The degradation of land and ecosystems—caused by human activity, bio-physical factors and exacerbated by the climate crisis—is one of the greatest challenges facing Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. To the rescue is the practice of forest landscape restoration (FLR), an important new component of the global restoration economy.
FLR is the ongoing process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing human well-being across deforested or degraded forest landscapes. FLR is more than just planting trees; it’s restoring a whole landscape to meet present and future needs and to offer multiple benefits and land uses over time.
Desertification affects 8% of the territory of the European Union, including around 14 million hectares in Southern, Eastern and Central Europe. Of the total land area of Central Asia, 4-10% of cropland, 27-68% of pastureland and up to 8% of forests are already degraded. Wetlands in the region have declined by 50% since 1970, and natural and semi-natural grasslands, peatlands and coastal marine habitats have also been degraded.
On September 24, 2019, aiming to reverse this trend, UNECE, FAO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Bank together launched a bold call to action to bring 30 million hectares (75 million acres) of degraded and deforested landscapes into restoration by 2030 in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia in support of the Bonn Challenge, a global restoration target.
The country-led ECCA30 initiative sets the ambitious restoration target of 30 million hectares, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Italy.
The initiative aims to position Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia as a powerful player in the global movement for forest landscape restoration (FLR). This Initiative will build on growing political momentum in the region for land restoration as enshrined in the Astana Resolution, for which UNECE has already supported Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in their commitment to restore around 3 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 under the Bonn Challenge.
Restoring degraded land restores our climate:
Restoring degraded land, including through reforestation, can make a major contribution to restoring our global climate, or at least mitigating further damage to it. Large-scale forest regeneration has enormous potential to support climate action by absorbing carbon dioxide, as recent scientific studies have demonstrated.
By incorporating forest landscape restoration as part of their forestry and other land use targets for their post-2020 Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement, countries can seize this opportunity for transformative climate action.
Launching the initiative in the context of the UN Climate Action Summit at UN Headquarters in New York, UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stated, “Regional cooperation is extremely important for forest landscape restoration. I commend the efforts of countries of the region to restore degraded and deforested landscapes and their commitment to combat climate change and sustain healthy, functioning ecosystems. Forest landscape restoration can also increase ecosystems’ and societies’ resilience to climate-related disaster risks such as drought, flooding and landslides.”
“IUCN congratulates the countries in the ECCA30 region who are already leading or standing by to blaze a path forward on restoration of degraded and deforested lands,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, Deputy Director, Global Forest Conservation Programme, IUCN. “We look forward to helping them to unlock support for their efforts through ECCA30 which will bring added energy and momentum for the Bonn Challenge to the region”.
Strengthening forest landscape restoration will also help to ensure countries can continue to benefit from many valuable contributions biodiversity and ecosystems. For Europe and Central Asia, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimated these to include food production (USD 233-916 per hectare per year), regulation of freshwater quality (USD 1,965 per hectare per year), habitat maintenance (USD 765 per hectare per year), climate (USD 464 per hectare per year), air quality (USD 289 per hectare per year), and tourism and recreation (USD 1,117 per hectare per year).
“WRI is honored to support this initiative with solid scientific analysis, methodologies and tools aimed at assisting countries in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia on their restoration efforts,” said Fred Stolle, Deputy Director of Forest for WRI. “Data shows that restoring this region’s forests, grasslands and wetlands has enormous potential for carbon sequestration, with multiple benefits for millions of people on water and food security, as well as energy generation.”
Investing in restoration pays off:
Studies have estimated that USD 53 billion of investment in restoration and sustainable land management in Central Asia over the next 30 years would avoid the cumulative costs of soil erosion, forest loss and other types of land degradation of up to USD 288 billion over the same period.
In Eastern Europe, the required investments over this period are estimated at USD 777 billion, compared to the staggering costs of inaction of up to USD 4,813 billion; while investments in Western Europe of USD 181 billion would be dwarfed by the costs of inaction of up to USD 926 billion.
This puts the return on investment at a factor of 5 for Central Asia and Western Europe and 6 for Eastern Europe, making a strong economic justification for action.
The ECCA30 framework will support countries’ efforts:
ECCA30 will facilitate countries’ access to technical and financial support, and reinforce regional cooperation and capacity exchange on forest landscape restoration.
The UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section will support countries under the initiative by providing a platform for policy dialogue and advise and capacity building on forest landscape restoration as well as on data improvement and assessment.
A Ministerial Roundtable on Forest Landscape Restoration for Eastern and South East Europe is envisaged in 2020, providing a platform for countries to pledge towards the Bonn Challenge and join the ECCA30 initiative.
The initiative aims to make a tangible regional contribution to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and drive progress across multiple Sustainable Development Goals.
Globally, restoration of degraded and deforested landscapes has gained recognition as a way for countries to achieve multiple national and international priorities on mitigating climate change, improving livelihoods, reducing desertification and conserving biodiversity.
Since 2011, the Bonn Challenge – a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030 – has emerged as a unifying mechanism to help countries implement FLR at scale in support of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Biodiversity Targets, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement, Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) goal under United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN Strategic Plan for Forests for 2017-2030 (UNSPF).
Photo of Kazakhstan via Adobe Stock.