benefits of biodiversity, climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation, and water security, the researchers combined these with the cost, investment risk and likelihood of future survival of the restored forest. They then scored all tropical lands worldwide with less than 90% of their forest cover in 1-kilometer square blocks.

Deforestation of Bolivia’s rainforests has occurred to support the farming of coca, from which cocaine is derived. (Photo by Rosember Hurtado)

The lands that scored in the top 10% are deemed restoration hotspots, the most beneficial to restore and with the least associated risk and cost of doing so. More than 80% of the hotspots lie within biodiversity conservation zones – areas with high concentrations of species found nowhere else and at greater risk for deforestation.

Study authors say they are encouraged that 73% of the restoration hotspots lie in countries that have made restoration commitments as part of the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to restore more than 300 million acres of deforested and degraded land by 2020, and nearly three times that amount by 2030.

Authors caution decisions about changing land use must fully engage local communities, as restoration should complement rather than compete with food security and land rights. The study shows restoring forests is more feasible on lands with low agricultural value, like abandoned, degraded farmland or government owned properties.

Also, some crops can restore habitat while also generating income for the area’s residents. Pastures could be enriched with trees or planted with forest-based products like rattan, and coffee and cocoa grown beneath a forest canopy are beneficial by attracting birds and other wildlife that would keep crop-harming insects in check.

“Restoration involves far more than simply planting trees,” co-author Robin Chazdon said. “It starts with the need for mutually beneficial agreements with those currently using the land and doesn’t end until forests host the rich diversity of plant and animal life that make them so awe-inspiring and valuable. But, fortunately, studies show it doesn’t take long for the benefits of new forests to kick in.”

Scientists acknowledge forest restoration combined with protection of natural, old-growth forests is one of the most cost-effective and immediate solutions to curb climate change. They also warn that while ramping up restoration will help meet climate goals, overall success is contingent on the urgent need to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

“Pledges and agreements like the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests show that there is will to restore and protect forests. With the tools we have developed, countries, companies and other actors who have pledged to restore forests have the precise information they need to roll up their sleeves and dive into the difficult work of bringing our forests back,” Brancalion said.

“There are no shortcuts when it comes to forest restoration, but there is low-hanging fruit that we need to seize now, before it’s too late.”

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